A-Nature Blog

10/13/2017 – A Coastal-plains Toad Makes Himself at Home (Karen Benson)

A male Coastal-Plains Toad inflates his throat pouch to make the flat trill that attracts females. These toads can be heard calling most nights from March to September. Robert Benson photo.

A Coastal-Plains Toad Makes Himself At Home

It was a lovely fall morning.  I decided to walk through my garden.  Sitting on the porch steps, I reached behind me for my rubber boots.  As I slipped my foot into the boot, I felt something soft and squishy.  And it moved!  I squealed, dropped the boot, and jumped back involuntarily.

I knew it wasn’t a wet sock, and it was too big to be an insect, so I steeled myself to investigate.  Peering down into the boot, I could see nothing.  Shaking the boot didn’t dislodge the intruder, but it did bring him closer to the heel where he could be seen.  It was a toad.  I reached my hand into the boot to drag him out.  But he pushed back with his “hands”, his little, four-fingered, toady hands!

When I slipped my foot into my rubber boot, I felt something soft and squishy! A Coastal-Plains Toad had made my boot into his cozy daytime refuge. Karen Benson photo

Eventually, I got a grip on the little fellow and gently pulled him out.  It was a Gulf Coast Toad.  However, they are not called that anymore.  For years, these common residents of our yards here in Texas have been classified as Gulf Coast Toads (Bufo valliceps) but that changed in the late 1990s.  DNA analysis revealed that the northern populations of this species were quite different from the southern populations.  The toads found from Veracruz, Mexico south to Costa Rica are now considered the true Gulf Coast Toads.  Toads that look like Gulf Coast Toads but inhabit the coastal plains of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi are given the new name:  Coastal-Plains Toad.

To make matters even more confusing, scientists have reclassified both of these look-alike toads into a new genus:  Incilius.  So now, Incilius valliceps is the correct scientific name for the Gulf Coast Toad living in Mexico south of Veracruz.  Our toad, Incilius nebulifer, is the toad that inhabits the coastal plains of the United States (and incidentally the northern part of Mexico).

Okay.  I had a Coastal-Plains Toad in my hands.  I could tell he was indeed a “he” because his throat was yellowish-green.  Females have a whitish throat.  Then he croaked.  I mean he made a sound!  I almost dropped him in surprise, but managed to set him down gently in the moist flowerbed by the porch.  I figured he would be happier there.

But, no.  The next morning he was back in my boot!  How could a creature not quite three inches long negotiate up a set of stairs and get into my boot?  Did he climb or jump?  I think toads are good jumpers, but I didn’t know they could jump with the aim of hopping into an upright container.  Still, I have found toads in 12-inch high flowerpots, so they must do it on purpose.

This range map shows the distribution of Coastal-Plains Toad in Texas. This species is also found in northern Mexico and in Louisiana. Herps of Texas Map.

Toads rest in sheltered, cool locations during the day.  At twilight they come out to feed on insects.  You have probably seen a toad or two around a street lamp feeding on insects attracted to the light.  I once watched one of these toads eat its weight in June bugs!

Coastal-Plains Toads are amphibians, just like frogs.  They must find a water source in order to breed.  Males pick a spot near a pond or ditch, or sometimes in the water itself, to call out a short, flat trill lasting two to six seconds.  The trill is repeated over and over again all night.  There is a second or two between each call.  It sounds rather monotonous to us humans, but the female toads find it irresistible.  She lays her eggs in strings of jelly while the male grasps her in the mating grip known as amplexus.  He wraps his forelegs around her neck (or where her neck would be if a toad had a neck) and fertilizes the eggs as they are laid.  The tadpoles hatch out in just a few days.  The tadpoles undergo metamorphosis after about 20 to 30 days of aquatic life.  The now terrestrial adults spend the rest of their lives as air-breathers, returning to the water only to reproduce.

Toads are welcome in our yards and gardens because they eat so many insects.  Some people even put out special toad shelters that are cool, dark, and moist to entice a toad to stick around.  Half of a broken clay pot will also attract a resting toad.  These “toad abodes” do work, but don’t be surprised if your garden’s toad prefers your rubber boots!