Wisconsin Sea Grant Frogs: Field Guide

Eastern American Toad
(Bufo americanus americanus)

A prolonged, high-pitched trill that may last more than 30 seconds

Size: 5.1-11.1 cm in length (2-4.4 inches)

Highly variable in color, ranging from tan, brown, or reddish brown to gray or olive. Most individuals have dark, rounded spots on the back, each of which encircles one or two warts. A light line may run down the middle of the back. The throat and belly are whitish or yellowish with black or gray spotting.

Widely ranging throughout the Great Lakes region; can be found in urban parks, suburban backyards, farmland, savannas, prairies and forests.

When not out looking for food, eastern American toads will keep cool by spending much of their time buried in dirt, leaves, or beneath logs or rocks. They dig into the ground backwards, using their hind feet as shovels. In the winter, they simply burrow deeper to escape the cold.

Confusing Species:
Fowler's Toads usually have three or more warts within each of the larger spots on their backs, and often have unmarked, whitish undersides. Their short, nasal-sounding breeding call is quite unlike the long, musical trill of the Eastern American Toad. These two toad species may interbreed.

Breeding: April to July

What's the difference between toads and frogs?

Frogs and toads are related, but they're not exactly alike. Frogs have smooth, slick skin, while toads have warty, bumpy skin (by the way, you can't get warts by touching a toad!).

Toads can handle dry conditions better than frogs. And while frogs leap away to escape danger, toads are protected by their camouflage colors and by skin secretions called bufotoxins. These secretions are stored in the toad's parotid glands, which look like swollen bumps on their heads. If caught, a toad will likely puff itself up with air, urinate, and secrete these bufotoxins in an effort to get dropped. Neither the toxin nor the urine is harmful to humans (unless ingested).

Farmers and gardeners like to see toads, because toads eat many types of insects and insect larvae, as well as spiders, centipedes, millipedes, snails, slugs and earthworms. If you want to attract toads to your garden, provide a moist hiding place such as an inverted plant holder. Avoid using garden chemicals, and put out a large pan full of water in April.

copyright 2001 University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute


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