Monday, March 26, 2018

Episode 413 (3-26-18): American Toad

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:17).

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 3-23-18.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of March 26, 2018.

SOUND – ~5 sec

The somewhat spooky trill you just heard is this week’s mystery sound.  Have another listen for about 10 seconds and see if you can guess what’s making this call, late at night on April 3, 2017.  And here’s a hint: hop to it, and upon you the right answer may be bes-TOWED.

SOUND - ~12 sec

If you guessed an American Toad, you’re right!  One of six species of toads in Virginia, this well-known amphibian is found throughout the Commonwealth, except for the southeastern corner, where the Southern Toad takes its ecological place.  In Virginia, American Toad breeding starts between March and April in temporary pools or ponds, where males advertise to females with mating trills lasting up to 20 or 30 seconds.  Into the breeding pools, females lay long, gelatinous strings containing thousands of eggs, which hatch in about a week into aquatic tadpoles, scientifically known as larvae.  The tadpoles complete metamorphosis into toads in about two months.  These small, still-developing juvenile toads move away from the breeding pools into woods, gardens, or cultivated fields, where they feed on a wide variety of insects, spiders, worms, and other animals.  Two or three years later, these animals will be fully developed adults capable of returning to springtime waters for breeding.

To close, we turn to something whimsical about toads: a passage about the Toad of Toad Hall, one of the animal characters in the 1908 children’s novel, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.   In the chapter “The Further Adventures of Toad,” the book’s conceited amphibian promotes himself with words, instead of a real toad’s trilling calls, saying:
“The world has held great Heroes,
As history-books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame,
Compared with that of Toad!”

SOUND - ~ 3 sec


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The American Toad sounds heard in this episode were recorded by Virginia Water Radio in Blacksburg, Va., at about 11:45 p.m. EDT on April 3, 2017.

The passage quoted from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, first published in 1908, was taken from The Wind in the Willows—An Annotated Edition, Seth Lerer, ed., Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., and London, England, 2009.  The passage is from Chapter 10, “The Further Adventures of Toad,” page 214 in this edition.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.   More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at

American Toad at Cowbane Prairie Preserve in Augusta County, Va., April 1, 2008.
A seasonal, temporary pool—such as American Toads might use for breeding—beside a recreation path on the edge of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, March 23, 2018.


The scientific name of the American Toad, more precisely called the Eastern American Toad, in Anaxyrus americanus, formerly Bufo americanus.

Here are some points about the American Toad, excerpted from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Eastern American Toad,” online at

Physical Description

“This is a large toad ranging in size from 2 to 4.25 inches (50 to 107 mm). C olor is variable but is usually brown, gray, olive, or brick red.   There is often a light middorsal stripe.  One or two warts are present in each dorsal spot.  Large spiny warts also cover the dorsal part of the hind legs, particularly the tibia. …The chest and anterior portion of the abdomen are usually sprinkled with dark pigment. Males are smaller than females with tubercles on the first and second fingers and have dark throats.  Tadpoles range from 3/4-1 inch (1.8-2.4 cm)…; [tadpole body] is dark and somewhat flattened. Eyes are small and dorsal.  This species closely resembles the southern toad and the Fowler's toad.  These species frequently hybridize making identification difficult.”


“This is the earliest toad species to breed in this area.  The adults congregate in breeding pools starting in March or April.  The male mating call is a long musical trill lasting 20-30 seconds.  Approximately 6000 eggs are laid in long spiral gelatinous strings.  Eggs are externally fertilized while the male and female are joined in amplexus.  Eggs are laid in shallow pools.  Eggs hatch in about 1 week; tadpole metamorphosis occurs in about 2 months.   These transformed toads are between 7 and 12 mm long.  American toads are sexually mature in 2 to 3 years.”


“This species is found in a wide range of habitats.  Requirements include shallow bodies of water for breeding, an abundances of invertebrate prey items, and moist hiding places.  This species is primarily nocturnal but may also be active in the late afternoon.  During the daytime, they mostly rest under logs or stones or burrow in leaf litter. This species is an effective insectivore. …This species requires shallow bodies of water for breeding, a supply of invertebrate prey items, and moist hiding places. …This species can be found in a variety of habitats including mixed mesic forests, upland hardwoods, white pine-hemlock, residential gardens, and agricultural lands.”


Used for Audio

Encyclopedia Britannica, “Tadpole,” online at

John D. Kleopfer and Chris S. Hobson, A Guide to the Frogs and Toad of Virginia, Special Publication Number 3, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Richmond, 2011; purchase information available online at

Bernard S. Martof, et al., Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1980.

Robert McCrum, “The 100 best novels: No 38 – The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908),” in The Guardian (U.S. Edition), June 9, 2014, online at

J. C. Mitchell and K. K. Reay, Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Virginia, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries/Richmond (1999); available online at, courtesy of the Virginia Herpetological Society.   (Herpetology refers to the study of amphibians and reptiles.)

New Hampshire PBS, “American Toad—Anaxyrus americanus,” undated, online at

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Fish and Wildlife Information Service, online at  The entry for the Eastern American Toad is online at

Virginia Herpetological Society, “Eastern American Toad/Anaxyrus americanus, online at

For More Information about Toads and Other Amphibians

AmphibiaWeb, online at

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), “Virginia is for Frogs,” online at  One VDGIF activity is the “Virginia Frog and Toad Calling Survey,” online at; it’s part of the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program, online at  These programs use the sensitivity of amphibians to water availability and quality as a tool for assessing changes or threats to aquatic systems.   For more information or to volunteer, see the Web site or contact Travis Land at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above ( See particularly the “Amphibians” subject category.

Following are links to other episodes on Virginia frogs and toads generally:
Episode 206, 3/24/14 – Spring Serenade;
Episode 371, 6/5/17 – Virginia Herpetological Society’s “Herp Blitz”;
Episode 408, 2/19/18 – Frog and Toad Medley.

Listed below are previous episodes on specific frogs or toads:
Barking Treefrog – Episode 319, 6/6/16;
Bullfrog – Episode 74, 8/8/11;
Eastern Spadefoot – Episode 357, 2/27/17;
Green Frog – Episode 310, 4/4/16;
Spring Peeper – Episode 105, 4/2/12.


This episode may help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 – basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
1.5 - animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
2.4 - life cycles.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 - living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.6 - ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.8 - community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.

Biology Course
BIO.6 - bases for modern classification systems, including structures, biochemistry, and developmental stages.
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to previous Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels:
Episode 250 (1-26-15) – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade;
Episode 255 (3-2-15) – on density, for 5th and 6th grade;
Episode 282 (9-21-15) – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten;
Episode 309 (3-28-16) – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade;
Episode 332 (9-12-16) – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade;
Episode 403 (1-15-18) – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade;
Episode 404 (1-22-18) – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade; Episode 406 (2-5-18) – on ice on rivers, for middle school;
Episode 407 (2-12-19) – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.