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What Is the Houston Toad?

Cynde Gregory
Cynde Gregory

The Houston toad is a seriously endangered species that was not discovered until the 1940s and was assigned to the endangered list in 1970. Scientists estimate that the total population of Houston toads ranges between 3,000 and 4,000. Loss of suitable habitat, drought, and the increase of roads and traffic may lead to the extinction of this toad unless conservation efforts are successful.

The greatest concentration of Houston toads is in the south, especially in Texas. Without a specific type of habitat, the Houston toad is unable to reproduce. They require still waters or those that gently flow, such as what is found in wetlands environments. The soil must be very sandy and loose enough to permit burrowing.


Burrowing is essential to the Houston toad as it must hibernate during cold winter months. It also burrows to escape summer’s heat, especially in drought conditions. The habitat must include a water source that persists for at least a month so that the toad eggs will develop into tadpoles and the tadpoles into land-ready toads.

Mating can occur any time during the first half of the year. Adult Houston toads call one another to mate by trilling back and forth as they move toward one another. Humid days and warm nights inspire the toads out of hibernation. They will not emerge unless mating conditions are right. This means that most mating occurs during February or March, depending upon the weather.

A number of predators contribute to the threat to the Houston toad. Carnivorous fish, snakes, and some birds will consume these toads as well as eggs and tadpoles. Egg-laying in temporary water holes that evaporate over time provides some protection from these predators. Flooded river banks, saturated fields, and other damp areas are the toad’s best bet.

Five days is required for the eggs to hatch into tadpoles. In warm water, a toadlet is able to leave water and survive in as little as 15 days. If the water is colder, it can take as long as three months to mature. This is another reason why temporary, shallow water holes offer toads the best breeding environment. Shallow water is usually warmer than deep or flowing water.

The Houston toad has evolved to blend into the surrounding habitat. Its skin is bumpy and colored in muted brown or gray tones. The toadlets are a mere half of an inch (1.26 cm) in length.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Houston Toad and why is it important?

The Houston Toad (Anaxyrus houstonensis) is a rare amphibian species endemic to Texas, primarily found in areas around Austin and Houston. It's important because it's an indicator species, reflecting the health of its environment. Its decline, due to habitat loss and other factors, signals broader ecological issues that could affect other species, including humans.

What does the Houston Toad look like?

The Houston Toad is a small, speckled amphibian with colors ranging from brown to gray or greenish. It has a distinctive dark stripe across its chest and males have a dark throat. Adults typically measure between 2 to 3.5 inches in length, with females generally being larger than males.

What kind of habitat does the Houston Toad require?

The Houston Toad thrives in pine-oak woodlands near sandy soils, which are crucial for its burrowing behavior. It also depends on ephemeral, fish-free breeding ponds that form in the spring. These specific habitat requirements make the species particularly vulnerable to environmental changes and urban development.

Why is the Houston Toad endangered?

The Houston Toad is endangered due to a combination of factors including habitat destruction from urban sprawl, pollution, droughts, and predation by invasive species. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, these threats have led to a dramatic reduction in their population, making conservation efforts critical for their survival.

What is being done to protect the Houston Toad?

Conservation efforts for the Houston Toad include habitat protection and restoration, captive breeding and reintroduction programs, and public education to raise awareness. Organizations are working to safeguard existing habitats while creating new ones, and laws like the Endangered Species Act provide legal protection to the toad and its environment.

How can individuals help in the conservation of the Houston Toad?

Individuals can aid in the conservation of the Houston Toad by supporting habitat conservation initiatives, participating in local wildlife protection programs, and advocating for responsible development practices. Additionally, reducing pesticide use and supporting organizations dedicated to amphibian conservation can contribute to the survival of this species.

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