This plump amphibian is probably the most encountered amphibians of suburban backyards. I always look forward to seeing them around my house and yard. I can even distinguish individuals by their unique warty pattern. This pattern not only provides camouflage, but their parotid gland (large warts near their eyes) produces toxins making them distasteful and thus protects them from some predators. However, they are consumed by snakes (garter and hognose snakes especially), owls, skunks and raccoons. Their primary prey consists of insects, spiders, worms, and slugs, but will eat just about anything they can fit into their mouth. Having them in your garden is in an ideal organic pest control system!
As winter comes to an end, toads, after hibernating underground all winter, will emerge and travel to breeding pools. Toads are not particular and any area that holds water for a period of time is a potential location for courtship. Like other Ohio amphibians the males will arrive first to begin singing. American toads have a long musical trill that is quite beautiful when in full chorus. As they serenade the arriving females they will soon chose a suitable mate.
Once this occurs, long somewhat coiled strings of two toned black and white eggs are laid. The number of eggs for one female can be into the thousands. The eggs develop very rapidly and in about a week will hatch into tiny black tadpoles. These tadpoles graze on algae in the wetland and grow very quickly. When they have reached an adequate size or if pressured by the drying of the pools they begin their amazing transformation through metamorphosis. Their abundant number of eggs, if all goes well, results in countless toads leaving the wetland for a terrestrial life. Spending the days under logs or rocks they emerge at night to hunt. They are often attracted to insects visiting an outside light, feasting on the easy and abundant food supply. While most will not survive to return to the pools and breed since they become food for predators, or worse stepped on or run over by vehicles. Toads need 2 – 3 years to reach their sexual maturity and have been documented to live 16 years in the wild with a longevity record of 36 years in captivity. While common they still rely on clean water and a safe environment to survive. With increasing environmental stressors, we need to pay attention to our own backyard to ensure the survival of even very common animals. This spring keep your ears out for signing toads, find where they are breeding and make sure this area is protected for future generations to enjoy toads in their backyards.
Watershed Stewardship Center