Common Toad – Bufo bufo
A native species that are mostly nocturnal making it difficult to spot them. The best time of year to see Toads is during the breeding season in February and March as they congregate in ponds (including garden ponds) to mate.
Toads are often confused with Frogs, but the Toads warty skin and walking rather than hopping motion help to distinguish between the two. Females are larger than males being up to 15cm long, they are heavily built with warty skin; these warts produce a toxin when the Toad feels threatened, they will also take on a defensive posture when threatened that makes them appear much larger than usual and so deter predators. They do this by stretching out their legs, inflating their lungs with air, and leaning their heads downwards. They are uniform in colour which can range from brown, greenish grey and females are more reddish brown than the males depending on its surroundings. Their stomach is light grey in colour and they have horizontal pupils, a rounded snout and large webbed hind feet.
Their diet consists of any prey small enough to swallow including slugs, spiders, earwigs, worms, snails and even young toads! They will only be seen feeding on land rather than in the water, where they sit and wait for their prey to come by.
Toads are only seen close to water during the breeding season, during the rest of the year they can be found far from water bodies which, unlike the frog, it prefers larger ponds and lakes in which to breed and lays its eggs (spawn) in long ribbon like strips amongst submerged vegetation.
Toads start their journey to their breeding ponds once they have emerged from hibernation in February and March; many are killed as they cross roads to reach the ponds that they return to each year. There is a lot of competition between the males for the females and ‘mating balls’ can often be seen as males try to take a female from another male. Up to ten males could be fighting for a single female; the females can be drowned or crushed during this mating frenzy. When mating is successful eggs are laid in long double strings (unlike the frog clump of spawn) amongst vegetation. Tadpoles hatch about 2 months later and develop into toadlets a few weeks later. They reach sexual maturity after a couple of years.
During the breeding season is the only time Toads will be seen together as they are solitary animals. Hibernation starts in October and is usually under deep leaf litter, logs or in burrows, only occasionally will they hibernate in mud at the bottom of a pond.
The Toad is protected in Britain under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and is a Species of Conservation Concern under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).