After writing the article on toads in summer recently, I thought I had better find out what happens to them in the other seasons. I did some research to find out what they do in spring and was quite surprised by how busy they are.
Toads become active in spring as they awake from their winter hibernation. In spring, toads travel to their local spawning patch to mate.
In contrast to frogs, toads spend much of their time on land, although they can swim. Toads return to the water only to spawn, which they do in spring.
Toads live among tree roots or in hedgerows during the day, coming out later during dusk to feed. Toads live on a diet of worms, snails, and insects, including caterpillars, ants, and beetles.
Toads hibernate in winter and emerge in spring. At this time, they need to spawn and head immediately for suitable water where they can breed. This usually happens around March or April but can be earlier or later, depending on the weather conditions.
Some species of toad prefer deep water, whereas others prefer shallow water. Several species will travel back to the water where they were born. Although they may come across suitable water sites on their travels, they ignore these, traveling through the day and night to reach their patch of water. Others may find the first appropriate spawning patch and stay there.
The priority of the male toad in spring is to find a female they can mate with. Male toads usually travel to the ponds a few days earlier, with the females arriving later.
Mating occurs with the male attaches themselves to the back of the female in a position called amplexus. The female will then find her way to a water patch that she thinks is ideal for spawning carrying the male on her back. If another toad tries to get on, it may be kicked by the male already being taken.
Fights between toads regarding the mating rights of females usually come down to size and power, with the larger, more muscular males being able to spawn first. More giant toads usually unseat smaller males when the female has got to suitable water. Fights can last up to 12 hours in two toads of the same size.
With little time to spawn, males do not want to spend a long time-fighting other male for a mate. You may wonder why toads croak, and one of the reasons for this noise is to assess the size of another male in the dark—the giant the toad, the deeper and more resonant the croak’s tone.
If the toad decides that the other toad is many giants, it may get off the female’s back to avoid a fight. This saves time, energy, and risk of casualty for all involved.
Males and females are tough to tell apart, even for toads. Female toads do not croak, so if a male toad gets onto another toad and croaks, then the toad knows it has chosen wrong. Toads croak automatically when clasped so the other knows straight away.
Unfortunately, there are more males than females, so competition and fights between toads are commonplace. Females only stay in the ponds for a few days to find a spawning site and lay eggs.
Males stay much longer in spawning sites and try to mate with many different females for up to three weeks.
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With the male on her back in amplexus, the female lays her eggs straight into the water. The eggs are covered in jelly and are applied on a string up to 3 meters long. The string is laid carefully among the stems of plants. This is one of the main ways to tell the difference between frog spawn and toad spawn, as frogs do not lay their eggs in a string-like pattern.
The male fertilizes the eggs externally in the water with his sperm. The female can lay between 4000-7000 eggs and then leave the water.
About a week after the eggs have been fertilized, the eggs start to change to an oval shape—the head, tail, and body form over the next few weeks before leaving the jelly. Toads can take up to about 15 weeks to develop into an adult. Once they lose their tadpole shape and become toads, they will leave the water for a life on land before returning to spawn.
Tadpoles will eat the eggs of other toads, as will adult males. However, toad tadpoles are poisonous to fish and so escape being eaten.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.