Did you know that the lakes and wetlands around Cumberland and throughout the trail network support breeding populations of Western Toads? Every summer countless tiny toads take part in an EPIC migration from local wetlands and lakes, across trails and roads, upland into the forest.
The Western Toad is a species of conservation concern. Western Toads are federally listed as Species of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) because they are especially sensitive to human activities, climate change, and other changes in the environment. They are also Yellow listed by the BC Conservation Data Centre.
Western Toads have three main migrations. The first two are when adults move to and from lakes for breeding in the spring, and the third when the metamorphosed toadlets leave the lake in summer for upland habitat. The adult spring migration is intermittent, taking place primarily during warm, wet nights. Toadlets tend to migrate only in the daytime, usually following summer rain events. This makes them vulnerable to human activity on roads a
nd trails.
During the toadlet migration, you will find tens of thousands of tiny toads (smaller than a dime) leaving Allen Lake and other water bodies and crossing busy trails within the local network. Trail users are asked to watch for information signs and check the Cumberland Forest web and social media posts indicating when the migration is active then plan their route accordingly.
Habitat loss and fragmentation, forestry, development, and climate change create significant challenges for the Western Toad. However – these are all things that our community can work to improve! Toad tunnels, road and trail closures/detours, and drift fencing are measures that can support the migration. Some communities shut down entire parks, trails, and roads during the peak migration period (e.g., Summit Lake near Nakusp,  Lost Lake Beach in Whistler, Ryder Lake in Chilliwack). As we learn more about our local Western Toad populations, we can become stronger advocates for management actions to support the tiny toads!
WANT TO GET INVOLVED? Join the Tiny Toad Patrol to build community knowledge about our tiny toads and advocate for management actions to support their migration! Email Heather at heather@cumberlandforest.com
How to spot a Western Toad

What is the difference between toads and frogs? Well, for starters, all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads. Confused? Don’t worry! While it may be easy to get toads and frogs mixed-up, there are a few tell-tail characteristics. Toads have dry, rough and warty skin, and are generally more stocky and ‘clumsy footed’ than frogs. In addition to warts, dry skin, and a clumsy gait, Western Toads have a light line along their mid-back (though it may be lacking on the smaller toadlets). The toadlets are tiny – about 10 mm in length but they sure can hop! Adults grow to 60-120mm in size.

Western Toad Project 2021

In the summer of 2021 the Cumberland Forest joined forces with local biologists, bikers, hikers, and amphibian fans for a Western Toad Project. Together we: 

a) observed and documented their behaviour through a citizen science platform called iNaturalist, b) built community knowledge about local ecosystems and this species of concern, c) implemented communications strategies to reduce human impacts on the population and, d) helped the toads migrate more safely across high traffic roads and trails.
Thanks to the 40 + volunteers – including all of the reconnaissance and toadlet hunters who sent in pictures, google pins and reports of toad sightings. Thanks to UROC for installing trail head signs and to the Village for closing impacted trails within the park. At the info booth we engaged with hundreds of trail-users, many of whom spread the word even further.  And importantly – it worked. People changed their behaviours. Bikers re-routed, trails were closed, and a big migration was made a bit easier. It wasn’t perfect – but it was pretty incredible.

Our effort in 2021 has already had impacts, and discussions are underway with the Village to begin to mitigate the human impacts (trampling, erosion, trail braiding) of folks looking for the “Cumberland Potholes” below the Perseverance Creek crossing on the Davis Lake Main.  Whenever possible we need to remind folks that Perseverance Creek is a toad migration hotspot, fish habitat, drinking water source and a biodiversity corridor that should be handled with care. The phenomenon of over sharing, travel blogs and instagram ‘hotspots’ has highlighted this spot and we have work to do as a community to keep it safe.

Thank you so much, and we hope that you find a way to celebrate these accomplishments, and the role that you played in them. (Maybe do a little hop of your own?)

Life Cycle of Western Toads

  • “Amphibian” means dual life. These animals live for part of their life in water and part of their life on land. 
  • Eggs: Each female can lay more than 10,000 eggs. Eggs look like small black pearls in long strings of jelly.
  • Tadpoles: are charcoal or black. Groups of hundreds or thousands gather together in warm, shallow waters.
  • Toadlets: Once they have grown legs, tiny toadlets leave the water and disperse by the thousands into the surrounding forest (and sometimes right into our backyards!). This migration is dangerous and some loss of life is expected, due to human impact and animal predation.
  • Adults: Adult toads are nocturnal feeders and hibernate over winter in rotting stumps/ logs.  While it takes about 3 years for juveniles to reach sexual maturity, the average lifespan on a western toad remains a bit of a mystery! Most estimate that it is about 10 years.  Males will return to their breeding pond every year, while females may skip years. 

Why are our toads important?

Western toad breeding sites are rare on Vancouver Island. Lakes and wetlands in the Comox Valley provide important habitat, especially for mass egg laying and tadpole development. 


Please don’t handle the toads

In addition to being a species of special concern, which means they can only legally be handled with a permit, all amphibians have sensitive skin. Western Toads can absorb oxygen through their skin which means that any residue on our hands  (lotion, sweat, bug-spray, sunscreen etc.) could be absorbed into their bodies (and could be fatal!). 

Western Toads also have poison glands (in large warts behind their eyes), which secrete a milky liquid when the toad is stressed/handled. This will not harm humans, but it does deplete important water reserves for the toad, especially on a hot day!.

Join our Tiny Toad Patrol. We will be coordinating a Volunteer Naturalist Program where trained community volunteers provide information at key access points to the network to let them know about the status of the migration including current roads and trails impacted. Volunteers will also be needed to help install and uninstall temporary signage in a variety of areas.

Please fill out our volunteer application form or email heather@cumberlandforest.com to get involved.