American Toad Care Guide
Table of Contents
What Are American Toads?
American toads, Anaxyrus americanus, are native to North America and go by the most impressive number of scientific names that I have run across in a while. Others are Bufo americanus, Bufo terrestris americanus, Bufo americanus charlesmithi, and Bufo terrestris copei, to name just a few. The Eastern American Toad hybridizes freely with the Dwarf American toad, resulting in some interesting variations that plainly keep herpetologists arguing with each other for years.
Where do American Toads Live?
In the United States, Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus americanus) are found throughout the eastern states from the Canadian border south to the edge of the Coastal Plain. They are found only as far west as western Minnesota and northeast Texas.
Like most toads, this species requires a semi-permanent freshwater pond or pool with shallow water and adjacent dense patches of vegetation for cover and hunting. Adult toads are mostly nocturnal, although juveniles are often abroad by day. After rain these toads will become active and can be observed devouring worms and insects who are leaving their burrows. When cold weather comes, these toads may dig backward and bury themselves in the dirt of their summer homes, or if those seem inadequate, seek an adjacent, more suitable spot in which to hibernate.
What do they look like?
This plump and lethargic toad grows to around 2 to 3.5 inches in length (females are larger than males). The color and pattern are somewhat variable, plus skin color can change depending on habitat colors, humidity, stress, and temperature. Color changes range from yellow to brown to black, from solid colors to speckled. They usually sport a few dorsal spots that contain only one to two warts.
This species of toads, as well as other members of the family Bufo, have parotid glands on either side of the top of the neck. These secrete bufotoxin, a poisonous substance meant to make the toad unpalatable to potential predators. Bufotoxin is a mild poison in comparison to that of other poisonous toads and frogs but can badly irritate mucous membranes, and is dangerous to smaller animals when ingested. So yeah, don’t put toads in your mouth, and do be sure to wash hands well after handling any species of toad native to North America. Just so you know, the parotid glands will appear to be swollen but have no unique patterns or coloration.
American Toads Can Live How Long?!?
These are gentle creatures, and when given proper care, can live over 30 years of age!
Males make several different types of calls. If you want to do something cool, do a search on the Internet for some of the sites that have recordings of the different toad and toad calls. They are very neat to listen to. If they are not calling, it can be difficult to sex young males from females. Juvenile males begin to develop dark throats and horny tubercles on the first and second digits as they mature. Mature toads are much easier to sex, as the sexual dimorphism is pronounced, as is the behavior.
Toads usually breed in temporary pools of water. Breeding season usually begins in February or March and continues through May. However, the actual start of breeding is temperature and light dependant to take advantage of optimal conditions. Males find a suitable pool and begin calling to females. They use a specialized dewlap that is a pouch that holds air for calling. Their call is long and pleasant, and sounds somewhat like crickets chirping. Some keepers find this call soothing, some prefer to keep their males in a different room with a door that closes.
Toads don’t require a lot of space, but the more the better. Most American toad keepers follow a simple rule; 10 gallons per toad. In other words, a 10-gallon aquarium will house one toad. A 30-gallon aquarium will hold 3 or 4.
American Toads can Co-Habitate
These guys are fairly social. They don’t need company, but as long as they have enough room and food, they can easily accommodate others of their own kind. Some experienced keepers have large and complex enclosures that house not only multiple toads, but large land snails, skinks, anoles, and salamanders as well. Plenty of burrowing space and hidey holes seems to be the key to how many pets to house with your toad.
To make them as happy as possible, a deep substrate of 3 inches composed of coconut bark or other non-particulate matter will keep them comfortable. I recommend adding leaf litter on top of the substrate to create extra hiding places. Add a sturdy, shallow water dish at one end of their enclosure and fill it with clean water daily. American toads would love a bioactive environment. Here's how to create a bioactive terrarium for your American Toad.
Best Furniture for an American Toad
Half-cut log or cork tunnels will provide a good hide. Sturdy plants such as Pothos can be included, but since American toads burrow, they will probably uproot them at some point. If you choose live plants for their appearance it is best to keep them in a terracotta pot, with the pot buried as well as possible to keep it from being unearthed.
Silk plants may be a better alternative. They will need to be sanitized every so often, but that is not terribly difficult. All it takes is 1 gallon of hot water (not boiling) poured into a plastic container. Add 1 teaspoon of bleach per gallon. Submerge the plants in the mild bleach water and allow them to soak in it for about an hour. Stir them around in the container occasionally to get the solution into any cracks and crevices. Remove them from the solution and rinse them thoroughly under hot running water. It is very important to thoroughly rinse off the bleach. Then spritz them with dechlorinated water for one final rinse. Let them dry thoroughly before replacing them. This should be done every 3-4 months.
A shallow water dish like Flukers Corner Reptile Bowl, containing dechlorinated water, of course, may standup to burrowing better than a round bowl placed in the center of the habitat. This is considered by many to be the least labor intensive choice for a soaking pool.
What Type of Lighting Do American Toads Need?
This is a somewhat controversial subject among keepers. UVB lighting is not strictly essential for American toads, but if you wish to grow live plants in your terrarium, you will need a daylight spectrum bulb, such as the fluorescent tubes sold for freshwater aquariums, or a garden seedlings grow-light, and an appropriate lighting fixture.
It is a bit of a conundrum and there are plenty of online discussions about this. For instance, many keepers who want live plants have found that the Reptisun 5.0 , which is perfect for amphibians, is insufficient for plants. Some experimenting will undoubtedly be needed by each keeper for their individual tastes and needs. That said, this toad cannot tolerate a great deal of heat, so placing the habitat near a window for direct sunlight for plants or using a bulb that is too bright, could end up being a fatal mistake. Better to provide low-wattage artificial light.
What Temperatures do my Toads Like?
American toads do best within a very limited temperature range. Many keepers try to keep the ambient temperature at exactly 70 degrees. Some are not so fussy and still report good results at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. But these high and low-end temperatures are somewhat absolute. Temperatures exceeding these for more than a few hours may be the death of your pet. On the other end, unless your house is very cold much of the time, you will not need an under-tank heater and the ambient temperature most humans prefer will be adequate.
Most keepers report that 50% is an acceptable average range. Higher than 65% invites disease.
If you live in an extremely arid part of the country, a good hygrometer is a valuable tool in effectively managing humidity levels. Humidity can be managed by hand, or with an automatic mister. A glass lid with some ventilation will help keep the humidity up; just be sure there is sufficient ventilation to prevent respiratory disorders from occurring.
And remember, a toad’s skin is permeable to all sorts of environmental insults, such as chlorine, that wouldn’t bother a reptile. So whether misting with warm water from a hand sprayer, or using a machine, the water must be dechlorinated, either by chemical aging or physical aging (allowing the water to sit uncovered for 24 hours before use). Do NOT use distilled water for the mister or the water bowl. Distilled water has no salts or minerals in it and as such messes with the toad’s ability to regulate the water in its cells. This osmotic dysregulation can actually be lethal.
American Toad Diet and Feeding
American toads will only consume live food. Staples include crickets and nightcrawlers. Depending on their size, you may have to cut nightcrawlers in half before offering them to your toad. For variety they can be offered waxworms, mealworms, and black soldier fly larva. These are not nutritionally balanced foods, however, so offer them only occasionally as a treat and to provide variety.
How Often Should I Feed my Toad?
Young American toads smaller than 2 inches in length should be fed nightly, whatever they can consume in 24 hours, generally 3-4 crickets or the equivalent. Adult toads can be fed 6-10 crickets every other evening.
As with feeding any reptile or amphibian a mostly insect-based diet, thought must be given to nutritional supplements. Calcium supplementation should be added to the food weekly for adults, more often for juveniles. Regular dusting of prey items with a supplement such is most important for young, fast-growing toads - older animals that are closer to adult size need supplements less frequently, with once per week being adequate. A vitamin supplement, such as Exo Terra Multi-Vitamin Supplement, should also be incorporated into the feeding rotation. Once weekly is adequate. Pinkies can be fed to adult toads once per week as well. They are a good source of calcium but are fattening, so be careful not to overdo it.
Gut Load your Prey
Instead of dusting, many keepers gut load their prey items. “Gut loading” means placing the feeder insects on an enriched diet for at least 24 hours prior to being offered to your toad. This enhances the nutritional value of the insects substantially. A purchased supplement such as those offered by reptile hobby stores is easily available and affordable. The convenience of a dry gut load diet, purchased from a pet supply house, is undeniable. However, many experienced breeders and keepers have found these products inadequate, so for the really persnickety keeper (and you know you should be) the following formula for gut loading your feeder crickets or roaches is suggested. I recommend gut-loading consistently and dusting periodically.
- 24 pbw whole wheat flour (not self-rising)
- 8 pbw calcium carbonate with vitamin D3
- 4 pbw brewer's yeast (Not baker's yeast).
- 3 pbw soy powder
- 1 pbw paprika (this is to provide beta carotene)
The ‘pbw’ stands for parts by weight, whatever that weight may be. Think of this formula as a table of ratios. For instance, if you begin with 24 tablespoons of whole wheat, you would add 8 tablespoons of calcium carbonate and so forth. So for every unit of whole wheat flour, you would add 1/3 as much of the same unit of calcium powder and so forth. Place your feeder insects onto this feed for 24 hours at least and then release the needed amount into your toad’s habitat.
As mentioned above, there is some controversy as to whether your pet’s colors can be brightened through the addition of carotenoids to its diet. Some keepers say no way, others claim they have done it. Research on this topic shows that most amphibians use carotenoids to good effect for pigmentation when they are juveniles.. In plain English, a healthy well-nourished toad is likely to be brighter in coloration and spunkier than a malnourished one with a limited diet.
How to Clean an American Toad's Habitat
Frequent cleaning of the tank is necessary because of the prodigious amount of feces toads can pass. Daily removal of poop on the substrate is highly recommended.
When the time comes to perform monthly maintenance and the substrate is removed, before replacing it with fresh, be sure to remove any gravel or pebble base, if there is one, and sanitize that as well. Unless using a bioactive set-up, a one-inch gravel base provides many useful functions, from preventing the toad from burrowing right down onto the glass and pooping in an inconvenient spot, to providing an air space against compaction of the bedding. If there are any moisture issues due to over-misting, then this air space can help prevent rot. It will, however, need to be removed entirely on a monthly basis and soaked in a 10% bleach solution for ½ hour, then rinsed thoroughly in dechlorinated water and allowed to air dry for 2 hours. Allow the drying to take place outside of the habitat. Aged tap water should be used in the water bowl when it has been sterilized, rinsed, and placed back into the habitat.
Straight cleaning strength vinegar on glass sides is fine as long as used in moderation, wiped off thoroughly, and then the glass allowed to dry and off-gas. Remember, unlike fish and reptiles, an amphibian’s skin is extremely porous and sensitive. They do not drink water, but rather absorb water and sodium directly through the skin. Therefore, you do not want your friend to have to hydrate himself/herself in an acid bath, or the equivalent of lye either. So, no vinegar must be allowed to remain in the habitat. Ammonia is a bad call for the same reasons. If for any reason either of the very serious diseases below is suspected, only bleach may be used, even on the sides of the habitat’s glass.
Always bear in mind the dermal porosity of amphibians. When you clean the aquarium side of a duo habitat, bear this in mind. Any objects removed from the habitat and sterilized with bleach or vinegar must, must, must be thoroughly rinsed in aged water and then allowed to dry for 2 hours before they re-enter the habitat. New keepers must understand the importance of this additional step in maintaining a sterile, yet pH-neutral environment for their toad.
Common Diseases for American Toads
Eastern American toads are prone to parasites. Some individuals can manage their parasite load with no intervention, others may lose weight and appetite. Trematodes (flukes) can invade the leg tissues of developing tadpoles, causing malformation of the legs and even resulting in multiple limbs. By the time the animal is adult, if no sign of malformation is present, then the toad likely escaped infestation. Adults are susceptible to lung flukes, however.
Lung flukes are consumed secondarily through wild prey items that carry the cysts, waiting to hatch inside the primary host. Although seldom fatal, the numbers of flukes swarming in the lungs, reproducing, and dying can cause compromise the toad’s liver, and cause general failure to thrive. Current research indicates that common anthelminthic wormers such as Ivermectin can be effective. Although the most common means of infection seems to be ingestion, parasitologists have observed penetration of the toad’s skin as a means of entry as well. The best prevention of this ailment is purchase of a mature toad from a reputable breeder, and feeding only purchased food items. Also, resist the temptation to bring in unsterilized items from the outdoors to make furniture for your toad. Same for substrate, especially leaves and moss.
If parasites are suspected, a fecal analysis can be diagnostic. If the pet is not seriously ill, merely failing to thrive, you have the option of sending a sample to a lab. This is much cheaper than having the vet do it, but may take longer. To collect a sample, house your toad on moist paper towels until it poops. Cut the paper towel around the poop and wrap the poop in an additional bit of damp paper towel. Seal it in a Ziploc bag, then take it to your vet for a fecal float, or mail it off to a lab. Depending on what the results are, you may need to purchase and administer a dewormer or other antiparasitic. Note…A fecal exam that comes back clean does not necessarily indicate your pet is clean – it just means there are no parasites present in that particular sample. Two, possibly three fecal tests on your animal, 30 days apart, will maximize the chances of catching signs of parasites or their eggs.
If parasites are found, the vet will administer a wormer. Some experienced keepers do this themselves. Using Panacur, they will inject the wormer into a favorite food item. Some have used this technique. After their toad has fasted for 2-3 days, they weigh him/her and administer the correct dose. For instance, a 50 oz. toad would need .05 ml of the wormer, according to the rule of thumb that 50 mg per 1 kg is the recommended dosage. This could be inserted into two dubia roaches and these fed out while under observation. Experienced keepers have reported great success with this on a limited budget. I do not recommend this technique for a beginner, however.
It is likely that a wild-caught animal will have been exposed to two very contagious and lethal diseases: chytrid and ranavirus. These pathogens are ravaging wild amphibian populations and are usually fatal. Testing is highly, highly recommended. The procedure is simple. Swab your pet’s skin with a Q-tip, bag it in a Ziplock, and send the sample in to a lab such as Research Associates Laboratory. Their website will provide the keeper with a downloadable form to be filled out and sent along with the sample. Testing for the most common chytrid fungus and ranavirus DNA will cost the keeper about $40, not including shipping. Very well worth it, especially if you have multiple amphibians in the house.
Because American toads are so common and so appealing for the novice keeper, it is tempting just to pick one up from the wild, stick it in a tank, and assume that all will be well. I hope this article has given the reader a grasp of best husbandry practices for keeping these gentle and interesting pets healthy for their full potential life span.