Wilderness Underfoot: The American Toad

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115946109411785.jpg’, ”, ‘The American Toad- Bufo americanus is our most common toad‘);

This prolific toad can be found anywhere—from the woodland to the prairie to the wetland, in the country or in the city.

As long as it has a patch of earth, some vegetative cover, and plenty of insects to eat, this creature is perfectly content. Although the American toad needs some sort of semipermanent water body to breed, it may survive for years after wandering far from watery breeding grounds, even if it can’t reproduce.

From the looks of this knobby creature, you might not expect the most musical of croaks. But surprisingly, the American toad has a soothing cricket-like trill, most often heard during the spring breeding season. A male toad settles into a suitably watery location and begins singing to attract a female. The water’s source isn’t particularly important to the toad; it might be a pond, a slow-moving creek or a large puddle. It might even be a large tire filled with rainwater, as long as the water remains long enough for the eggs to hatch and the young to reach adulthood.

Females lay thousands of eggs in long strings, like tiny black pearls. The eggs hatch in less than two weeks—or sooner in warmer temperatures. The emerging tadpoles are entirely aquatic, eventually growing legs and losing their tails and gills. This takes up to 10 weeks, although they may develop more quickly if food is abundant and the weather is warm. Tadpoles feed on small invertebrates, insect larvae and detritus.

An American toad, when handled or annoyed, may decide to pee on you—but despite the myths, this will not cause warts. The fact is, toads don’t cause warts in humans. The bumpy texture of toad skin is a natural adaptation, and although we say it is “warty,” it has nothing to do with the common warts that affect humans (which are usually caused by viruses). This toad does, however, have toxins in its skin, and these compounds can make other animals sick if they try to eat the creature. The toxins are also irritants to eyes and other sensitive membranes. Although nearly every child has found one of these common toads at one time or another, there’s no reason to panic. The safest thing to do after gently releasing the creature is to wash hands.

This toad is especially helpful in controlling insect pests, slugs and snails. It’ll eat any creature it can get in its mouth by lunging with its sticky tongue. If its prey is oversized, the toad actually attempts to cram the food into its mouth with its front limbs.

The primary predator of the adult American toad is the garter snake. Other snakes will sometimes prey on it as well, including the eastern hognose and the northern water snake. Raccoons and skunks will flip the toad on its belly and eat it from the underside to avoid the toxic glands on its back. Crows, grackles and owls also eat this toad. The toad’s eggs and tadpoles are eaten by aquatic animals.

From the Sept. 27-Oct.3, 2006, issue

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