“What kinds of toads can you find in Virginia?”
“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 Virginia.
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 Virginia:
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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 Virginia.
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. 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 Virginia.
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.
#3. 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 Virginia!
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.
#4. 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 Virginia 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.
There are a few main differences between toads in Virginia, 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. 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 Virginia 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!
Do you need additional help identifying toads?
Try this field guide!
Which of these toads have you seen in Virginia?
Leave a comment below!