The western toad (Anaxyrus boreas) is a widespread but interesting species. For one thing, instead of croaking like a frog, this animal makes squeaking or chirping sounds, especially if it is handled. It also isn’t especially afraid of man, which means that even though it tends to be secretive, this is more a matter of keeping from drying out and to give it more of a chance against predators such as snakes, predatory birds, cougars, bobcats, lynxes, coyotes and wolves than it is to stay away from humans.
Western toads have stout bodies and move around mostly by walking rather than hopping. The background skin color varies from brown to slightly green or gray. The warts are small and usually are a more pronounced reddish brown than the skin, with each circled in dark brown to black. This toad’s eyes have horizontal pupils rather than vertical ones. Western toads are normally smaller than 4 inches in length, with females generally being slightly larger than males.
A distinguishing mark is a white to cream colored stripe that runs down the center of the back from between the eyes to between the hind legs. However, it is important to note that not all western toads have this distinctive mark.
The chirping sound is also an identifier and at times, this toad can seem quite vocal, even though they lack the vocal cords for croaking.
The western toad has a large range, from the Pacific coast of Alaska and points inland, south through several Canadian provinces, to extreme southern California and east to Colorado and into New Mexico. The species can be found in both lower and higher elevations, including in the Cascades and Rockies.
The habitat of the western toad “include[s] low elevation beaver ponds, reservoirs, streams, marshes, lake shores, potholes, wet meadows, and marshes, to high elevation ponds, fens, and tarns at or near treeline”. (Rodgers and Jellison 1942, Brunson and Demaree 1951, Miller 1978, Marnell 1997, Werner et al. 1998, Boundy 2001) This little creature has been found in dry forests, wetlands and even near sources of water in the desert. All of this allows it to exist, sometimes in surprising numbers, in a wide range of available habitats.
Western toads seem to prefer areas where they have access to water. Still, they’ve been sighted in towns, particularly at night, especially if they can get to mud puddles or slow flowing streams. This is a means of staying moist as well as allowing the toads a place to lay their eggs after breeding. The movement across roads, which results in many toad deaths each year, is also most pronounced during the breeding season.
In drier areas, these toads also enjoy loose soil they can burrow into, both as protection and to lay in wait for suitable prey: Ants, grasshoppers, worms and other insects or invertebrates.
Western toads are interesting animals and they have habits that make them endearing, not to mention the fact that they are voracious feeders, often upon small creatures that are considered to be pests by many people. Knowing more about this toad may be of future importance to its survival as habitat changes have caused declines in population in many areas.