My Red American Toad

Red Toad.jpg

My Red American Toad

I met him on one of my morning garden walks. I know I have a variety of toads in my garden, mostly black so this was startling to say the least, and exciting - a red toad!

This toad is an American Toad bufo americanus. Toads, like other amphibians, do not drink with their mouths. Instead, they absorb moisture from the ground through a pelvic patch and store it in a lymph sac or bladder. The stored fluids are released when the toad becomes frightened, as most anyone who has picked up a frightened toad knows.

I didn’t pick this one up. I watched it watch me, then moved on. I saw no point in getting it unnecessarily excited.

According to Missouri Department of Conservation, toads are inactive during the day and burrow underground in sand or soil, also hiding under organic litter, bark, partially buried logs, and rocks. They become active in the evening and during rains.

This lack of daytime activity and their color camouflage are two of the toad’s defense mechanisms, along with their ability to puff themselves up to look more fearsome in the eyes of a predator. Toads also have a secret weapon that protects these otherwise harmless creatures from becoming another animal’s meal.

Kidney-shaped paratoid glands located behind toads’ eyes secrete a moderately potent toxin known as bufotoxin. The milky substance irritates the mucous membranes in predators’ mouths and can even cause death if an animal chooses to ignore the irritation and swallows the toad.

Contrary to popular folklore, toads do not cause warts, but because of bufotoxins, it’s a good idea to wash your hands after touching or holding a toad.

Toads are favorite foods of raccoons and hog-nosed snakes.

I like having toads in my garden because they consume mosquitoes, ants, spiders, beetles, crickets, and locusts, as well as snails, cutworms, and earthworms — 10,000 or more in one season.

Toads do not have teeth and must swallow prey whole. Toads blink their eyes when they snag a meal, which causes their eyeballs to roll into the roof of their mouth, pushing their prey into their throat, a characteristic shared with frogs.

Male toads woo potential mates with a long musical trill generated from an inflated vocal sac. They can sing alone, but in most cases large choruses can be heard at night. On occasion, they have been known to romance toads of other species. Although males are the most vocal, some female toads make chirping sounds when handled.

The American toad can be found statewide, with one subspecies, A. a. americanus, inhabiting northern Missouri, and a second dwarf species living predominately in the southern half of the state.

Bumpy red American toad is easy to spot. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Bumpy red American toad is easy to spot. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A female toad lays between 2,000 and 20,000 eggs. And unlike many frogs, which deposit their eggs singly or in masses, toads lay eggs in long strings. Most eggs hatch within a week, and the tiny, black tadpoles develop into toads that are ready to hop onto dry land in six to eight weeks.

Now I am wondering how many of the tadpoles in my tiny pond were actually toads instead of frogs.

For comparison, this is one of my sleek bullfrogs. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

For comparison, this is one of my sleek bullfrogs. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)


  • Dry, warty skin

  • No teeth

  • Shorter hind legs than most frogs

  • Hop or crawl

  • Lay eggs in long, parallel strings

    And now, for frogs:

  • Smooth, wet skin

  • Tiny teeth on both upper and lower jaws

  • Jump or leap

  • Lay eggs singly, in small clumps, in large masses, or as a film of eggs on the water surface.

Now what do you have in your garden, toads or frogs, maybe both?