indianpaintbrush

Do Toads Eat Worms?

The Question: As I worked in the garden, an earthworm came wriggling toward me, followed by a toad. When the worm changed course, the toad followed, looking as if it wanted to bite the worm. Do toads eat worms?

Submitted by: Susan F., Connecticut, USA

The Short Answer: Yes!

More Information: Most toads will eat almost any animal small enough to fit in their mouths – and sometimes animals too big to fit in their mouths! So earthworms, insects, terrestrial crustaceans, and other invertebrates are all on the menu. One study in Canadian jack pine forests found that American toads were big eaters of ants. But nice juicy earthworms are probably a treat. So the toad you saw chasing an earthworm American Toadwas almost certainly after lunch. There is a Youtube video of a pet American Toad eating a large worm here: YouTube Clip.

Two toad species are common in Connecticut, the American Toad (Bufo Americanus), and Fowler’s Toad (Bufo fowleri). They can look very much alike. The American Toad gets considerably larger, so if you see a four inch (10 cm) toad (with legs tucked in) in Connecticut, that’s almost certainly an American Toad. But if you see one smaller than that, you’ll have to look more closely. The Peabody Museum at Yale University has a nice online guide to the amphibians and reptiles of Connecticut Fowler's Toad(Yale Peabody Museum). Here are that site’s descriptions of the two Bufo species:

American Toad – A brown or brownish gray toad of 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10 cm) in length. The brown spots on the back generally contain 1 or 2 wart-like protuberances. The belly is creamy white with a peppering of dark spots.

Fowler’s Toad – A medium-sized toad reaching 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6.cm) in length. Dorsal coloration is brown or brownish gray with brown or black markings surrounding the warty protuberances on the skin. Generally, three or more “warts” occur with each dark spot on the back. The belly is creamy white usually lacking dark speckles.

It sounds to me like the simplest way to tell an American Toad from a Fowler’s Toad would be to tip them over and look for dark spots on the belly. If it’s got spots, it’s probably an American Toad. If not, it’s a Fowler’s. That should work in Connecticut, where these are the only two species that are common. In other parts of the world, you’d have to know the local species. American Toads and Fowler’s Toads both like sandy soils. You’re more likely to find the American Toad in an upland area, and more likely to find a Fowler’s near a stream or other water, but both can be found in the other’s prime habitat, so that’s not a very good way to tell them apart. You can also listen for their songs in the spring to tell what kind predominates in your area. You can hear the songs at the Yale Peabody Museum site. The songs are roughly similar, but the American Toad’s song is prettier. The Fowler’s has a bit of a punk rock edge:

American Toad Song

Fowler’s Toad Song

There are about 150 species in the genus Bufo spread around the world, so it’s a pretty successful group. It even has an infamous member, Bufo marinus, the Cane Toad that has become a troublesome invasive species in many places. Bufo is the largest genus in the family Bufonidae, which has about 530 species, and is considered by herpetologists to be the “true toads.” However, in common name usage, there are many species of frogs that are also called “toads.” The name/description “toad” is generally given to any frog that lives in a dry habitat. Interestingly, convergent evolution has led to many of these frogs looking very much like bufonid toads, dry, warty skin and all.

Trivia: A group of toads is called a “knot.”

Sources: The diet of coexisting species of amphibians in Canadian jack pine forests.  Bellocq, M. I., K. Kloosterman, and S. M. Smith.  Herpetological Journal.  10:63–68.  2000.

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2 Responses

  1. Ask a Naturalist.com » What are these tiny toads? Says:

    [...] are very similar, and what you describe could be either one (for tips to tell the adults apart, click here). What’s surprising about the newly metamorphosed toadlets is that they are so tiny compared [...]

  2. Donna Says:

    I have had bufo toads in my front yard for years. They have frog huts and pools. They were eating the meal worms I feed a Robin. Every night my toads came out headed for the meal worms and took dips in their pools. Suddenly one by one they have disapeared. It is still hot here I live in SC and it is August. About three weeks ago there was a snake in my yard. It came out at night and my husband killed it. My fear is that another snake could have eaten my toads. I became so attached to them. I spent hours watching them. Is it possible they moved somewhere else? One Toad has been with me for 7 years. My Siamese cat loves him. The toad would sit by the cat and the cat raps his tail around him. I am lost without the toads. So is my cat.

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