The Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
By Nigel Hand, photos Simon Williams
Common Toads © Simon Williams
Most of us must be familiar with the common toad. I remember a large individual, who lived in a drainage hole in the back wall of my parent’s garden; on damp summer nights I would watch it hunting moths, slugs, worms and spiders. This is one of my earliest recollections of amphibians, which fuelled my herpetological passion.
The common toad is the larger of the two toad species found in the British Isles. The Natterjack (Bufo calamita) is restricted to heathland and coastal dunes. There is a colony in Wales but none in Herefordshire. Common toads are sparsely distributed throughout Herefordshire, rough grassland, scrubby open woodland with a nearby pond are typical habitat. It does not adapt to the small garden as readily as the common frog, they appear to need larger still water bodies for spawning. It is distributed throughout Europe from Scandinavia through southern Europe into northwest Africa.
Common Toad © P. King
The Common Toad is warty in appearance, unlike the smooth skinned frog, grey brown or ruddy brown in overall colour, the belly a dirty white. It is able to lighten or darken skin tone to suit its environment.
The eye is coppery red with a horizontal darker pupil. The two large glands behind the eyes, known as the paratoid glands, contain a noxious secretion that deters predators. A dog which picks up a toad will salivate and froth at the mouth and while preoccupied the toad will make its escape. The symptoms from the toxins are very short term. Females are larger than males, up to 90mm, males 60mm. They move in a series of short hops or a crawl.
Toads are particular about their breeding ponds, tending to favour ancestral ponds. Even when filled in they will return to the former site! The preference is for larger water bodies.
In late March to early April damp mild nights see toads travelling from winter hibernation to their spawning ponds, often in large numbers. They can travel as far as 1600 meters in a matter of days. Some males will arrive on the back of a female, but the tendency is for males to get to the pond first, calling to attract the females. Balls of male toads form around single females in a mating frenzy. They will grasp any moving object presented, such is the desire to mate. The female will emit a release call if grabbed by a male after she has finished spawning.
Breeding frenzy © Simon Williams
Toad spawn is laid in strings two rows of eggs in a string of jelly, the emergent tadpoles are black, frog tadpoles brown. The toad tadpoles are distasteful to most predators, apart from dragonfly and water beetle larvae and great crested newts who have all managed to overcome this.
The tadpoles will shoal and move to the warm shallows. After 8 to 12 weeks they emerge as toadlets at 10mm. They then move off en masse into the cover of long vegetation. The cycle repeats in 3 to 4 years when they reach sexual maturity.
Toads are long-lived and a captive individual can achieve 36 years. A wild toad would be lucky to reach 10 years old.
Grass snakes are able to eat toads and I have witnessed this regularly. The toad will inflate and stand on tiptoes to look larger and more intimidating. But neither this nor its toxic secretions will prevent a grass snake from eating the toad. Also hedgehogs, buzzards, corvids and herons will all prey on toads. Otters, mink and polecats will skin them or turn them onto their bellies to avoid the toxins and eat them.
Common Toad © Simon Williams
Toads are declining mainly through pond losses. Many toads are lost on their spring migrations when crossing busy roads. In some areas toad breeding ponds are transected by several roads where mortality rates will be high. HART needs to know where major toad breeding sites are within the county in an effort to protect them for the future. Any information should be passed on to HART.