Species of the month: March - Toad and Toad Spawn

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Common Name: Common toad

Scientific Name: Bufo bufo

Identification: There are a few ways to tell the difference between a toad and a frog. Firstly, toads have warty, rough skin compared to the smooth skin of a frog. Also, toads have a golden iris with a horizontal slit pupil, compared to the rounder pupils of frogs. Instead of hopping like a frog, they mostly crawl along the ground. They have large glands on the head behind their eyes, called parotoid glands. Toads are generally a brown to dull green colour with paler undersides.

Toad spawn is arranged in long lines, like a string of pearls, rather than the clumps of spawn that frogs lay. When the eggs hatch, toad tadpoles emerge; these are jet black, whereas frog tadpoles are lighter in colour.

Diet: Relatively unfussy eaters, toads will eat anything small enough to swallow. This mostly means slugs, snails and insects, which they will often catch with their tongue. Tadpoles generally eat algae and plant matter, and apparently during metamorphosis their digestive organs change to accommodate a switch from vegetarianism to a more carnivorous diet.

Behaviour: Adult toads emerge from their hiding places in spring and make their way to ponds to breed. Males develop ‘nuptial pads’; enlarged bumps on their fingers which enable them to grasp on to females, ready to fertilise her eggs as she lays them. This is known as amplexus (Latin for ‘embrace’!).

Female toads lay strings of eggs. Around 2 weeks after being laid, the tadpoles emerge. They cluster together in shoals within the pond. Towards the end of July, the tadpoles will have metamorphosed into ‘toadlets’ – tiny versions of the adult. They then leave the pond and hunt for food until the onset of winter, when they find a place to shelter through the cold months.

Where can they be found?: The best place to look for toads this time of year is near ponds. They often visit garden ponds to breed and may even tolerate ones with fish (as opposed to frogs), so check your pond if you have one!

Dorset Wildlife Trust reserves where you may see toads and/or their spawn include Lorton Meadows near Weymouth, Kingcombe Meadows near Toller Porcorum and Upton Heath near Poole.

Please don’t take or add amphibians or their spawn from ponds. This risks spreading diseases harmful to wildlife.

Factoid
  • Toads produce a toxin from their parotoid glands which makes them unpleasant tasting to most predators; however, grass snakes and hedgehogs don’t seem to be bothered by the toxin!

  • Adult toads generally don’t spend much time in lakes or ponds. However, researchers in Scotland once found a toad crawling along the bottom of Loch Ness, 98m below the surface!

  • A parasitic blow fly (Lucilia bufonivora) lays its eggs at the opening of toads’ nostrils. When the larvae hatch, they burrow into the nostrils and begin to devour the flesh, eventually killing the poor toad! The name bufonivora literally means ‘toad eater’!

Wildife Gardening Tips:

  • Create a wildlife friendly pond. Make sure that one side is gently sloping to allow animals to climb in and out of the pond and plant a selection of native water plants to provide food and shelter for wildlife.
  • Create a log or rock pile to provide toads, frogs and other animals with a place to shelter, and potentially hibernate over winter
  • Don’t use slug pellets – the poisons could potentially kill amphibians (and other animals) that eat the dead slugs and snails. Encourage toads, frogs and other predators into your garden instead for a natural defence!

Let us know if you've seen a Toad or Toad Spawn below...

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