Critter Corner - Toad
(Bufo americanus)

DID YOU KNOW:

Toads are interesting amphibians that are often misunderstood.  The bumps on their body contain a foul-tasting fluid and when most predators try to eat a toad they will quickly spit it out.   It is not true that people get warts from handling a toad, but you should always wash your hands afterwards.  If you don’t and rub your eyes or touch your mouth you may have an unpleasant burning or a bad taste!

EATING HABITS:

A toad’s diet consists mainly of insects but spiders, snails, earthworms and salamanders are all on the menu if they can be caught.  Surprisingly, a toad will not eat anything that doesn’t move!  Toads usually don’t stalk their prey; but wait until it gets into “tongue-snapping” range.  When an insect is close enough, the sticky tongue (which is actually attached to the front of its lower jaw) whips out, captures the prey, and snaps it back into the toad’s mouth.  A toad’s tongue-flip takes only 15/100 of a second, much to fast to be seen with the human eye!

THE YOUNG:

In the springtime, female adult toads return to the water to lay long strings of jelly-coated eggs.  The male toads are present to fertilize these eggs.  Like all amphibians, toads are born in the water and spend the first half of their lives as tadpoles.  Toad tadpoles stay underwater and breath using gills just like a fish.  But as they continue to grow, they lose their tails, gain two pairs of legs and begin breathing air.  This complete change, or metamorphosis, takes about 2 months.

HABITAT (HOME):

Toads can live in many places from our yard’s bushes to deep in the forest.  They need vegetation (to hide in), and moist, cool soil with lots of bugs.  Toads build short burrows in which they hide from predators as well as to ambush their prey.   When it is time to reproduce they will look for small bodies of clean water that do not contain fish (which will eat their eggs).   Sadly, toads and other amphibian numbers are declining due to habitat loss and water pollution.  We can help toads by careful use of pesticides and by controlling soil erosion near water.  

DEFENSIVE HABITS:

Besides tasting terrible, toads have other tricks to keep from being eaten.  When a toad finds itself in danger it will inflate its body and lower its head to form a large ball.  If hiding between rocks the inflated toad will be hard to pull free.  This is also an attempt to fool the predator into thinking the toad is too large to eat. Even if you like toads, when you pick one up it will be frightened and probably will go to the bathroom.  This is yet another way to make you think he would not make a good meal!

UNUSUAL FACTS:

  • A toad has to close its eyes to swallow.  This blinking motion pushes the eyes down into the upper part of the toad’s mouth and helps push the food down the toad’s throat!

  • It is only the male toad that sings.  He inflates a sac in his throat like a balloon and forces air across the vocal cords.  Male toads can even sing underwater!

  • The largest toad in our area, the American Toad, measures 2-3 inches. Would you believe the world’s largest toad, the Marine Toad of Mexico and South America, can measure 9 inches and weigh 3 pounds!

 To learn more about toads

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(Photo from Missouri Department of Conservation)