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What Is the Western Toad?

Angie Bates
Angie Bates

The western toad was once the most abundant toad in the western United States but has since declined in many areas. Ranging from southern Canada, and dipping into northern Mexico, this toad is still abundant in some states in the U.S. but has nearly disappeared from others. The scientific name of the western toad is Bufo boreas.

As with any toad, western toads have warts on their skin. The western toad's warts are small, roughly circular, and a reddish-brown color ringed in dark, nearly black lines. Its skin is either dark green or brown. Unlike some amphibians, western toads have horizontal pupils.


Living in a wide variety of habitats, the western toad may be found anywhere from meadows to marshes, from mountain wetlands to desert springs. This versatile habitat adaptability is one of the reasons they have been so abundant in the past. These toads dig burrows or use the abandoned burrows of small mammals for hibernation in colder months.

Although the western toad lives on land, it breeds in water. Most toads generally live near bodies of water, but the species may migrate up to 2.5 miles (4 km) to a breeding site. Eggs are laid in shallow water. Tadpoles appear in May through September and take at least two months to mature into frogs. The metamorphosis period for groups of tadpoles is highly variable and dependent on the temperature of the water in which they live: the warmer the water, the faster the tadpoles grow.

Western toads eat mostly insects. Spiders, ants, millipedes, daddy long legs, and beetles are their usual diet. They may also eat crayfish, snails, or earth worms. A wide variety of animals prey on these toads, including mammals of all sizes, as well as birds.

Although the western toad was once the most numerous of any toad species in many of the western states, this species has declined through the beginning of 21st century. The exact cause for the decline is undetermined, but many theories have been posed. Pollution reducing the immune system of otherwise healthy toads, making them susceptible to previously non-life-threatening diseases, is one theory. The thinning ozone layer, which allows more ultraviolet light to reach the earth, thus killing tadpoles, is another. Deforestation is also a clear contributor.

Scientists continue to investigate the causes for the western toad's decline. Despite declining populations however, this toad is not yet considered endangered. Although it is nearly extinct in certain areas, such as Utah, it is still relatively common in other states.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Western Toad and where can it be found?

The Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas) is a species of toad native to western North America. It inhabits a range of environments from coastal areas to mountainous regions, including British Columbia, parts of Mexico, and the western United States. These toads prefer moist habitats near water sources for breeding but can also be found in forests and grasslands.

How can you identify a Western Toad?

A Western Toad can be identified by its dry, warty skin and the characteristic white or cream dorsal stripe running down its back. They typically have a robust, stocky build and range in color from greenish to brownish-gray. Their parotoid glands behind the eyes are prominent, and they have horizontal pupils, which distinguish them from frogs.

What does the Western Toad eat?

Western Toads are opportunistic feeders, primarily consuming insects such as ants, beetles, and moths. Their diet also includes other invertebrates like spiders and worms. They use their sticky tongues to catch prey, and their diet can help control pest populations, highlighting their ecological importance.

Is the Western Toad endangered?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Western Toad is currently classified as Near Threatened. Their populations are declining due to habitat loss, disease, pollution, and climate change. Conservation efforts are crucial to prevent them from moving into more critical endangerment categories.

How do Western Toads reproduce?

Western Toads breed in aquatic environments, such as ponds or slow-moving streams, typically from March to July. Females lay thousands of eggs in long, gelatinous strings that attach to vegetation. Tadpoles emerge after a few days and undergo metamorphosis into toadlets within 6-8 weeks, depending on environmental conditions.

What are some unique behaviors of the Western Toad?

Western Toads are known for their nocturnal and crepuscular activity, especially during warmer months. They are also notable for their "toad walk," which is a distinctive, slow, and crawling movement rather than the hopping seen in many other toad species. During winter, they hibernate underground to escape the cold temperatures.

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