American toads are the most widespread toad species in North America

Anaxyrus americanus (American Toad)
Anaxyrus is a genus of true toads in the family Bufonidae

The American toad, sometimes referred to as the hop toad, is generally found in the midwest and northeast United States and parts of eastern Canada.  American Toads have short legs, stout bodies and thick skins with noticeable warts.  Their warty skin contains parotid glands that produce a poisonous milky fluid that provides them with excellent protection from predators. Their toxin (known collectively as bufotoxins) is an irritant to humans, mammals and other amphibians and it is advisable to wash your hands after handling a toad. Make sure that you don’t touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth prior to washing up.


American toads are very adaptable and can live almost everywhere, ranging from forests to backyards. Toads adapt very well to their surroundings and will continue to flourish as long as there is moisture, insects,  and a source of clean water in a pool for them to use in the breeding season.  Toads lay their eggs in small temporary pools of water in early spring.

Toads live on land, but because they are amphibians, they require moisture and humidity. Toads and frogs have a special role to play in the environment. With their semi-permeable skin and their ability to live “on the edge” between water and land, frogs and toads are very sensitive to pollution and other environmental changes.

Physical Characteristics

American Toads are two to four-and-a-half inches in length and can vary in color.  Skin colors include tan, olive green, reddish brown and other variations. Some may be patterned while others are solid in color. American toads have four toes on each front leg and five toes connected together by a webbing on each hind leg. The pupils of American toads are oval and black with a circle of gold around them. The sexes can be distinguished in two ways. Males have dark colored throats, of black or brown, while females have white throats and are lighter overall. Also, female American toads are larger than male American toads. American toads can be distinguished from other species of toads by the presence of several dark spots on their backs which contain only one or two warts each.


 American Toads are active mainly at night and when the weather is warm and humid. During the day toads will hide under rocks or logs, or dig into dead leaves and soil to stay out of sight.  They are solitary creatures, congregating only at breeding ponds in the early summer and late spring.  Unlike most toads, which wait for prey to come along and pounce on it, American Toads can shoot out their sticky tongues to catch prey. They also use their front legs in order to eat larger food. They grasp their food and push it into their mouths.


Before winter comes an American Toad finds or makes an underground burrow (hibernaculum) that protects it from the winter weather. The toad's metabolism slows dramatically, so it can "sleep away" the winter by utilizing its body's energy stores. When spring weather arrives, the animal's metabolism "speeds up" and the toad leaves its hibernaculum to get on with the business of feeding and breeding.


American Toads become sexually mature when they reach 2 - 3 years of age. Breeding season usually begins in February or March and continues through May. However, the actual start of breeding is temperature and light dependent to take advantage of optimal conditions. Males find a suitable pool of water and begin calling to females. They use a specialized dewlap that is a pouch that holds air for calling. Female toads are silent and only listen for males.  Male American Toads have a distinctive call which can last between 4 and 20 seconds and sounds somewhat like crickets chirping.


When a female is getting ready to breed, she produces eggs internally. Producing eggs internally in a toad is a term called being "gravid". A gravid female will oviposit (lay eggs) when stimulated by the male during amplexus (the mating position of frogs and toads, in which the male clasps the female about the back. If she is not courted by a male, the toad may reabsorb her eggs entirely and not oviposit that season.

Depending on the ambient temperature, the fertilized eggs may hatch within one or two weeks. Water quality is a very important factor at this stage for the delicate tadpoles. Tadpoles consume vegetation from the water. They will usually undergo metamorphosis into toadlets within three or four weeks. Metamorphosis is a complex series of changes both external and internal to the tadpoles. Lungs are formed, gills are absorbed, the digestive system changes from a primarily vegetarian one to a carnivorous one, legs appear and the tail is absorbed. Toadlets need to be able to climb out of the water and onto land when their limbs develop. When these changes have taken place, the toadlets leave the water but tend to linger near the pond for a several days. These tiny toads will begin to consume wingless fruit flies and other very small insects the find. By mid summer the toadlets have dispersed into the surrounding area. 

Welcome an American Toad into your Garden

American Toads are responsible for controlling the populations of many kinds of insects,  and for this reason they are widely considered friends to gardeners and farmers. The toxins produced by their skin may also eventually prove useful in medical research. So although the American Toad is not beautiful to most people, it is certainly a very useful creature for the farmer and the gardener.