The western toad (Anaxyrus boreas)
Keeping up our Halloween season Crawlies theme, this week we revisit
The western toad is a critter you just gotta love, warts and all!
Fun fact: Why do toads have “warts”? Toads’ thick, funky, bumpy skin helps them retain moisture so they can travel quite far from water.
Speaking of skin, western toads’ skin comes in a variety of colors. They can be brown, gray, green or olive-green. All shades sport irregular black spots and some sport tans or rusty red spots as well. All western toads have a telltale cream or white line running down their back.
Adults range in size from two to five inches; males are smaller than females.
Western toads lay their eggs in water and spend their tadpole time living the life aquatic. Adults prefer dry land. Well, dryish land. You won’t find them in arid regions, but in woodlands, meadows and mountainous wetlands.
There are scattered recordings of western toads throughout our area. The best place to spot them is in and along the edges of the Cascades.
Right now, western toads are chowing down and getting ready to hibernate. Depending on location and weather they will go into hibernation anywhere from mid-October to early November.
They hibernate by burrowing into crevices or directly into the ground. They’ll go deep enough to be protected from freezing weather. They’ll hop on out in late February ready for spring. Once they wipe the proverbial sleep from their eyes in spring, they start hopping.
Fun fact: Western toads walk or hop; they don’t leap like frogs. Guess that’s why it’s not called “leap toad.”
Western toads return to the same breeding area every year, which can be up to a mile away from where they hibernate. For breeding and egg laying, they like calm, shallow, sun-warmed waters such as ponds, lake edges, slow streams, and river backwaters.
Toads are at their most vulnerable during this trek to water. They are preyed on by mammals, snakes, birds, and of course, witches need them for potions.
Toads have a few nifty predator deterrents, however. While they don’t have vocal sacs they do make peeping sounds like baby chicks. They use these vocalizations to startle would-be predators as well as to warn other toads “Hey! There’s a predator around!”
Their earth-tone skin acts as perfect dappled sunlight woodland camouflage as well.
If all else fails, they have their parotoid glands – toad chemical warfare. Parotoid glands are located on western toads’ necks. They secrete milky bufotoxins which act as neurotoxins on predators.
The lesson here is, don’t startle a toad.
Western toads are great to have around; they are another of nature’s free pest controllers. Adults eat worms, beetles, bees, grasshopper, spiders, ants and other small invertebrates. During their two-month tenure as tadpoles they eat algae, detritus and even carrion, helping to keep our waters clean.
If you’re lucky enough to see a western toad, appreciate them from a distance. Our population is in decline and they are an Oregon Conservation Strategy Species of Concern.
Don’t blame it all on witches though; western toads also face breeding habitat loss, road mortality (especially on breeding routes), water pollution and recreational impacts.