“What kinds of toads can you find in Iowa?”
“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 Iowa.
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.
5 Species of Toads in Iowa:
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#1. American Toad
- Anaxyrus americanus
- Adult length is 2-3 ½ inches.
- Coloring is usually brown to gray, olive, or brick red. Typically, they have patches of yellow, buff, or other light colors, with dark spots.
- The American Toad is distinctive for its many warts present all over the back and legs.
American Toads can be spotted easily in Iowa.
The subspecies you can find here is the Eastern American Toad, the larger of the two.
It is one of the most common and widely known species of toad! They live in forests, prairies, and suburban backyards. American Toads are carnivorous and mainly eat insects, worms, spiders, and slugs.
American Toads have a very recognizable call. Listen for a musical trilling noise that can last for up to 30 seconds.
They like to breed in shallow water, and tadpoles have an amazing defense against predators. Their skin secretes a toxic chemical so powerful that eating one American Toad tadpole can kill a fish!
Much like their tadpoles, adult American Toads are also toxic to other animals. Even large dogs that handle or try to eat one can have discomfort or pain from contact with their milky-white secretions. This is something my dog found out the first (and last) time he played with one!
#2. 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 western Iowa 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.
#3. Fowler’s Toad
- Anaxyrus fowleri
- Adult length is 2-3 inches.
- Coloring ranges from gray to brownish green or olive, with dark splotches on the back that have 3 or more warts in them. Adults have a pale stripe down their backs.
- The belly is usually white or yellowish, sometimes with dark spots breaking into smaller flecks.
Fowler’s Toads live in the southeastern corner of Iowa.
They live in a wide range of habitats including forests, river valleys, farms, and urban and suburban gardens. They eat a variety of insects, and are very good at pest control!
Fowler’s Toad Rangemap:
The mating call of the Fowler’s Toad only lasts about 1-4 seconds. Listen for a nasal “wa-a-a-ah” sound, similar to the call of a Canada Goose.
The Fowler’s Toad is unique in that its mating call attracts both males and females.
The male toad will occasionally try to mate with another male, only realizing his mistake when he hears the other male toad’s warning chirp.
#4. 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 western Iowa, 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.
There are a few main differences between toads in Iowa, 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.
#5. 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 western Iowa. They prefer loose sandy or gravelly soil for burrowing.
Plains Spadefoot Rangemap:
Plains Spadefoot’s can survive extreme temperature changes in western Iowa.
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.
Do you need additional help identifying toads?
Try this field guide!
Which of these toads have you seen in Iowa?
Leave a comment below!