What Is a Common Toad?

Cynde Gregory
Cynde Gregory

The common toad, also known as the European toad or scientifically as bufo bufo, has been hauling around something of a bad reputation since the Middle Ages, when it was associated with witchcraft. This probably had something to do with the toad’s ability to poison most things that try to eat it by secreting an icky goo called bufagin from its skin. Naturally, this quickly taught most predators to back slowly away from the toads and find something else to munch, which allowed the toads to propagate wildly over most of Europe and parts of Africa. No doubt, this led to them being perceived as common.

The common toad is a night-loving beast who loves to congregate on full-moon nights pondside during breeding season, although the rest of the time, it would rather be alone. If they can manage to keep an eye out for hedgehogs or grass snakes that aren’t the slightest bit bugged by their toxic, sticky skins, common toads can live a grand old life, making it to four decades. Considering that each female can produce approximately 4,000 eggs per lay, that’s a lot of hoppers.

If a toad can be said to be pretty, the common toad isn’t it. Their warty skins come in a wide range of colors from orange brown to icky green. This is a result of their biological ability to blend. The coloration has everything to do with the color of the soil where a particular frog resides.

It’s hard to run to the corner market in Britain, Wales, or Scotland without running into, or even running over, a common toad. In fact, with so few predators, so many eggs, and such long lives, this toad’s main cause of death is being squished beneath the wheel. Interestingly, they avoid northern Ireland as well as Iceland and some Mediterranean islands, although the why isn’t clear.

This toad’s idea of a buffet includes spiders, garden slugs, and larvae as well as the insects that produce them. As "eat or be eaten" is their motto, bigger common toads sometimes slurp up baby grass snakes that, if allowed to grow to adulthood, might eat them. Even mice belong on the dinner plate as far as the toad is concerned. In typical reptilian fashion, these toads feel the need to shed from time to time and devour their own sloughed skins.

Those who live in colder climes will hibernate by digging down into the dirt or squirming under thick roots or deeply embedded stones. They are also partial to drainpipes and can even manage to winter over in pond mud, although being toads and not frogs, most prefer drier environments. March is wake-up time, and as for most living creatures, in spring, their thoughts turn to lust as breeding season begins.

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