Western toads use three different types of habitat: breeding habitats (lakes, ponds, wetlands), terrestrial summer range (forests), and winter hibernation sites. Western Toads spend much of their time underground and shelter in small mammal burrows, under logs, and within rock crevices. Hibernation burrows are up to 1.3 meters below the frostline.
Western toads have three main migrations. The first two are in the spring when adults move to and from communal breeding sites. The third migration is in the summer when tiny toadlets leave the lake for upland habitat. Toadlets tend to migrate in the daytime and after summer rain events. This makes them vulnerable to human activity on roads and trails.
Females reproduce every 1-3 years but some only breed once in their lifetime. A single Western toad can lay up to 16,500 eggs in two intertwined strands which they attach to vegetation in the water. 99% of toadlets won’t survive to reach adulthood.
In the warm shallow water the eggs quickly develop into tadpoles that swarm in groups of hundreds or thousands of individuals. After a few weeks, a hormone in the tadpole’s thyroid gland initiates metamorphosis which turns a tadpole turns into a toad! Its an amazing transformation.
Tiny Toads Crossing
Once they’ve fully formed into tiny toadlets, they leave the shallow water. Dense aggregations of toadlets are found hidden along the shore of breeding sites. Soon after you will see tens of thousands of tiny toads (smaller than a dime) leaving Allen Lake and other water bodies and crossing busy trails in the Cumberland network.
Save the Toads!
Trail users are asked to watch for signs and check the CCFS & UROC web and social media for updates about the migration so they can plan their route accordingly. Research and data collection, alternate trail routes, toad tunnels, road and trail closures/detours, and drift fencing are all management actions that can help save the toads. As we learn more about our local Western toad populations, we can become stronger advocates to protect their habitat and their annual migration.
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!.
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 2022
A long cool spring has meant a later start for the Western toad migration this summer but the Village of Cumberland, United Riders of Cumberland and Cumberland Community Forest Society are working hand in hand to build local knowledge about the annual migration and how we can reduce our impacts!
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:
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?)
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. Please fill out our volunteer application form or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.