Conservation Corner

American Toad

Licensed to Trill

By Dan Zarlenga, Missouri Department of Conservation

Photo Caption: The calming trills of the eastern American toad are Nature’s ultimate relaxation therapy. Photo by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Venture outdoors in spring and you can’t help but be dazzled by the sounds of Missouri’s amphibians. It’s their mating season, and males are doing their best to sing to the hearts of their female counterparts. Mostly, frogs are what you’ll hear. But there might be one voice in this amphibious chorus that’s not quite like the others—the eastern American toad.

Not only is its voice different in sound, but the eastern American toad is the one toad species you’re most likely to hear in our area among the many types of frogs. It’s medium-sized for a toad, at about 2-3 inches long. They can vary in color from gray, greenish gray, or even shades of brown. These toads have white bellies with dark gray mottling.

You’ve probably heard that toads have warts and can give them to you. Well, part of that’s true. Eastern American toads really do have some “warts” on their backs, which are surrounded by dark spots. You can also tend to find warts on their lower legs. But fortunately, these warts are not contagious! And as warts go, many other toad species can be even wartier.

While a lot of people feel that warts don’t make toads attractive, no one can deny the beauty of their voices. The males emit a calm, soft, melodic trill. It’s continuous and steady cadence is exceptionally soothing; and when two or more males sing at once, they can blend into beautiful harmony. This makes the eastern American toad Nature’s ultimate stress reducer.

Listen for toads around rocky, wooded areas or the edges of hardwood forests during the month of April. Since they tend to sing at dusk and into the night, you might be tempted to bring along a pillow and sleeping bag. Think of it as free therapy!

After the male toad succeeds in wooing a female, she lays anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 eggs in long double strands. The tadpoles hatch a week later, and by June, they transform into tiny toadlets.

Speaking of toads vs. frogs, what exactly are the differences between these two amphibians? Well, there are those warts. Toads have dry, warty skin, whereas frogs sport smooth, wet skin. Frogs have tiny teeth and toads are toothless. Frogs are jumpers and leap great distances for their size, but toads simply hop or crawl. That’s because frogs’ bodies are more streamlined with longer legs, and toads tend to be chunkier and their legs, shorter. You’ll usually find frogs in or near water, but adult toads are just as happy on dry land.

So, if you happen to be feeling a bit stressed out, try seeking out some toads! The soothing trill of the male eastern American toad not only attracts its mates, you could find yourself drawn in by it too. Toads may not exactly be licensed therapists, but they might still melt your cares away into the darkness of a spring night.