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Frog Friday: American Toad

Facial view of an orange American toad

American toad © John White

On this Frog Friday we present one of the most widely recognized frog species, the American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus). This toad is found throughout most of Virginia, which is a huge benefit to us as they provide an excellent source of pest control. It has been estimated that one American Toad can eat up to 10,000 insects per summer!

American Toads primarily live a nocturnal life. You can typically find them at night foraging around homes, gardens, security lights or anyplace where insects can be found. Much of their day is spent hiding under leaf litter or other damp debris, which helps to keep their skin moist.

Image of an eastern American toad

Eastern American toad © Steven Johnson

The American Toad is a robust frog,  growing up to 4-inches in length, with dry, “warty” skin. There are typically 2-3  warts  located on each spot of color on its back.  Coloration is highly variable from brick-red to a variety of browns and greys.  The belly is lighter colored and has fewer warts than on the back. It is pure folklore that toads will give you warts.

American Toad in the brick-red color phase with both parotoid glands visible.

American Toad in the brick-red color phase with both parotoid glands visible.© Irvine Wilson

The toad has several defensive mechanisms to help it stave off predators.  Most notable are the two parotoid glands, located on the toad’s back behind each of its eyes. These glands secrete a milky, white toxin that makes the toad virtually inedible. You may have noticed a dog after handling a toad will foam at the mouth or even whimper; dogs typically only handle a toad once! The  Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) is one of the few predators that specialize in eating toads.  A neutralizing enzyme in the digestive tract and enlarged teeth help the snake overcome the toad’s defenses.  The toad’s other defensive techniques include lying on its back and playing dead or puffing up to make itself look much bigger.

Breeding begins in late March to April and continues through most of the summer in shallow pools, wet meadows, and ponds.  Females deposit between 2,000 and 20,000 eggs in long gelatinous strands.  The call is a long, musical trill that sometimes lasts up to thirty seconds.

Attracting American Toads to Your Home

American Toad with inflated vocal sac.

American Toad with inflated vocal sac. © Steve Roble

American Toads can often be found around houses typically near gardens, flower beds with mulch, and downspouts.  These toads can be excellent assets to your garden by providing much needed insect control.  You can encourage toads to inhabit your garden areas by being aware of a few simple things.  Toads need cool, damp cover during the day; so providing a “toad house” can be beneficial.   You can purchase “toad homes” at virtually any garden store or you can create your own.   Toad shelters should be placed in a damp, shady place, e.g. under a bush or downspout. Position the bottom of the shelter in soft/moist soil to allow the toad to burry itself. If possible, create an entrance and separate exit to provide an escape route from predators.  If you would like more information about things that you can do for frogs, please visit our Virginia is for Frogs webpage.

  • June 5, 2015