“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 the United States.
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 can be found all over the eastern United States.
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. Western Toad
- Anaxyrus boreas
- Adult length is 2-5 inches.
- Coloring can range from yellowish, tan, gray, or green with a pale stripe along the back. The Western Toad also has dark blotches with rust-colored edges and warts.
- Males have smoother, less blotchy skin than females.
As its name suggests, the Western Toad lives in the western part of the continent. It has a wide range of habitats, including desert streams and springs, forests, lakes and rivers, and backyard gardens with pools nearby.
Western Toad Rangemap:
Female Western Toads can lay up to 16,000 eggs at a time! They lay their eggs in long strings in shallow water.
Unlike many other toads in the United States, Western Toads don’t often hop!
Instead, they walk, picking up 1 or 2 legs at a time. You can see this unique movement below!
The Western Toad has a distinctive call that can be described as a high-pitched chirrup or chattering. Choruses of Western Toads tend to sound like flocks of geese in the distance. Click here for an example!
#3. 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 the United States 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.
#4. 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 the United States, 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.
#5. 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 fairly abundant in the eastern United States.
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.
#6. 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 the United States.
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.
#7. Oak Toad
- Anaxyrus quercicus
- Adult length is ¾ to 1 ¼ inches.
- Coloring is light gray to black, with a prominent light-colored stripe down the middle of the back
- Red, orange, or reddish-brown warts are common
The Oak Toad is the smallest toad in the United States!
These toads are small and typically only about an inch long when fully grown. Because of their size, their best defense from predators (mostly snakes) is to hide. They spend time burrowed underground, or under leaf debris on the forest floor.
Oak Toad Rangemap:Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
Look for these toads in maritime forests, oak groves, savannas, flatlands, and pine woods. They are fairly common in these habitats.
The call of an Oak Toad has been compared to the chirping of a newly hatched chick. It is high-pitched and short, and can usually be heard during the mating season since males use it to attract females.
#8. Southern Toad
- Anaxyrus terrestris
- Adult length is 1 ½-3 inches.
- Usually brown, but occasionally almost black or reddish in color
- Small warts on the back, with bumpy skin on the belly and legs.
The Southern Toad and the Oak Toad are often mistaken for one another.
The differences between them are slight, but the Southern Toad is generally larger with a less pronounced or missing stripe on its back.
The Southern Toad’s habitat includes woodlands and open, grassy areas along the coast. They catch and eat many types of insects with their sticky tongues.
Southern Toad Rangemap:
One way to find a Southern Toad in the United States is to observe the ground under a street lamp in a suburban area at night. Interestingly, this species will use the light as a buffet and feed on the insects that are attracted to it!
The call of the Southern Toad is shrill and lasts about 7 seconds. It sounds like a high-pitched trilling.
#9. 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 the United States, 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 distressed sheep’s bleat.
#10. 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 the southwest United States.
The call of the Colorado River Toad lasts under a second, and has been compared to the whistle of a ferryboat.
In the United States, 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.
#11. 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 the United States. 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 the United States 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.
There are a few main differences between toads in the United States, 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.
#12. 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 United States, 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.
#13. 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 the United States. They prefer loose sandy or gravelly soil for burrowing.
Plains Spadefoot Rangemap:
Plains Spadefoot’s can survive extreme temperature changes in the United States.
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.
#14. 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 the United States, 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.
#15. 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 the United States, 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.
#16. 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 the United States 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 a very good 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!”
#17. Eastern Spadefoot
- Scaphiopus holbrookii
- Adult length is 1 ¾ – 2 ¼ inches.
- Coloring is brown to almost black, with 2 yellowish lines running down the back from the eyes.
- Spade is sickle-shaped and 3 times as long as it is wide.
The Eastern Spadefoot is found in open or forested areas with loose, gravelly soil. It uses its spades to dig into the ground, where it spends most of its life buried to avoid dry weather and temperature fluctuations.
Eastern Spadefoot Rangemap:
It’s rare to spot Eastern Spadefoots in the United States because they spend so much time underground.
In fact, they can go years without a breeding season, preferring to come out only after a period of extended rain and breed explosively for a short time.
Male Eastern Spadefoots call to attract females during the breeding season with a short grunting noise. Interestingly, males float in bodies of water while they call, instead of waiting on land and following a female into the water!
#18. 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.
Cane Toads are not native to the United States.
They were introduced as a pest-control species due to their huge appetite. However, the damage done by this invasive 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 the United States 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 invasive 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 the United States?
Leave a comment below!