The western toad, Anaxyrus boreas, is a large toad species that inhabits the western United States. It is an amphibian species in rapid decline. It is considered to be threatened by pollution by the use of fertilizers used to increase biomass cultivation in the forested areas in which they live. Many western states have enacted programs to protect the western toad from extinction. The western toad is also known as the Bufo boreas or boreal toad.
The male western toad can reach 4 to 5 inches long. The body is chunky and short-legged. Colors can range from brown or green to grayish on the top of the body too mottled white on the bottom. The surface is covered with warts with a white or cream-colored dorsal stripe. Females have the rougher, more textured skin. The eyes are flecked with gold and have horizontal, oval pupils.
Western toads make their homes in forests, meadows, mountain wetlands, desert springs, marshes and ponds. They prefer shallow water with mud bottoms. Semi-permanent water is needed for the eggs and larva to develop. Western toads generally stay close to watery areas during the day, but may range widely at night. They generally live in heavily forested regions and will hibernate in terrestrial burrows to avoid freezing temperatures. While actually at home in freshwater bodies, they can survive for several hours swimming in seawater.
The western toad is found on the west coast of the United States from California and northward along the coastal areas into British Columbia to the state of Alaska. The distribution of this species extends eastward into Montana, central Wyoming, Nevada, western Colorado and parts of the higher plateaus of Utah. Some species are found as far south as New Mexico.
Western toads are active between January and October, depending on the altitude of the habitat. They spend a great deal of time underground, using their strong back legs to help burrow themselves into burrows. They move not by jumping, but by climbing and crawling. They may roam far from their homes in damp, swampy areas. The species is a skilled hunter, feeding on beetles, spiders, centipedes, slugs, earthworms, and flying insects of many kinds. The toads congregate in communal breeding grounds to lay and fertilize the eggs. Thousands of tadpoles then hatch in the warm, shallow pools. Only 1 percent of the eggs laid will survive to adulthood.
This species of toad possesses an enlarged gland, called a parotid gland, behind each eye that secretes a poison. When a toad feels threatened by another animal it will squirt this poison into the mouth of its attacker. The poison causes throat swelling, nausea, irregular heartbeat and even death. You should always warn your dog away from western toads, and wash your hands after handling this species.
The western toad is an important species that serves as an indicator of the general health of the environment. As development increases throughout the western states, further measures will be required to protect the habitats of this native species.