“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 Texas.
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.
#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 only live in the northeast corner of Texas.
The subspecies you can find here is the Dwarf American Toad, the smaller 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 northwestern Texas, 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 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.
The Texas Toad, Anaxyrus speciosus, is a toad found in the United States that is similar to the Great Plains Toad. It is typically 2-3 1/2 inches long with a rounded belly. Its coloring is greenish-gray to brown, and it lacks the Great Plains Toad’s prominent stripe along its back. The Texas Toad is a shy, burrowing species that is most active at night. It lives in prairie and farmland and prefers calm, small pools of water nearby. The call of the Texas Toad is similar, although not as loud or raucous, as the Great Plains Toad.
#3. 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 Texas, 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.
North American Green Toads travel to temporary water sources like drainage ditches, rain-fed streams, and small pools to reproduce. Males attract females to breeding areas by singing in chorus.
#4. 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 are only found on the eastern edge of Texas.
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.
#5. 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 Texas.
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.
#6. 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 Texas, 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 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.
#7. Houston Toad
- Anaxyrus houstonensis
- Adult length is 2 to 2.5 inches.
- Coloring is cream, light brown, or purplish gray, and sometimes has dark green patches. The inflated vocal sac is brilliant blue, making this toad easily recognizable if spotted!
- The cranial ridges above the eyes are thick, giving the Houston Toad’s eyes a hooded look.
As its name suggests, the ONLY place to find the Houston Toad is in the vicinity of Houston, Texas!
Its native habitat is dry forests and coastal prairies, and due to the development of these areas, it is an endangered species. In southeastern Texas, many populations are considered extirpated, or locally extinct, and the populations that are left are cut off from one another.
If you are lucky enough to hear a Houston Toad’s call, you will be able to recognize its piercing, musical trill that lasts anywhere from 4-17 seconds.
#8. Gulf Coast Toad
- Incilius nebulifer
- Adult length is 2-4 inches.
- Coloring is dark brown to black, with deep orange flecks or spots and a light stripe running down the back.
- The head has a very prominent crest, creating a deep, noticeable valley between the eyes.
The Gulf Coast Toad lives in coastal prairies, beaches, and suburban backyards in southern Texas. It adapts easily to human development of its habitat and is not threatened by people or disturbed by their presence.
Gulf Coast Toad Rangemap:
It is common to see Gulf Coast Toads in Texas near street lamps at night. They wait for insects to be drawn to the light and then fall to the ground, making them easy prey for the toads. Flying insects, ants, beetles, and spiders are all food sources for Gulf Coast Toads.
The venom of the Gulf Coast Toad is troublesome for curious pets, whose mouths can be injured by the white, milky secretions.
Gulf Coast Toads call with a short, creaky trilling noise that lasts about 2-6 seconds. It is repeated several times in a row, with 1-4 seconds between calls.
#9. Burrowing Toad
- Rhinophrynus dorsalis
- Adult length is 3 to 3.5 inches.
- The body is short, stout, and balloon-like, and the head is cone-shaped with its nose ending in a snout.
- Smooth skin, with dark gray to maroon coloring. Yellow, orange, and red markings cover its back, and it also has a bright red stripe along the spine.
The Burrowing Toad is one of the most unusual toads in Texas!
Their body shape, habitat, coloring, and even the way they eat are completely different from any other species. In fact, they are so well-adapted to their unusual lifestyle that if you happened to see one in the wild, you might not even know what you are looking at!
Burrowing Toads live nearly their entire life underground! During the first heavy rains of the year, they emerge in droves to breed in temporary pools created by the rain. Then, they burrow back underground for the entire year, only to re-emerge and start the process all over again.
In the US, the Burrowing Toad is ONLY found in a small portion of southern Texas that borders Mexico. Primarily a Mexican species, it lives in subtropical and tropical forests in Mexico and South America.
There are a few main differences between toads in Texas, 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.
#10. 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 northwestern Texas. They prefer loose sandy or gravelly soil for burrowing.
Plains Spadefoot Rangemap:
Plains Spadefoots can survive extreme temperature changes in Texas.
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.
#11. 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 Texas, 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.
#12. 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 western Texas, 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, making 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.
#13. Hurter’s Spadefoot
- Scaphiopus hurterii
- Adult length is 1 ¾-2 ¼ inches.
- Coloring is gray-green to chocolate brown, with two light stripes along its back.
- Spade is sickle-shaped and about 3 times as long as it is wide.
The Hurter’s Spadefoot prefers open areas in eastern Texas with loose, soft soil for burrowing. Savannas, open wooded areas, and mesquite scrub are all common habitats.
Hurter’s Spadefoot Rangemap:Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
Interestingly, tadpoles of Hurter’s Spadefoots will eat live animals.
For example, they like to eat mosquito larvae, which is an excellent form of pest control!
The call of a Hurter’s Spadefoot is a short bleat, less than a half-second long. It almost sounds like someone saying, “wow!”
#14. Cane Toad
- Rhinella marina
- Adult length is 4-6 inches.
- Coloring is light to dark brown with dark brown spots and a light line on the back.
- Large cranial crests and toxin glands make the head appear sunken in the middle.
Texas is the ONLY place with native Cane Toads in the United States!
Everywhere else, they were introduced as a pest-control species due to their huge appetite. However, even in Texas, the damage done by this species has outweighed any benefit in controlling insect infestations.
These toads are the largest found in North America, and can reach up to 7 inches long, and weigh 3.3 pounds!
The Cane Toad’s skin secretions are extremely toxic and can even be lethal to fully-grown dogs. In fact, they are considered dangerous to pets and native wildlife in most parts of Texas where they live.
Cane Toad Rangemap:Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
Another reason that Cane Toads are considered a dangerous species is their prolific breeding habits. They have been known to reproduce in explosive numbers. For example, when they were introduced to the island of Oahu in Hawaii, their population expanded from 150 to 105,517 in just 17 months!
The call of the Cane Toad is a slow, low-pitched trill that is easily mistaken for insects like cicadas or crickets.
Do you need additional help identifying toads?
Try this field guide!
Which of these toads have you seen in Texas?
Leave a comment below!