Common Toads can grow to 8cm for males and up to 13cm for females, they are generally brown or olive brown and young specimens are often brick coloured. The skin is warty and often appears dry. Glands in the skin contain powerful toxins and would-be predators quickly learn not to attempt to eat toads.
The colour of the toad varies according to the colour of the soil in its habitat. If the soil is a greyish colour, the toads skin tends to be greyish to blend in. If the soil is more brownish, the toad tends to be more brownish.
Common toads have a strong migratory instinct and will follow the same route back to ancestral breeding ponds each spring. Females are generally larger than males. Although males usually wait for females at breeding sites, they will sometimes try to ambush them before they reach the water. Males have dark nuptial pads on three inner fingers that are very noticeable in the breeding season. They clasp the females in a special hold known as "Amplexus" during mating. They remain like this for a few days as the female lays her spawn.
Toad spawn is laid in strings of double- or triple-stranded, wrapped around plants in deeper parts of ponds. Toadlets metamorphose in June and July.
Common toads are most active at night when they hunt invertebrates including snails, slugs, ants and spiders. If they find a good source of food they can become sedentary. Indeed they may often remain in gardens for long periods in the summer months.
Contrary to popular belief, they tend to walk rather than hop. Common toads hibernate in October, typically under deep leaf litter, logs, timber piles, or in burrows and drainpipes. They will occasionally hibernate in mud at the bottom of a pond, but tend to live away from water except during the breeding season. They emerge from hibernation in spring (late March) and migrate to breeding sites.
As a defence against predators they secrete a toxic, foul tasting substance called 'bufagin'. As well as having an unpleasant taste, common toads also adopt a defence posture when threatened that makes them appear much larger than usual and makes them more difficult to grasp and swallow by a predator.
In UK, the Common Toads are also protected by law under Section 9(5) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. This prohibits sale, barter, exchange, transporting for sale and advertising to sell or to buy.
They are now also a BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) species. There have been declines in toad numbers in much of lowland England and similar decreases are thought to have occurred in Wales and Scotland. This appears to be partly due to the effect of road traffic during the breeding season and also due to loss of breeding ponds; for more info see Toads on Roads.
Erik Paterson, CARG Secretary