“What kinds of toads can you find in Arizona?”
“Don’t pick that up, you’ll get warts!”
If you’re anything like me, you heard this quite a few times growing up from a parent telling you to leave a toad alone. With their bumpy skin, staring eyes, and loud, insect-like calls, it’s understandable to be cautious around toads.
But luckily, it’s a myth that toads give people warts!
Today, you will learn about the different kinds of toads in Arizona.
A note on this list: Some of the species below are considered spadefoots, which are not technically toads. Spadefoots are a separate group of frogs that are closely related to toads. Because they are similar in so many ways, I am including them here. If you see a spadefoot, you may not even realize it’s not a true toad! I will outline the differences between toads and spadefoots later in the article.
9 Species of Toads in Arizona:
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#1. Great Plains Toad
- Anaxyrus cognatus
- Adult length is 2-4 ½ inches.
- Coloring is pale white to tan or olive with large, dark-colored pairs of blotches down the back. Lighter tan or white belly.
- A crest on the head forms a “V” shape from the snout, moving outward on the head toward the back.
Great Plains Toads are found in Arizona living in temporary shallow pools, quiet streams, marshes, or irrigation ditches. They are most common in grasslands but also can be found in desert brush and woodland areas.
Great Plains Toad Rangemap:
There are only a few weeks out of the year that are suitable for the Great Plains Toad to feed and reproduce. Amazingly, they spend the rest of the year mostly dormant in underground burrows made by other animals.
Symmetrical dark splotches running down its back make the Great Plains Toad one of the easier toads to see, but you will probably hear one nearby long before you can spot it. Its call can last more than 50 seconds, and is similar to a jackhammer!
When large groups of Great Plains Toads are calling, the sound can be near-deafening.
#2. North American Green Toad
- Anaxyrus debilis
- Adult length is 1-2 inches.
- The coloring of the North American Green Toad is bright green to yellow-green, with black markings that sometimes connect to form a web-like pattern. Black-tipped warts are also common.
- On females, the throat is pale yellow to white. On males, the throat is black or dusky brown.
In southeastern Arizona, the North American Green Toad lives in very dry climates and can only be spotted during heavy rains. It tends to prefer clear land with few trees.
North American Green Toad Rangemap:Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
The North American Green Toad goes by ten different names, depending on its location!
You may know it as the Sonora Toad, Dwarf Toad, Green Toad, Little Green Toad, Chihuahuan Green Toad, Eastern Chihuahuan Green Toad, Little Green Toad, Eastern Green Toad, Western Chihuahuan Green Toad, or the Western Green Toad. Wow, what a mouthful!
Their calls are short and cricket-like, lasting up to 7 seconds with about the same time in between.
To reproduce, North American Green Toads travel to temporary water sources like drainage ditches, rain-fed streams, and small pools. Males attract females to breeding areas by singing in chorus.
#3. Sonoran Green Toad
- Anaxyrus retiformis
- Adult Length is 2.5 inches.
- Similar in coloring to the North American Green Toad, but with larger and more distinct black markings.
- Males have dark throats.
In the United States, the Sonoran Green Toad lives ONLY in Arizona!
It is a nocturnal toad, very secretive, and prone to hiding in grasses. They live in creosote bush flats and mesquite grassland. You should consider yourself very lucky if you can spot one!
Sonoran Green Toads call at nightfall after summer rains, usually from tall grasses close to the water’s edge. Their voice sounds like a buzz then whistle, lasts about 1-4 seconds, and is very high-pitched.
#4. Red-Spotted Toad
- Anaxyrus punctatus
- Adult Length is 1.5 – 3 inches.
- The coloring of the Red-Spotted Toad is light gray, olive, or red-brown, with distinctive red or orange warts. The belly is white or buff.
- Red-orange warts are numerous and cover the entire top of the body including legs and feet.
The Red-Spotted Toad is very recognizable in Arizona.
Just look for the many red or orange warts set against the pale coloring of the rest of its skin! They can be hard to find though because they are mostly nocturnal, spending their days in rock crevices or underneath plant debris.
Red-Spotted Toad Rangemap:Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
Red-Spotted Toads can survive losing up to 40% of the water in their bodies!
They commonly live around rocky outcroppings with temporary water from rain-fed streams or underground springs.
The call of a Red-Spotted Toad is a high-pitched trilling that lasts about 10 seconds.
#5. Woodhouse’s Toad
- Anaxyrus woodhousii
- Adult length is 2 ½-4 inches.
- Coloring ranges from gray to yellowish or olive green.
- The belly is light tan or buff with very few dark spots located on the chest.
Woodhouse’s Toads are adaptable to many environments in Arizona, including grasslands, deserts, floodplains, and developed areas. Interestingly, individuals that live in suburban areas will wait under street lamps to catch and eat insects attracted to the light.
Woodhouse’s Toad Rangemap:
The most striking feature of Woodhouse’s toads is their shape – they are very round and stout, with short legs that look too small to support their bodies!
Woodhouse’s Toads have a very short call that resembles a distressed sheep’s bleat.
Though not as common, the Arizona Toad (Anaxyrus microscaphus) is a close relative of the Woodhouse’s Toad that lives in the United States. It is about the same size, with an average length of 2-3 inches. Its coloring is lighter green and has less dark spotting than the Woodhouse’s Toad. The Arizona Toad’s preferred habitat is very specific; it requires quiet, slow-moving sandy-bottomed streams or shallow pools with woodland forests nearby. The Arizona Toad population throughout the United States is declining due to habitat development and interbreeding with the Woodhouse’s Toad.
#6. Colorado River Toad
- Incilius alvarius
- Adult length is 4-7 ½ inches; the Colorado River Toad is the largest toad native to North America.
- Very large glands on either side of the head produce its powerful venom.
- Coloring is dark brown or olive to gray, with smooth skin and few warts located on the hind legs.
The Colorado River Toad has a reputation as the “Psychedelic Toad”!
Its venom is illegally harvested and used as a hallucinogenic drug, and it is even classified as a controlled substance. It is also dangerous to most animals, and large dogs who accidentally eat them have been known to be paralyzed or even die from the poison.
Colorado River Toad Rangemap:
Though not widespread, they have a large population throughout the desert and mountains of southern Arizona.
The call of the Colorado River Toad lasts under a second, and has been compared to the whistle of a ferryboat.
In Arizona, laws and regulations have been put in place to prevent the use of the Colorado River Toad’s venom as a drug. It can’t be moved across state lines, and if a person is found in possession of one with the intent to use its venom as a drug, they can be arrested or fined.
There are a few main differences between toads in Arizona, listed above, and Spadefoots, listed below.
Spadefoots have vertical pupils like a snake, while toads have horizontal pupils.
Their skin is much smoother and has very few or no warts.
Their back feet have bony, sharp spades that are used for burrowing into soil, sand, or loose gravel.
#7. Great Basin Spadefoot
- Spea intermontana
- Adult length is 1 ½-2 ½ inches.
- Coloring is gray, olive, or brown with an hourglass-shaped marking on the back.
- The spade on the hindfoot is wedge-shaped.
In the very northwestern corner of Arizona, it is common to find Great Basin Spadefoots in sagebrush flats or woodland areas. They can also be found in spruce and fir forests at higher elevations.
Great Basin Spadefoot Rangemap:
Great Basin Spadefoots breed after spring and summer rains, in temporary and permanent water including lakes, streams, and drainage ditches.
Interestingly, the Great Basin Spadefoot emits a peanut-smelling odor when handled!
The call of the Great Basin Spadefoot is a low-pitched and hoarse sound, similar to the quacking of a duck. It lasts about a second and is repeated over and over as the male calls to attract females during mating.
#8. Plains Spadefoot
- Spea bombifrons
- Adult length is 1 ¼-2 ½ inches.
- Coloring is gray-brown to greenish with orange spots, and the snout is distinctly rounded and protrudes like a pug dog.
- Spade is glossy, black, and wedge-shaped.
The Plains Spadefoot lives in plains, hills, and river bottoms in eastern Arizona. They prefer loose sandy or gravelly soil for burrowing.
Plains Spadefoot Rangemap:
Plains Spadefoot’s can survive extreme temperature changes in Arizona.
It also can change its digestive system to tolerate a diet of vertebrates, insects, or plant matter.
The Plains Spadefoot’s call is very short and sharp, similar to the quack of a duck.
#9. Couch’s Spadefoot
- Scaphinopus couchii
- Adult length is 2 ¼-3 ¾ inches.
- Coloring is greenish-yellow to light brown, with irregular dark brown or black splotches that sometimes form a weblike network.
- Spade is sickle-shaped and black.
In southern Arizona, the Couch’s Spadefoot lives in shortgrass prairie and desert brush. It eats many insects including beetles, grasshoppers, and ants.
Couch’s Spadefoot Rangemap:
Couch’s Spadefoots spend much of the year burrowed underground to avoid the hot and dry climate where they live. In fact, they can eat an enormous amount of food during the short rainy season and may not come aboveground for more than a year if the weather remains too dry.
The main defense of Couch’s Spadefoots is a toxin that is powerful enough to affect humans.
If handled, the chemical can cause sneezing and watery eyes!
The call of the Couch’s Spadefoot can be compared to the bleat of a lamb, starting out higher pitched and dropping lower at the end. It is short, lasting about a second.
#10. Mexican Spadefoot
- Spea Multiplicata
- Adult length is 1 ½-2 ½ inches.
- Coloring is uniform brown or gray, with scattered dark spots tipped in red.
- Spade is wedge-shaped.
In Arizona, the Mexican Spadefoot has a wide range of habitats from grassland to pine forests. It prefers loose, sandy or gravelly soil for burrowing.
Mexican Spadefoot Rangemap:Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
The main defense of the Mexican Spadefoot is a secretion that can cause a runny nose and watery eyes, making it a risky snack for predators.
The Mexican Spadefoot’s eyes are a unique copper color with black flecks, which makes it look like a cat’s eye marble!
When calling to attract mates, Mexican Spadefoots emit a metallic, vibrating sound that lasts about 1.5 seconds.
Do you need additional help identifying toads?
Try this field guide!
Which of these toads have you seen in Arizona?
Leave a comment below!