Western Toad – Zot Drought Survivor

Toads don’t cause warts.

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

Habitat

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.

Lifespan

 10-11 years

Reproduction

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.

Threats

  • 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 

Resources:

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

Savethefrogs.com

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

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