Species of the Month - February 2016: Toads

Common toad (credit: Joy Russell)Common toad (credit: Joy Russell)

This year, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust is running a new series taking a closer look at one key species of flora or fauna each month. For February, we are looking at toads…

Types

Only 2 types of native toad live in the UK:

Common toad (credit: Philip Precey)The common toad (Bufo bufo) is widespread. Contrary to common perception, toads are not slimy but have a dry leathery, warty skin. They have golden eyes with two distinctive lumps behind them, called parotoid glands. The difference between toads and frogs is that toads have drier skin and live more on land than in water. Toads' hind legs are shorter than frogs', so they tend to crawl rather than making frog-like leaps. The toad has bumps on its skin to enable it to blend in better with its surroundings. Adult toads range in size from 7-8ins (17-20cms) and do not have teeth. When disturbed, toads tend to remain still.

Natterjack toad (credit: Philip Precey)The natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita) is rare and only found in sand dunes, sandy heath and coastal grazing marshes. They’re smaller than common toads, often have a thin stripe down the back and have shorter legs which they use for short bursts of running; they also have a very loud call.

Midwife toad (credit: Fice - Wikimedia)

There is also a non-native species, the midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans), which is becoming established in certain parts of the UK (but not the Midlands at the time of writing). Midwife toads are similar to common toads but are only about half the size (about 2 ins or 5 cms). They are grey or brown in colour and have a high-pitched whistling call. The male wraps the spawn around his hind limbs and carries it around until the eggs are ready to hatch.

 

Behaviour

Toad Spawn Common toads secrete an irritant from their skin that prevents most predators from wanting to eat them. As they don't move as quickly as frogs, if they are attacked they will puff themselves up to seem bigger and less edible. Most common toads lay eggs in paired strings that hatch into tadpoles, although, in the genus Nectophrynoides, the eggs hatch directly into miniature toads. The toads return to the same ancestral ponds to breed year after year, unlike frogs who'll settle for the first one they come across.

Like other amphibians, frogs can breathe through their skin, but they can only do so if the skin is moist. Most frogs are active at night, which is when the air is more humid.

Diet

Common toad (credit: Richard Bowler)With their long, sticky tongues, toads trap a variety of insects, spiders, slugs and worms, and draw them into their wide mouths. Toads hunt by sitting still and waiting for an insect or prey animal to wander past, which they catch with their mouth or tongue. Toads do not have teeth; therefore they must swallow their prey whole.  

 

 

 

Where to see them

Common toad (credit & copyright: Neil Wyatt)Most amphibians lie dormant over the winter, although they may take advantage of milder patches of weather to come out and forage. They prefer to live in compost heaps, amongst dead wood or under decking, sheds or other objects. They're likely to be found in damp habitats in the garden. In spring, they congregate around ponds to breed. Toads frequently lie still when they are disturbed so you can often get a good look at them. It’s best to observe from a short distance and not handle them, to keep the disturbance to a minimum.

Threats

Toad tunnel in Germany (credit: Fice - Wikimedia)The major threats faced by toads include loss of habitat locally, the drainage of wetlands where they breed, agricultural activities, pollution and mortality on roads as toads attempt to get back to their ancestral ponds to breed. There are now initiatives in various places in Europe to build "toad tunnels" under roads, to help reduce the number that are run over.

The "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" considers the common toad as being of "least concern". This is because it has a wide distribution and is, over most of its range, a common species. It is not particularly threatened by habitat loss because it is adaptable and is found in deciduous and coniferous forests, scrubland, meadows, parks and gardens.

Creating a toad-friendly garden

Common toad (credit: Richard Bowler)

  • Trees, rocks and logs are obvious attractions to toads because they'll offer moisture.
  • Water and moisture are essential for toads so the obvious way to attract them to your garden is to install a pond. A pond specifically designed to attract toads needs to be shallow as they spend the winter on land and only need shallow water for when it’s the breeding season.
  • Letting part of your garden grow a little wild which will create piles of leaves and other foliage will create shade to protect the frogs from the sun in summer.
  • You could build a toad house and place it in a cool, shady, damp area of your garden. 
Get in touch

If you do spot any toads, please do let us know! You can submit records online at www.herefordshirewt.org, email them to us at records@herefordshirewt.co.uk or write to us at Lower House Farm, Ledbury Road, Hereford, HR1 1UT.

Go Toads! community project volunteer needed

Common Toad (credit: Philip Precey)We're looking for a volunteer to support the Heritage Lottery Funded "Go Toads!" project in re-establishing community action to protect the largest toad population in the county of Herefordshire. Bodenham Lake is a county toad ‘hot spot’ where annually toads migrate to the lake for breeding and egg laying from their hibernation sites. To do this journey they must cross a road resulting in high mortality rates. The project aims to establish an annual monitoring scheme and run a series of community awareness events.

If this exciting volunteer opportunity is of interest, you can find more details here.