Invite a Toad to Dinner

(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)

Why would anyone want to do such a thing? They're creepy crawly little critters! And have you seen them eat? Such atrocious table manners!

Toads may not be the best guests to have around the dinner table, but they are great to have in your yard. The American toad (Bufo americanus) is the most common toad found in Northern Virginia, and possesses a voracious appetite. One of nature's most efficient bug-eaters, the American toad's diet consists of a variety of insects including ants, beetles, crickets, centipedes, flies, and mosquitoes. Slugs and worms are also a preferred delicacy.

American toadsUnlike frogs, toads have rough leathery skin covered by numerous bumps. These are often referred to as warts. Contrary to what you may have heard on the playground as a kid, people cannot get warts from handling a toad. Toads vary in color. They can be black, brown, tan, green, gray, or an orange-red, and are often a combination of these colors. Toads can also change their color or shade to match their surroundings, though this ability is limited. You will never see a pink toad!

Toads are natural introverts. They spend most of the day hiding amongst leaf litter, under plants such as ferns, Virginia creeper, honeysuckle and hostas, or under ground if the temperature is too hot or too cold. Toads are active at night, coming out of their hiding places in search of food. In spring, male toads can be heard “calling” to attract females. The American toad’s call is a gentle, pleasant sounding trill that lasts between 10 and 30 seconds.

So how can you attract toads to your yard?

Like all creatures, toads have four fundamental needs: food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young. Food for toads means insects. Insects are attracted to plants and plant debris. If you include a variety of trees, shrubs, flowers, and groundcover plants in your yard, you will attract a variety of insects and provide a source of shelter for your toad guests. Adding an ornamental pond to your yard provides a source of water and a place for young to develop. Toads begin life in water and “morph” into land dwellers. Having a pond, however, is not essential. Unlike frogs, toads are mainly terrestrial, and don’t need to be close to or in water all the time. For instance, even if a neighbor a few doors down has a pond, toads may still spend most of their time in your yard if food and shelter conditions are more favorable.

Please don’t poison your guests!

Homeowners in the United States use up to ten times more pesticides per acre on lawns than farmers use on crops! Chemical pesticides are known to be lethal or cause deformities in amphibian young (tadpoles), and can be lethal to adult amphibians as well. If you want to have toads, don’t use pesticides. The toads that inhabit your yard will do their best to naturally rid you of your garden pests.

Toads are natural insecticides and an indicator of a healthy environment. Invite a toad to dinner today!

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