Status: Not Listed
Like frogs, toads are amphibians. They differ from most frogs because they have dry skin, warts, crests behind the eyes, and parotoid glands. The parotoid glands produce a poisonous secretion that helps the toad defend itself from predators. This substance, called a bufotoxin, can cause death in small animals and allergic reactions in humans. Toads have other ways to avoid being eaten too. If they’re brown or green in color, they can blend into their surroundings and escape detection. If brightly colored, they warn predators to stay away because they’re poisonous. Toads also puff up their bodies in an attempt to look bigger and inedible if a predator is nearby.
The smallest North American toad is the oak toad (Bufo quercicus), which reaches a length of only 1.3 inches (3.3 centimeters). Cane toads (Rhinella marina) are the largest toads and grow up to 9 inches (23 centimeters) in length. But a massive cane toad caught in Australia, nicknamed “Toadzilla,” has been described as the size of a small dog!
Many toad species live throughout the United States. Toads are found on every continent, excluding Antarctica. Adult toads generally prefer moist, open habitats like fields and grasslands. The American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) is a common garden species that eats harmful insects and can be seen in backyards in the Northeast. Predators of toads include snakes, raccoons, and birds of prey.
Like frogs, most toads eat insects and other arthropods. However, some species eat reptiles, small mammals, and even other amphibians.
Each species of toad has a unique call. Males use their call to attract females for mating or to keep other males away from their territory. After toad eggs are fertilized, most hatch into tadpoles before becoming fully grown adults. Instead of legs, tadpoles have tails for swimming and gills to breathe underwater. As time passes, the tail becomes smaller and smaller until it eventually disappears. At the same time, the tadpole grows legs and loses its gills. Once this metamorphosis stage is complete, the adult toad is ready to live a terrestrial lifestyle. Not all toads (or frogs) have a tadpole stage. However, all amphibians require an unpolluted source of water to reproduce. The common toad (Bufo bufo) lives up to 40 years, but most toad species live about 5 to 10 years.
Several toad species are federally listed as endangered or threatened. The biggest threats to toads are habitat degradation and invasive species.
Touching a toad will not cause warts—however, the bufotoxin found on its skin can cause irritation.
Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, United States Geological Survey
Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
I love finding toads in my garden. It means that my soil is healthy and bugs won’t be bothering my plants.
What are Toads?
Toads (Bufo bufo) are just another kind of frog! Scientists don’t even make a distinction between the two, referring to both as frogs. Non-scientists like myself think of them as two different animals. Frogs are slimy and spend their lives in and around water whereas toads have dry skin and spend most of their lives on land, returning to water to breed and lay their eggs.
Both are amphibians. Amphibians are animals that start out their lives in water as tadpoles. Tadpoles breathe through gills like fish and cannot survive on land. As they mature into adults, they develop lungs so that they can breathe air and legs so that they can get around on land.
Why Do I Want Toads in My Garden?
One simple fact should convince you that you need these creatures in your garden: toads consume up to 3,000 insects per month. Their diet includes beetles, flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, caterpillars, cutworms, moths, slugs and snails.
Why Does Having Toads Mean That Your Yard is Healthy?
In 1989, the first World Congress of Herpetology was held. Herpetology is just a fancy word for the study of reptiles and amphibians. The attendees made a dismaying discovery. Amphibians are disappearing all over the world at a rapid rate.
No one is sure exactly why we are losing our amphibian population. One theory is that because they have very thin skins, they absorb chemicals in the environment very easily. All of the herbicides and insecticides that we are spraying on our yards and farms are killing amphibians as well as the intended plant and insect targets. This could also explain why there are so many deformities being observed in the amphibian population. Environmental toxins may be causing birth defects in tadpoles.
I am an organic gardener. I don’t use any chemicals or poisons. So a healthy toad population in my yard means that the environment in my yard is healthy.
How to Attract Toads to Your Garden
There are three steps you should take to attract toads to your garden:
- Provide shelter
- Provide water
- Avoid certain plants
A broken flower pot can provide shelter for a toad.
The most important thing that you can do to attract toads to your yard is to stop using chemicals. The second most important thing that you can do is to provide shelter. Toads are nocturnal. They hide in a protected shady spot during the day. When the sun goes down, the toads come out and feast on insects.
Stop cleaning up all of the debris in your garden. The leaf and litter debris provides natural shelter. If you can’t stand looking at a messy garden, sweep the debris to an inconspicuous corner of your yard. Plants with large leaves also make good shelters.
You can provide artificial shelter using an old broken flower pot. Simply place it upside down in a shady spot. It should have an opening large enough for the toad to enter and exit comfortably. If it doesn’t have an opening, prop it up on a stone so that the toad can shelter underneath.
Toads start out as tadpoles.
If you have a garden pond or want to install one, depth is important. It should be no deeper than 20 inches and no shallower than 8 inches. Install water plants that are native to your area. Toads lay their eggs in strands which they attach to water plants. You will also need to install some sort of ramp for them to be able to get out of the pond once they have hopped in. A simple slab of rock is sufficient.
The bottom should be mud. Tadpoles filter feed through the mud looking for algae and other water organisms. Don’t introduce fish to your pond. They will eat both the eggs and the tadpoles.
If you just want to provide drinking water, you can use a shallow saucer. Toads don’t drink water. They submerge themselves in it and absorb the water through their thin skins. Make sure your saucer is deep enough for them to submerge themselves but not so deep that they cannot get out.
Avoid Certain Plants
Certain plants are poisonous for toads. Avoid planting snowpeas, rhubarb, eggplant or potatoes near shelter and water. Flowers that are toxic include daffodils, hyacinths, azaleas, hydrangeas and honeysuckle. Toads will avoid them.
Be Careful After Dark When Toads are Active
Toads are nocturnal but they are attracted to the lights in your yard and home. They know those lights will attract insects. Be careful where you step at night. Always check around your car before driving it. Driveways are killing fields for toads. I’ll never forget how upset my family was when my father accidentally ran over Ol’ One Eye, the one eyed toad. He was in a rush and forgot to check the driveway before backing up his car. Ol’ One Eye had lived in our yard for many years. Toads can live as long as 15 years.
They also hibernate undergrund during the winter. So each spring, pile up some garden debris from your fall cleanup and put out a saucer of water to let the toads know that they are welcome in your garden where they will provide you with years of free insect control.
Questions & Answers
Question: We saw a toad under the leaves of some yarrow in my garden and built a toad neighborhood the next day. We haven’t seen the toad in a few days. Is there any way to sleuth around and find clues that the toad has stayed in our garden?
Answer: I’m not sure what you mean by a “toad neighborhood”. From the toad’s point of view, you have disrupted his home under the yarrow. The best thing that you can do is to stay away for a few days. Do not disturb anything and hopefully, the toad will return. If not, he or she is probably not far away in a different part of your yard or garden. Be patient. Wild animals are shy around humans.
While it may be unbeknownst to some, toads are actually welcome additions to the garden. In fact, they eat many types of insect pests that affect garden plants. You should think carefully before deciding to kill toads or eliminate toads as they are an important benefit to the garden. However, too many toads could become a problem, or more likely a nuisance, but there are a few things you can do to get rid of garden toads should this occur.
Friendly Toad Control
One of the best ways to get rid of garden toads around your garden or landscape is to make it less attractive to toads. Generally, for toad control, if you remove their favorite hideouts and water or food sources, they will move elsewhere.
For instance, toads enjoy dark, damp places. Look for and remove pots, water containers, or ground-level birdbaths. Also, remove any wood, old lumber, or brush piles.
If you have pets, don’t leave their food outdoors where toads could have access to them. They find pet food quite inviting and since their secretions can pose a threat to dogs, it’s even more important to keep this food source out of their range.
If you have a pond or similar water feature, you could implement small fencing, which they cannot squeeze through, about a foot (0.5 m.) or so high around it. Also, ensure that toads cannot burrow beneath the fencing. In addition, you could add fish or a fountain, which encourages water movement and deters toad inhabitation.
When all else fails, physically removing them may be required. Simply catch the toads and relocate them to a suitable area.
Eliminate Toads Humanely
Some people choose to rid their gardens of toads by killing them. Be aware that in some areas, this is illegal and they are protected animals. Also, be aware that toad populations around the world are in jeopardy due to chemicals and pesticides. We do not advocate killing toads.
But, if you feel must, toads are very susceptible to toxic chemicals, like garden pesticides, which can be an extremely slow and painful death. Therefore, if you must kill toads, it should at least be done humanely.
The easiest method to eliminate toads is to get rid of their eggs and dispose of them by burying in the ground or leaving them to dry out in the sun.
The most humane way to kill toads is to put them into a sealed container (with air holes) and refrigerate overnight. This induces a coma-like state, which is not painful. Then freeze the toad(s) for a few days to ensure death has occurred and bury afterward.
Whimsical as well as practical, a toad house makes a charming addition to the garden. Toads consume 100 or more insects and slugs every day, so a toad house makes a great gift for a gardener who is fighting the battle of the bug. While you can always choose to purchase a toad house for the garden, they actually cost very little to make, and building a toad house is simple enough for even the youngest family members to enjoy.
How to Make a Toad House
You can make a garden toad house from a plastic food container or a clay or plastic flowerpot. When deciding what to use as a toad house, keep in mind that plastic containers are free and easy to cut, but clay pots are cooler in the heat of summer.
If you plan to decorate your toad house with children, make sure you use a washable paint. Washable paint adheres to clay better than it does to plastic. Once you have decorated the container, you are ready to set up your toad house.
DIY Toad Houses
You have two options for setting up a toad house made from a clay pot. The first method is to lay the pot horizontally on the ground and bury the lower half in the soil. The result is a toad cave. The second option is to set the pot upside down on a circle of rocks. Make an entryway by removing a couple of rocks.
When using a plastic container, cut an entryway into the plastic and place the container upside down onto the soil. Place a rock on top, or if the container is large enough, sink it down into the soil an inch or two (2.5 to 5 cm.) to keep it in place.
A toad house for the garden needs a shady location, preferably under a shrub or plant with low-hanging leaves. Make sure there is a source of water nearby. In the absence of a natural water source, sink a small dish into the soil and keep it filled with water at all times.
Quite often, a toad will find the house on its own, but if your house remains empty, you can find a toad instead. Just look in cool, shady woodland areas and along stream banks.
Adding a garden toad house to your planting areas is a great way to entice these insect-eating friends to the area. In addition, it’s a fun activity for the kids.
South Florida is experiencing an infestation of poisonous Bufo toads, also known as Cane toads.
These creatures are not native to South Florida but were brought to the region to control pests attacking the sugar cane crop. They like to hop around “human modified environments near a source of moisture,” says Dr. Steven Johnson, an associate professor at University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, such as suburban neighborhoods, gold courses and baseball fields.
News stations have broadcast images of the toads appearing en masse in Palm Beach Gardens. One resident tweeted a photo of the toads in a swarm across a swimming pool and covering the walls. For residents this has sparked fears of pet poisoning. “We’ve been getting about 100 calls a day,” says Jeannine Tilford, the owner of Toad Busters, a pest control business that collects cane toads at homes. “We ended up catching like 135 in one night.”
Recent rain and warm temperatures have led to a rise in breeding. Female canes can reproduce 10 to 30 thousand eggs, says Johnson, who specializes in cane toads. He joined Sundial to talk about the Bufo toads.
WLRN: Why were Cane Toads brought to South Florida?
JOHNSON: Back in the 1930s there was a meeting convened in Puerto Rico, as a matter of fact, where somebody extolled the virtues of the toads. They said, ‘this is going to be our solution to controlling Kheng grubs’ (worm that kills plants) that were damaging sugar cane growing areas around the world. Toads were introduced in many places. A hundred of them were shipped over to Australia. They were introduced here in Florida. They’ve had huge negative impacts on the environment in Australia.
What have they done to our environment?
The main concern in Florida at present is the socioeconomic impact of the toads, like the fact that they can cause sickness or death in a pet. And if you’re somebody who’s got a pet dog or a cat that you love like a child like I do, if my pet was to get negatively impacted by a cane toad it’d be a devastating impact on me. Then also there’s a cost because people have to take their animals to the vet so there’s an economic and human quality of life impact that the toads are having here. But as far as we can tell their ecological impacts right now don’t seem too big, which is fortunate because we have a lot of other invasive species like the Burmese python for example that are having some big ecological impacts.
What’s the harm [to pets or small children]?
It’s this toxin, this thick viscous substance that’s contained in water called the parotid, there’s a pair of them, one on each shoulder of the toad, and that big gland has a lot of poison ducts and if you put that gland under pressure that toxin would squirt out and that’s the same thing that happens when the dog bites it. People don’t have to worry about them being a threat to them, but you wouldn’t want a young child putting it in their mouth. It’s that poison that can come out of those glands that are the major problem with the cane toads.
As a homeowner can I try and deal with all those toads myself or should I call somebody to do it?
Fortunately you have the resource, but unfortunately we’ve got to the situation where cane toads are so bad that we need these nuisance wildlife trappers like Toad Busters.
If you want to do it yourself first of all you want to make your property less attractive to toads. For instance they will eat pet food that is left out so if you have food you set out for your pets you don’t want to leave that out. You want to bring that in at night or just don’t put it down at all. Also if there’s a source of moisture such as water for your pets or if you have an AC unit or something else that drips water toads will seek moisture. If you have security lights that are on all night and they’re attracting insects you’re creating a food source for cane toads and you’d want to remove that. You also want to pick up any debris around your yard. Cane toads like to hide in debris piles and that could be just regular trash like a discarded lawnmower or yard waste. You want to trim your shrubs up off the ground so there are no places for cane toads to hide and then just sort of patch any holes that you might have. That’s the first step — making sure your yard is suitable.
Watch can toad expert Dr. Steven Johnson give tips on how to spot and handle the toads.
Tennessee is home to 21 species of frogs and toads.
What is the difference between a frog and toad? In general:
- Frogs have smooth moist skin, can jump very well, and usually are found close to a water source even as adults.
- Toads have dry warty skin, make short hops, and may be found far from water as adults. However, technically toads are frogs! Frogs and toads belong to the group of animals known as amphibians.
Amphibians are the class of vertebrate animals containing the Anura (frogs and toads), Urodeles or Caudata (salamanders and sirens), and the lesser known Gymnophiona (caecilians) which do not occur in North America.
Amphibians are ectothermic (cold-blooded), have smooth porous skin, primarily fertilize their eggs externally and do not have a hard shell or membrane around the eggs.
The word amphibian comes from the Greek language and means “dual life.” This refers to the lifestyle practiced by many amphibians. The adults are primarily terrestrial (land-dwelling) and the larva (tadpoles) are mainly aquatic (live in water).
Male frogs gather at the breeding pools and begin to vocalize (call) to attract females. Females arrive at the breeding sites and seek out the most attractive males. Those males with the deepest voices and the longest calls attract the most females.
Larger frogs have deeper voices and those frogs that are the largest and have the longest calls are the most fit. A male grasps a female from behind and grips her behind her front legs and hangs on until mating is completed (amplexus). During amplexus, the female expels her eggs and the male releases sperm into the water to fertilize them. This type of fertilization is called external fertilization.
The eggs are laid in jelly-like masses in groups of a few to as many as several hundred depending upon the species. The egg cells of each embryo begin to divide into more cells (egg cell cleavage) and grow to form the tadpole. The eggs hatch within a few days.
Tadpoles remain in the water a few weeks for most species, and up to 2 years for other species, before they metamorphose. Metamorphosis is the process in which a tadpole changes into a frog.
Natural extinctions and population fluctuations are a normal part of nature. Scientists have uncovered five mass extinctions throughout the history of earth. But the accelerated rate at which many species are now declining and disappearing is very alarming to the scientific community. It is believed we are now in the sixth mass extinction event; the first ever caused by the actions of a single species, humankind. During the past couple decades, scientists have become concerned that many of our amphibian populations are declining and some species have become extinct in areas of the world that are relatively undisturbed by man. Below are but a few examples of the many declines and extinctions of the past two decades:
The golden toad (Bufo periglenes) was first discovered in the remote and pristine cloud forests of the Monteverde Preserve of Costa Rica in 1967. This toad was very unusual because it was sexually dimorphic (the sexes could easily be identified.) The last golden toad ever seen was in 1987 and they have now been declared extinct.
The northern gastric brooding frog (Rheobatrachus vitellinus) of Australia was discovered in 1984 and last seen in the wild in 1985 following the fate of the closely related gastric brooding frog (Rheobatrachus silus) that was discovered in Australia in 1973 and had disappeared by 1981. These unusual frogs brooded their young in their stomachs and were of interest to the scientific and medical community as they ceased [Chiricahua leopard frog] producing hydrochloric acid in the stomach when they were brooding young frogs.
In the United States, populations of the western toad (Bufo boreas) and Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) have plummeted by 80%, the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana mucosa) has disappeared from much of its range, and recent surveys to find the Yosemite toad (Bufo canoris) in Yosemite National Park were fruitless. Two species, the relic leopard frog (Rana onca) and the Wyoming toad (Bufo baxteri) are on the brink of becoming extinct in the wild and the Vegas Valley leopard frog (Rana fisheri), last seen in 1942, is now extinct.
Population declines and extinctions are not the only problems facing amphibians today. Scientists have noted an increase in reports of malformations. Scientists believe there are three main factors contributing to the increase in malformations: increases in UV-B radiation because of the thinning ozone layer, chemical pollution (insecticides and pesticides), and parasites (chytrid fungus). These factors combined with a weakened immune system due to environmental stressors, can increase the number of malformations found in a population. Malformations come in many forms ranging from missing limbs, bones and eyes, to extra limbs, digits and eyes. Few, if any, of these malformed amphibians survive to reproduce. Tennessee does not appear to have an abnormal number of malformations, but we need to be watchful. For more information about malformations, including state maps showing reported malformations, visit the North American Reporting Center for Amphibian Malformations.
Amphibians, including the frogs and toads, around for over 360 million years, survived the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs. Below is relative time scale showing geologic history and when the amphibians first appeared.
True Toads (Family Bufonidae)
Cane Toad (Rhinella marina [formerly Bufo marinus])
a.k.a. “Bufo Toad”, Marine Toad, or Giant Toad
Watch this video to learn more about how to accurately identify toads in Florida – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMzLes3BaCo.
Watch this video to learn more about Bufo toads in Florida and how to treat a family pet that encounters a bufo toad – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cg1HUuxM7Zc.
Watch this video to learn how to capture and humanely euthanize invasive bufo toads on your property – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCZlSVbOkWU.
Cane Toad (click on comparison image to view larger)
Photo by Dr. Steve A. Johnson (UF). To obtain permission to use this photo for educational purposes, email [email protected]
Ecological – Cane Toads prey on native frogs, lizards, snakes, small mammals, and just about anything else that fits into their mouths.
Human Health/Quality of Life – Cane Toad toxin can irritate your skin and eyes. If your pet bites or swallows a Cane Toad, it will become sick and may die — take it to the vet right away! Symptoms of Cane Toad poisoning in pets include excessive drooling and extremely red gums, head-shaking, crying, loss of coordination, and sometimes convulsions.
Usually 4 to 6 in. (max.
9.5 in.) Note: With very few exceptions, any toad in Florida that is larger than 4 inches is NOT native and is almost certainly an invasive Cane Toad.
Body is tan to reddish-brown, dark brown, or gray; back is marked with dark spots. Skin is warty. Large, triangular parotoid glands are prominent on the shoulders; parotoid glands of native “true” toads are oval. Unlike native Southern Toads, they DO NOT have ridges or “crests” on top of the head.
Note: In the known range of these toads, it is a good idea to catch and identify ANY toad you see in your yard to be sure that they aren’t dangerous. Humanely euthanize any Cane Toads you find by rubbing or spraying 20% benzocaine toothache gel or sunburn spray (not 5% lidocaine) on the toad’s lower belly. In a few minutes, it will become unconscious. Put the frog in a sealed plastic bag it in the freezer for 24-48 hours to ensure that it is humanely euthanized before disposal.
March to September; eggs are laid in long strings, virtually indistinguishable from eggs of native “true” toads. Call is a slow, melodic trill. To hear the Cane Toad’s call, click here (choose to open file if asked). To hear other frog calls, visit the USGS Frog Call Lookup and select the species you want to hear from the common name drop-down list.
Beetles, centipedes, crabs, millipedes, roaches, scorpions, spiders, and other invertebrates; also frogs, small reptiles, small birds, and small mammals.
Native to Central and South America.
Found in areas of Central and South Florida, including Key West and Stock Island, and in an isolated population in Bay County in the panhandle. Found predominantly in urbanized habitats and agricultural lands, but also in some natural areas, including floodplain and mangrove swamps. Breeds in the vegetated edges of any available freshwater habitat, including ponds (natural and manmade), lakes, canals, and ditches.
Note: Report any suspected Cane Toad sightings outside of the range shown in green to [email protected]
Map by UF, IFAS Extension – may be used freely for education.
What does a toad mean spiritually?
A toad is a special kind of species under the family of the frogs that has similar attributes but deserves special mention.
The toad is pretty popular on folklores and myths. They often portrayed this creature as an ugly, gentle creature, but often times emerge as a hero of the story. In medieval ages these creatures are often associated with the devil due to the belief of the Catholic Church that toads are associated with the witches and witchcraft.
In ancient Egypt this creature is a sign of new life, fruitfulness and prosperity. Furthermore there is an Egyptian God named Heget often depicted with a head of a toad. Heget is a Goddess that signifies fertility. Greeks and Romans also connected this creature with prosperity and harmony, and are oftentimes associated with the Goddess Aphrodite.
In China, toads represent the yin which is a symbol for rejuvenation and good fortune. While the Vietnamese believe that a sound of a toad is a sign that it is going to rain soon. Scotland believed that a toad is a charm of good fate. In ancient Peru, the Moche prays to animals, toads are often times seen on their artifacts.
If this creature presents itself to you, it means that the success that you are waiting for is drawing near. It is often a good luck sign but requires action. Much like the story of the frog prince, the toad is a symbol of having to do something that you may not particularly like.
Doing this task will often prove to be rewarding. Frogs are usually connected with money and fortune. If you’ve experienced a series of bad luck recently, the toad is a good symbol that your fortune will start to turn.
A toad is also a harbinger for a time to examine your inner self. Are you letting so many opportunities passed your way? Are you doubting on yourself that you’re abilities are insufficient to succeed in life? The toad is a reminder to us that we are pretty capable to do well in life if we will only grab the chance that life is offering us.
A frog is also a continuous reminder not to doubt on our self, look at him, he maybe the ugliest creature you’ve ever seen but he never hesitated to show its presence.
Toad is a Lunar Symbol which represents Yin and Yang, life and death, good and evil, light and dark. The toad is also teaching us to find balance on wealth. How are you thinking of spending your money? It is fine to spend something for yourself and your family, but when is the last time you give back?
When the toad comes to you, consider it a sign that you need to take action. The toad does not succeed by sitting idly by. They are animals that have to eat almost constantly and any missed detail can result in them suffering. This can be a sign to be more alert to small details in your life.
The toad is also considered an astral traveler because he can survive in both worlds – aquatic and the physical. He can be in the spiritual or emotional level represented by water and the physical plane represented by the ground.
He is grounded in his spiritual being. While the toad may be a stubborn guide, he often will help you with encouragement. His attention to detail will help in learning to communicate with the spirit world. He is also a sign that spiritual education can take time. Do not be frustrated when things do not happen overnight. Have patience and persistence.