Toads

Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

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 are no native populations of Natterjack toads in Herefordshire. Common toads are widely 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. One of the largest breeding populations in the county is associated with Bodenham lake.

Description +

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.

Life history +

Toads are particular about their breeding ponds, tending to favour ancestral ponds large waterbodies with dense beds of rush or reeds particularly important for cover.  Even when filled in they can still return to the former site!

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.

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. 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  brown rats,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.

Conclusion +

Toads are declining mainly through pond losses or succession of ponds. Many toads are lost on their spring migrations when crossing busy roads. In some areas toad breeding ponds are transected by several roads therefore 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.

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