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The ­Eastern American Toad

Our neighbor, warts and all

The American toad may be the most-seen amphibian in Chesapeake Country. I’ve seen several in my yard this summer, and you probably have, too.
    Odds for spotting an American toad are best near their preferred habitat: garden, forest or meadow. They are active mostly at night, which is when I always find them hopping around my yard or sitting on my patio.
    American toads are large; they grow up to four and a half inches long. Full-grown adults are usually chubby.
    They vary in color but are usually brown, brick red or olive colored. Mine are brown with patterns of lighter colors on their bodies and limbs.
    American toads have warts. But don’t believe the myth that you’ll catch warts from handling toads. You can only get warts from viruses.
    Adult American toads live just about anywhere there is moisture. Like all amphibians, they need to keep their skin moist.
    Toads don’t drink water; they absorb it through their skin. Mine do this by hopping in and out of my dogs’ water bowls.
    Toads are avid predators. Insects, spiders, earthworms, snails and slugs make up most of their diet, but they will eat just about anything that fits in their mouths. If it’s not moving though, they won’t eat it. They lash out with their sticky tongues to grab prey. If the prey is large, they use their arms to stuff it into their mouths.
    Toads have manners, too; they wipe their mouths with their hands after a meal.
    American toads have special paratoid glands that produce a foul-smelling, toxic chemical. This keeps some predators from trying to eat them. It works with my cats and dogs; they stay away from the toads in my yard.
    To get around the paratoid glands, raccoons will flip over an American toad and eat it from the underside, away from the smelly, toxic glands.
    Other toad defense tactics include playing dead and puffing up to make themselves look bigger and scarier.
    For humans, toads have a foolproof tactic. When a toad gets scared and nervous, it will pee on you — rather suddenly, too — so you’ll drop it, allowing it to escape. Works every time.