American toads differ from frogs in several ways. Toads are warty and are
better able to tolerate dry conditions than frogs. While frogs leap to
escape danger, toads are protected by their earth-tone colors and by noxious secretions known as bufotoxins. The secretions are stored in their parotoid
glands which appear as swollen areas on their heads. If caught, toads will
puff themselves up, perhaps urinate and release secretions in an effort
to be let go. Neither the toxin nor the urine is fatal to humans, but care
should be taken not to get either in the mucus membranes, the mouth or
the eyes. Toad secretions do not cause warts.
American Toads are about 2 to 3 1/2 inches long (5.1 to 9 cm) and can be brown, gray, olive or reddish brown with darker and lighter spots on their warts. They are common in the Chicago region and can be found in suburban backyards as well as savannas, prairies and floodplain forests. They breed in just about anything which will hold water from natural ponds, wet depressions, tire ruts, ditches or containers which have filled with rainwater. Males make a sustained, melodious "trill" as an advertisement call. But this gentle call belies an enthusiasm for breeding nearly unmatched among amphibians. In season, excited male toads may try to mate with other male toads, clumps of mud, stones and even the fingers of herpetologists! Once the males find the females, they clasp, and the female lays long strings of small, black eggs in gelatinous ribbons -- the male sperm fertilizes the free flowing eggs. Depending on the temperature of the water, the eggs transform into tadpoles in as little as three days or up to a fortnight. Tadpoles transform quickly; toadlets may leave the breeding water in explosive batches. Tiny toads can be seen in summer walking unconcerned between blades of grass or hunkered down in moist areas waiting for dinner to stroll by. Larger toads may be found clustered around lights at night; they've apparently learned that lights attract insects. Each toad may eat over 1,000 insects a day!
In the hot summer months, toads spend much of their time buried in dirt. They dig in backwards, using their hind feet as shovels. In winter, toads burrow deeper to escape the cold. To encourage toads in your garden, provide a moist hiding place such as an inverted plant saucer under the water supply, avoid garden chemicals and put out a large pan full of water in April.
Ellin Beltz firstname.lastname@example.org October 26, 2008