Western Toad – Zot Drought Survivor

Toads don’t cause warts.

If your dog tries to eat one, it might foam-at-the-mouth.


With a wide habitat range, western toads can be found from sea level to 11,000 feet elevation and from Baja, Mexico to Alaska.

Like other amphibians, toad numbers have been declining in recent decades, but new field observations give cause for hope. Evidence appears to show that they can adapt to reproducing outside accustomed seasonal cycles and they’ll take advantage of water to breed in, even if it’s not their ‘home water.’

Characteristics & Behavior

Western toads come in a variety of colors – reddish-brown, yellow, green, gray, or white. 

Rough, blotchy bumps can have red centers.  It usually has a light-colored stripe going down the length of its back and large “cheek” glands.

Photo Credit: Spaltedalder

Once a toad leaves its natal water body in spring, they live on the land where they dig shallow burrows, occupy gopher and ground squirrel holes, beaver dams or find protected spaces under rocks or tree roots near water sources such as bogs, streams, meadows, lakes, and rivers. 

Their body temperatures are largely controlled by sun basking and evaporative cooling. In order to avoid drying conditions, they spend the daylight hours on the forest floor in the soil under rocks, logs, stumps, or other surface objects or in rodent burrows.

In June, when temperatures begin to rise, they remain in their burrows, only coming out at dusk or night time to feed.

Like bats, toads have the ability to go into a state of torpor (partial hibernation) during unfavorable living conditions, such as when it’s very hot, cold, or dry. At high elevations, they can go into full hibernation.  (Their blood contains a sugar that acts like antifreeze, protecting organs in extreme cold.)

After waking from winter sleep, western toads migrate back to the water to mate and lay eggs. 

Photo Credit: Steve Collins Valley Conservation

Toads lay eggs in strings, rather than clumps. Hatchlings tend to stay together through metamorphosis.

Tadpole  Diet

  • Suspended plant materials in the water
  • Bottom detritus
  • Carrion

Tadpole Predators

  • Birds
  • Amphibians
  • Mammals
  • Fish

Adult Diet

  • Ants
  • Bees
  • Beetles
  • Butterflies
  • Crayfish
  • Earthworms
  • Fleas
  • Flies
  • Grasshoppers
  • Moths
  • Snails
  • Sowbugs
  • Spiders
  • Slugs
  • Worms

Quick tongue action to catch prey is called a ‘zot’.

*See video in Resources about special saliva.

Adult Predators

  • Ravens, crows, and other birds
  • Snakes
  • Badgers, foxes, bobcats & other mammals

Defense Mechanisms

Peeing and defecating are defense mechanisms. To deter predators, adult toads secrete a mild milky (alkaloid) neurotoxin from glands located on their neck, back, and shoulders. 

Females deposit a small amount of the toxin on newly laid eggs.


 10-11 years


Western toads become sexually mature and able to reproduce between 4 – 6 years old.

Wildlife biologists think toads use smell to travel between breeding territories. They need shallow, open water and tend to return to the same spot each year. 

Unlike other frog species, male western toads do not have vocal sacs. 

Males will compete for a female. Even without a vocal sac, males make a chirping sound as other males approach. He’ll kick competitors away to defend her.

Between March and July, breeding occurs.  Females lay eggs in long strings, up to 17,000 at a time! It takes about three months to complete the metamorphosis from tadpole to toad.

Water temperature regulates metamorphosis speed.


  • Competition with introduced species (not native animals kept as pets and set free)
  • Fungal infection from chytridiomycosis
  • Absorption of fertilizers in water systems
  • Absorption of mineral pollutants from mine water drainage
  • Worm parasites
  • Habitat destruction
  • Warming water temperatures

Toads & Dogs – Tips to Reduce the Possibility of Poisoning

  • Don’t leave pet water (or food) outside. Toads are attracted to it.
  • If a toad has soaked in your pet water, it could make your pet sick.

Signs of Toad Poisoning

Signs that your dog has tried to eat a toad include;

  • Foaming-at-the-mouth is a sign that your pet may have tried to eat a toad.
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pet might vomit it swallowed a whole toad

If you saw where it happened, it’s a good idea to – carefully – retrace your animal’s steps to verify the cause. (Always be aware that rattlesnakes can also be a possibility!)

 Most U.S. toads are only mildly toxic (highly toxic varieties live in Hawaii, Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and along the Colorado River). 

Poisoning First Aid  

If your pet is conscious;

  • Rinse mouth with a hose pointing from the back of the mouth out, nose tipped down.
  • If possible, don’t let your animal swallow the flush water.
  • Don’t induce vomiting unless instructed by your vet.
  • Continue rinsing for 5 to 10 minutes

Call your vet.

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If you liked this article, you may also like Sierra Newt – Powerful Water Drive & Deadly Skin or Sierran Tree Frog with Chemical Sensitivities 


Anphibiaweb.org – Anaxyrus boreas 
ASPCA – The Trouble with Toads: Getting to the Bottom of this Toxic Threat
CaliforniaHerps.com – Boreal Toad – Anaxyrus boreas
California Herps – Identifying Toads in California
Canadian – Western Toads 

Core.AC.UK – Late-season Reproduction in Western Toads (Bufo boreas) PDF [2017] 
Global News – Hop to it: Whistler park closed as 40K baby toads hit the road in mass migration
Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation – Toadlet Migration 2018 Update (Canada)
National Geographic Education – Conserve Western Toad (Canada) 
National Park Service – Amphibian Monitoring 
National Park Service – Drought Uncovers New Facts About West Coast Toads 
National Park Service – A Need to Breed: California Toads in the Santa Monica Mountains


The University of British Columbia – Roseanna Gamlen-Greene Western Toad Ecology
USDA Forest Service – Anaxyrus boreas – fire effects information 
Wikdipedia.org – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_toad

Western Fence Lizard – Three-eyed Push-Up Tyrant with Break-Away Body Parts

The western fence lizard is also known as a blue-belly because of the brightly colored scales under its throat and at the outer edges of the underbelly. It is a fossorial (burrowing) poikilotherm (an animal that regulates body temperature by sun basking or dirt burrowing).

In females and youngsters, the blue markings are faint or not there at all.


This lizard measures 2 inches to 3.5 from nose to snout. Eight inches total, including the tail.

Because of its pointed, overlapping scales, it’s a member of the spiny lizard genus –  Sceloporus.

Colors range from sandy, black, brown to green. Some may have back stripes. Under the arms may be yellowish. Western fence lizards have the ability to change colors. Biologists think this adaptation relates to maintaining body temperature rather than for camouflage.

Third Eye

The third or parietal eye is located at the top of the lizard’s head. It’s covered by a translucent scale. Its purpose is to sense light throughout the year, signal the onset of reproduction and it helps control body temperature.


The length of winter hibernation is dependent on climate conditions.


  •  Fast, biting, and defecating on predators
  • Dropping tail – caudal autotomy or self-amputation (Scientists measure from snout to vent because of the break-away tail)



Functions of the Push-ups;

  • courtship – fitness demonstration – the more brilliant colors, the healthier the male (low parasite load)
  • territorial defense display – in mating season, males defend an approximate 25-foot radius from a high perch
  • may also relate to food availability within the territory
  • a dominant male guarding at the highest point in the territory is known as a tyrant 


A blue-belly’s favorite food is insects. It will eat beetles, grasshoppers, ants, wasps, aphids, mosquitoes, ticks, scorpions, centipedes, and spiders. It will also eat other western fence lizards! 


As they grow, lizards shed skin in pieces. Sometimes, it becomes a snack. Successful shedding depends on diet, health status, and environmental conditions.

Life Span

5-7 years


Birds, snakes, alligator lizards, and cats.

Male Identification 

Like birds, male western lizards are more brightly colored and showy than females. Where the tail meets the body, males have two large scales near the vent, a single opening used for waste elimination and reproduction.

While copulating, the male’s blue color is at its most brilliant.


Male identification at 2:17

Western fence lizards begin breeding after one year.

Mating Season – March – June

Egg size is largest with the first clutch. The number of clutches laid in a season depends on temperature and elevation. At lower elevations, females will lay between 1-4 clutches. At higher elevations, they’ll lay between 1-3 clutches. Each clutch can contain between 3-17 eggs.

Eggs and Hatching

Eggs incubate for approximately 2 months. Once hatched, babies fend for themselves.


Disease Benefits to Humans

Western fence lizards have a protein in their blood that filters out the spirochete bacterium in Deer Ticks that cause Lyme disease. After a tick feeds on a lizard it will not spread Lyme disease to its next, larger, host during its life cycle.


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Bay Nature – How You Can Tell Male from Female Lizards? 

In Tech Open – Reptilian Skin and Its Special Histological Structures

John Muir Laws – Lizards, Ticks, and Lyme oh my! (audio)

MonkeySee – How to Care for Pet Lizards (video)

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles – ‘Tis the Season fo Baby Lizards

Purdue University – Shedding Reptiles (PDF)

Reptilian Third Eye

San Francisco State University – Department of Geography –   The Biogeography of  Sceloporus occidentalis

Sci Show – How Do Animals Re-Grow Limbs (And Why Can’t We?)

UC Berkeley News – Tick population plummets in absence of lizard hosts

University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources – Pests in Gardens and Landscapes – Lizards
Lizards cause no measurable damage to plants in gardens and may be beneficial by eating pest insects and should be left alone.”

BioWeb – Western Fence Lizard

WIRED – Lizards Use Third Eye to Steer by the Sun

Wikipedia – Western Fence Lizard 

Lichen: Exploring Microecosystems in Your Backyard

Lichens are tiny farming biomes that live on rocks, soil and trees.

Fortunately, with a magnifying glass or macro setting on your smartphone, you can explore these systems within a few steps of your door.

A Lichen is a Symbiotic System

Lichen is composed of fungi, algae, and bacteria. The fungus captures plant cells, taking it inside its body where it nourishes and protects them. When the algal cells photosynthesize, they produce sugars that the fungus eats.

Very resilient, lichens have survived space experiments and can lay dormant for up to ten years in wetter California climates. Some species are over 1,000 years old!


What Lichens Need to Grow

Lichens need air, water, light, nutrients, and something to cling to (substrate).

Air: Like sponges, lichens absorb everything they need from nutrients to moisture. They’re so sensitive to environmental pollutants, temperature shifts and water conditions that the U.S. Forest Service uses lichen surveys as indicators of forest health, providing hot spot data and conservation priorities.

Water: Lichens don’t have the ability to regulate moisture levels (poikilohydry).  When they lack water, they dry out, go dormant and look dark. When water is available, they plump-up, look green, grow, and reproduce.

Light: The algal cells that the fungi farm need light to photosynthesize. Lichen species have different light requirements. Some prefer full sun on rocks while others like shady, cooler subclimates. Brightness and coloring are also affected by light. Species adapted to hotter and brighter conditions are generally more colorful.
Nutrients: Lichen nutrients include; oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. Lichens use cyanobacteria to “fix” nitrogen from the air which is then used to organic acids and proteins. 
Species types – acidophyte & nitrophyte – that flourish or diminish under certain climate conditions are used in lichen surveys.
Substrate: Any non-moving object the lichen can hold onto – rocks, trees, soil, tombstones, houses, farm equipment, etc. 

Types of Lichen


Foliose: Leafy lichens that use tiny rhizines to attach to substrate.

Folios lichen – Plitt’s Xanthoparmelia plitti, Lettuce lichen/Lobaria oregana & Rhizine Photo by Ed Uebel – NOTE: Lichens are not parasitic. They  do not hurt trees.

Forage: Hair-like and hanging species that are eaten by animals and humans

Forage lichen – Willa/Bryoria fremontii – eaten by squirrels, western voles, wild turkey, slugs, snails, mites, springtails, certain caterpillars and Mule deer. Photo by Jason Hollinger



Crustose:  Lichens grow flat on their substrate surface

Crustose lichens – gold cobblestone/Pleopsidium flavum and Firedot/Caloplaca trachyphylla – Photos by Jason Hollinger

Fruticose: looks like a shrub, bush, or coral

Fruticose lichen – Old Man’s Beard/Usnea Photo by Rhododendrites & Wolf lichen/Letharia vulpina Photo by Jason Hollinger


Lichens have multiple reproduction methods. If they reproduce sexually (by way of fruiting bodies) they create spores. If they reproduce asexually, a powdery substance – soredia –  is released. Both methods use, wind, water, and animals to transport the newbies.

The fruiting body of the Pixie Cup lichen

MYTH: Lichen do not harm trees. 

Other Lichen Uses & Users

Clothing, wound absorbent, diapers, model train shrubbery, and an ingredient in concrete, perfume, and deodorant. Some lichens are being studied as new sources of antibiotics and medicines.

Camouflage for; lizards, moths, tree frogs and other insects.

Insect larva camouflage


Nesting Material
At least 50 bird species use lichens as nesting material.









If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Bird’s Nest Fungi – Spores Spread by Raindrops


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Click on image to go to a FREE downloadable coloring sheet
Click on image to purchase or view more Life on the Creek art












Acidophyte & Nitrophyte Lichen Species  (air quality indicators)

Bay Nature – Identifying with Lichens

California Lichen Society – Observations  |  California’s State Lichen

Consortium of North America Lichen Herbaria 

Field Guide To California Lichens 


Live Science – What are Lichens?

The Scientist – Not One, Not Two, But Three Fungi Present in Lichen 

Marin County Lichens (Introduction to)

National Lichens & Air Quality Database and Clearinghouse

North American Mycological Association

OPAL Identification Guide (PDF)

Sharnoff – Lichen uses by people: Perfume & Misc. | Dyeing

Sierra College Natural History Museum – California Lace Lichen

UC, Berkeley – California Lichen Society

University of Minnesota Extension – Non-harmful tree conditions

USDA – Lichen Bioindication of Biodiversity, Air Quality, and Climate: Baseline Results From Monitoring in Washington, Oregon, and California

U.S. Forest Service – About Lichens

U.S. Forest Service – Lichen Habitat 

Wikipedia – Lichens of the Sierra Nevada U.S.










Lichen Photography

Lichen Photography by Stephen Sharnoff

Lichen Photography by Tim Wheeler 







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