Children the world over are often introduced to amphibians when they come across their first toad. Far bolder than typical frogs (and much easier to catch!) most take the indignity of capture by grubby little hands in stride, and leave all who encounter them with a favorable impression. With few exceptions, however, these droll, long-lived amphibians are relatively ignored by pet-keepers and zoos alike. After a lifetime of working with dozens of species, I find this hard to understand. Toads of many species (there are almost 600!) take well to captivity, and often become as responsive as do turtles. Nearly all feed readily from the hand, and they are frequently described as “charming” by owners. Many are active by day, while others are quick to discard their nocturnal ways. I still find American Toads and other common species as fascinating as Kihansi Spray Toads (which produce tiny toadlets rather than eggs!), Blomberg’s Toads and the other rarities I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
Toads and frogs are classified in the order Anura, which contains 6,396 members. The world’s 588 toad species are placed in the family Bufonidae. Toad taxonomy is now in a state of flux, so I’ll mainly stick to common names here…please post below if you would like the Latin name for any species.
Range and Habitat
Toads are native to every continent except Australia and Antarctica, and have adapted to rainforests, deserts, grasslands, meadows, temperate woodlands, cold mountain streams, farms, cloud forests, suburban gardens, city parks, coastal sand dunes and many more. Despite lacking native species, Australia hosts enormous populations of Marine or Cane Toads. Released to control cane beetles (a task at which they failed miserably!), Marine Toads now threaten the future of animals ranging from insects to large monitors.
The USA’s toads are incredibly diverse. Included among the 35-40 native species is one of the world’s smallest, the inch-long Oak Toad (one of our regular readers is now attempting to breed them; I’ll post updates). The massive Marine Toad is also a native, but is limited to the lower reaches of the Rio Grande in extreme southern Texas; the Florida population is introduced. Sharing the Marine Toad’s Texas range is the fabulously-bizarre Mexican Burrowing Toad (Rhinophryrinus dorsalis). Other US natives that deserve more attention include the gorgeous desert-dwelling Sonoran Green and Red-Spotted Toads, the minute Narrow-Mouthed Toads and the subterranean, gnome-like Spadefoots.
The toad family contains the only live-bearing Anurans (Nectophrynoides and Nimdaphrynoides spp.) One of these, the Kihansi Spray Toad, was declared extinct in the wild not long ago. I worked with wild-caught individuals at the Bronx Zoo, and was astonished at the size of the youngsters produced by the females, who themselves did not reach an inch in length! Happily, they thrived in captivity and have now been re-introduced to the wild; please see the article linked below.
Vying with the 9-inch-long Marine Toad for the title of world’s largest species are the striking Blomberg’s and Smooth-Sided Toads. Species that “break the mold”, in terms of appearance and behavior, include the Argentine Flame-Bellied Toad, which rivals the colors of any Poison Frog, and the long-limbed Climbing Toad. I’ve had the good fortune to work with each of these, and many other unusual species; please post below for detailed care info.
Your toad’s natural history will dictate the type of terrarium it requires; please post below for specific information. Terrariums for most should have large land areas and a water bowl.
Sphagnum moss or, for planted terrariums, a mix of moss, dead leaves and topsoil, works well for forest and meadow adapted species. Toads may swallow substrate with their meals, although they rarely launch the suicidal lunges typical to many frogs. In order to limit the possibility of intestinal blockages gravel should be avoided. Tong or hand feeding is also useful.
Toads seem not to require UVB radiation, although some keepers believe that low levels may benefit certain diurnal species; the Zoo Med 2.0 UVB Bulb would be a good choice for these.
Temperatures for tropical species should range from 75-82 F. Toads from temperate regions fare best at 66-74 F. However, specific needs vary, especially regarding those native to deserts or rainforests; please post any questions below.
A fluorescent light may provide enough heat – if not, try a 25 watt incandescent bulb or ceramic heater; these can dry out the substrate, so additional misting may become necessary.
Humidity needs vary, but even desert dwellers should have access to a moist retreat and easily-exited water bowl.
Toads have porous skin patches on the chest and elsewhere and will, therefore, absorb ammonia (released with their waste products) and other harmful chemicals. As ammonia is extremely lethal, strict attention must be paid to terrarium and water hygiene.
Chlorine and chloramine must be removed from water used in toad terrariums. Liquid preparations are simple to use and very effective.
Toads are carnivorous and stimulated to feed by movement. The one surprising exception is the Marine Toad. In Costa Rica, I came to know one huge individual that would visit our field station each night. After pushing open the screen door, she would eat table scraps that had been left for a dog!
A highly-varied diet is essential. Crickets alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet for any species.
The following should be offered to tiny species such as Narrow-Mouthed Toads and to newly-transformed individuals: fruit flies, 10 day old crickets, springtails, termites, flour beetle grubs, aphids and “field plankton” (insects gathered by sweeping through tall grass with a net).
In addition to crickets, earthworms (one of the best foods for most) roaches, sow bugs, waxworms, butterworms, silkworms, houseflies and other invertebrates should be provided. Insects should themselves be fed a nutritious diet for 1-3 days before being offered to your pets. Many will accept canned grasshoppers, snails, and silkworms from tongs.
Please ignore the You Tube videos of Marine Toads consuming mice. Even in rodent-rich habitats, wild Marine Toads feed primarily upon insects. While a very occasional pink mouse will do no harm, furred rodents should never be offered.