Curiosities about toads are almost endless, but unfortunately many people are not interested in finding out about them. These animals have a reputation for being poisonous, for causing wrinkles when touched or for giving bad luck to those who cross their path. Nothing could be further from the truth : these amphibians are mostly harmless and do an excellent job of fighting pests in ecosystems.
To dispel these myths and clear up their bad reputation, we’ll give you 10 curiosities about toads you can not miss. You will realize how fascinating their life cycle and ecology are.
1. Curiosities about toads: toads and frogs are the same thing
Before we give you the most impressive curiosities for toads, we should define them on a taxonomic level. Toad is a amphibian that belongs to the order Anura and differs from the rest of their relatives because they do not have a tail. There are more than 7,300 species of anuran, which corresponds to 88% of the current biodiversity in the amphibious class.
Now we should note that both toads and frogs are anurans, so their different names have no taxonomic basis. Toads are said to be more grounded and robust than frogs, but there are many exceptions to this. The categorization between animals is performed by genetic analysis, not by external appearance.
A real family of amphibians
Although the terms frog and toad are incorrectly used to categorize the various anurans, we can say that almost all of those commonly referred to as “toads” belong to the family Bufonidae. This family contains more than 570 species divided into 52 genera, and all represent the real toads.
Within this family, the genus Atelopus is the most extensive of all, with a total of 96 described species. Strangely enough, the examples from this group have nothing to do with a typical toad, because they have very narrow limbs, their body is smooth and they lack the characteristic roughness distributed over the whole body. They are even incorrectly called “harlequin frogs”.
3. The typical toad is part of its own genus
As a curiosity for the toads in terms of their taxonomy, we must note that Bufo is the most famous genus in the Bufonidae family. This group includes the brown, coarse, chubby and orange-eyed toads that we have all encountered at some point. They are extremely terrestrial amphibians, although they require humidity to breathe.
4. Toads breathe through the skin
Do you ever wonder why we always associate the term “amphibian” with the presence of water? These animals constantly require very high humidity because, although it seems incredible, they must have wet skin to be able to breathe through it. Their lungs are very rudimentary, so they get 25 to 85% of the O2 they need through passive cutaneous diffusion.
As if this were not incredible enough, amphibians can also modulate the amount of blood they transport to the surface of the skin. Although this is relative, it will be possible for them to regulate their oxygen intake through the skin according to their needs and environmental constraints.
5. Toads produce venom, but they are not dangerous
All members of the genus Bufo have very interesting structures on the back and behind the eyes. These kidney-shaped “warts” are actually parotid glands, responsible for the production of toxic compounds. When an animal tries to eat these amphibians, they release the glandular fluid and irritate the predator’s oral cavities.
The toxic compounds that the toads expel are bufotoxins, a very diverse family of toxic steroid lactones that cause various systemic and local effects after ingestion. Although not fatal to humans, they can cause very serious symptoms in dogs, cats and other mammals.
6. Hallucinogenic toads?
Another curiosity about toads is that the bufotoxins they produce have historically been used as psychedelics in certain cultures. This is the case with Incilius alvarius , an amphibian that can produce enough venom to kill an adult dog.
The 5-MeO-DMT compounds and the bufotenine in the secreted fluid are powerful psychoactive agents that cause very strong effects in humans for about 15 seconds. The treated forms of these poisons have been used as medicines and aphrodisiacs in recent times, which have caused at least one human death due to poisoning.
7. All toads are hunters
Despite their full bodies and general clumsiness, toads are strict carnivores that usually live exclusively on live prey. Their hunting strategy is of the sit-and-wait type: they just wait for their victim to pass by and strike them with their sticky tongue like a trap.
Toads are insectivorous and feed on moths, beetles, ants, grasshoppers, worms, snails and all kinds of invertebrates that fit in their mouths. The Rhinella marina species is an exception to this rule, as due to its unusual size (54 centimeters – 21 inches – elongated) it can also hunt bats, birds, reptiles and even mammals.
8. Toads need water to reproduce
Most species of toads migrate from the survival zone to the breeding area in the spring. This place for mating and release of the eggs must be a lake or a stream (permanent or short-lived). They are philopatric animals, which means that they always return to the same place to reproduce.
Toads have an external fertilization: the male embraces the female in a position called the amplexus and promotes the release of a strict egg into the water. The male fertilizes the female and abandons her quickly, as his intention is to fertilize as many eggs as possible.
A female of the Bufo bufo species can lay 3,000 to 6,000 eggs at a time. Although this figure seems excessive, you must remember that the vast majority of larvae will die, either as tadpoles, before hatching, or when they undergo metamorphosis from the water. These animals lay many eggs, but very few reach adulthood.
9. An explosive method of reproduction
Although each species is different, another common feature of toads is that their reproduction is usually explosive. Hundreds of males flock to the same body of water to sing and attract females, catching them as fast as they can to catch them in the amplexus. It is normal for males to push or hug each other in a frantic mating act.
Even though it may seem shocking, you can sometimes observe mating balls or reproductive balls on 4, 5, 6 or more males hugging the same female. The pressure is such that the female sometimes drowns and dies from the weight of her courtship before, or after, she has laid her eggs in the water.
10. They are not dangerous animals and need our help
Finally, in our curiosities about toads, we emphasize that they are not dangerous animals. Although they produce buphotoxins that can cause very unpleasant symptoms, you will not notice their effects if you do not put a specimen in your mouth (!), Or rub your eyes after touching one. These amphibians are extremely peaceful and never seek direct confrontation.
In addition, toads and 41% of amphibians are generally at risk of extinction, as climate change, water pollution, the introduction of exotic species and certain infectious diseases are killing them at an alarming rate. These cute little vertebrates require conservation efforts before it’s too late.
We hope you enjoyed our toad curiosities!