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American Toad: Myths and Misconceptions

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
Learn the Facts about a Common New Jersey Amphibian

by Liam Hobbie, Field Intern

Adult American toad photo by Kelly Triece

Adult American toad photo by Kelly Triece

Did you know that wetlands are very important habitats that provide benefits for both humans and wildlife alike? Generally defined as “land consisting of marshes or swamps”, wetlands provide natural flood control by soaking up runoff from heavy rains and filter out chemicals, pollutants, and sediments that would otherwise contaminate our drinking water. They also provide a home for much of the fish and wildlife species that inhabit the state of New Jersey.

 

Due to the extensive development and urbanization of the state to accommodate our ever-growing population, much of New Jersey’s natural wetlands have ceased to exist. In the 1980’s a study conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) found that, since the mid-1900’s, the state lost at least 20 percent of its natural wetland resources. Since then, concerted efforts have been made to protect, restore, and create wetland habitats across the state. One such effort has been made by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) with the Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) project, a component of The Agricultural Conservation Program in partnership with Conserve Wildlife Foundation. WRE is a voluntary program that provides an opportunity for landowners to receive financial assistance in exchange for permanently protecting retired agricultural land.

Lamington River, Bedminster, Somerset County. Location of American toads.

Lamington River, Bedminster, Somerset County. Location of American toads.

While walking one such easement property in Bedminster, Somerset County we observed a population of American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) polliwogs in a shallow water inlet along the Lamington River. There had to be hundreds of these young toads both in the water and on the shore. The American toad is just one example of a wildlife species that benefits from readily available wetland habitat and that is also vulnerable to habitat loss due to wetland destruction. Although they are very common in New Jersey, and many people can recognize a toad when they see one, there are still a handful of myths and misconceptions about toads that I would like to address.

American toad- just metamorphizing into an adult! Photo by Kelly Triece

American toad- just metamorphizing into an adult! Photo by Kelly Triece

Myth 1 – Toads will give you warts if you touch them: False. While toads do have warts across their bodies, they cannot transmit these warts to humans as warts in people are actually caused by a virus. This doesn’t mean you should go around handling every toad you come across, but if you do pick one up you will not contract warts from it.

 

Myth 2 – Toads must be completely safe to handle if they do not transmit warts: False. Toads secrete toxins through their skin so it is completely necessary to wash one’s hands after handling a toad. They also are known to pee in self-defense, especially when picked up by a human. This may not bother some people but you should still make sure to wash your hands after holding one.

 

Myth 3 – Wild-caught toads make good pets: False. While toads are very easy to care for, and it is not hard to replicate their natural environment in a fish tank, it is still very important to leave wild toads wherever you find them. Toads will spend their whole lives in one area, leaving it once or twice a year just to go breed, and it can be very disruptive to a toad’s well-being to find itself in a new home. If you do happen to keep a toad for more than a few minutes, it is of utmost importance that it gets returned to exactly where you found it. Releasing it into any suitable habitat would seem adequate enough, but it would be like if one day you just found yourself wandering around Nebraska with no way of knowing where to go or how to get home!

 

Myth 4 – Toads are terrestrial species and do not need to be near water to thrive: False. Toads will spend most of their lives hanging out in fields or meadows or even forests, but they do need access to pools of water in order to breed. Every summer, toads will migrate to pools to find mates and to lay eggs. While they do not swim, like their close relative the frog, they still benefit from having shallow water habitat in close proximity to where they spend most of their time.

 

Myth 5 – Toads are poisonous: TRUE. Contact with a toad’s skin will not give you warts and it will not poison you just through skin-to-skin contact. However, they have glands just behind their eyes that when pressed will secrete a milky-white substance that can severely harm someone if ingested. This may not be a danger to most people, as most humans have no interest in putting toads in their mouths, but it is a concern for dogs. Dogs very typically love to grab strange objects with their mouths, which applies enough pressure to a toad’s glands to excrete their poison. This can be very detrimental to a canine’s health and can even kill them. If you find yourself wandering around toad habitats with your beloved pup ensure that they do not try to eat any toads that they come across. If your dog does mistakenly poison itself you should take it to a vet immediately.

 

NRCS easement boundary sign.

NRCS easement boundary sign.

Through programs like WRE, more and more wetland habitats are being made available across the state for wildlife species like toads. It is important to be aware of what impact you can have on them, as well as what could happen to you or your pet through contact with toads.

 

Learn More:

 

Liam Hobbie is a 2016 field intern for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

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