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My Animal Collection: How a Herpetologist Keeps American Toads and Related Species, Part III

Please see Parts I and 2 of this article for information on housing and diet. Today I’ll conclude with some thoughts on toads in community terrariums and the wild.

Tank mates
American toads are quite peaceful towards one another, but larger animals will nudge others from food, so keep an eye on them at feeding time. The conditions favored by toads are also suited to a number of other interesting creatures, and their diets and temperaments suit them ideally to community terrariums.

Wood FrogCompatible animals include spotted, tiger, marbled, slimy and other terrestrial salamanders (see photo), wood frogs (see photo), gray, barking, green and other native treefrogs and land snails. Assuming that space permits the establishment of a warm basking area (without over-heating the toads), you can also house a number of small reptiles with American toads. I have had kept them with 5-lined skinks, Italian wall lizards, green anoles, DeKay’s (brown) snakes, ring-necked snakes and smooth green snakes. There are other possible toad-companions as well – please write in if you would like more suggestions.

Free-Living Pets
Spotted SalamanderAmerican toads will utilize favored burrows for years on end, with wild individuals documented as remaining within the same territory for over 20 years. If you have a population living nearby, encourage the toads to stay nearby by providing a shallow, easily-exited pool and some retreats in the form of half-buried, inverted clay flower pots. Resident toads will learn to gather at an outdoor light in hopes of an insect meal, and will otherwise delight you with their comings and goings.


We know little about the movements of adult amphibians, but it does seem that American toads are usually found within a limited home range, so one can become quite familiar with the individuals resident in a garden or similar area. An interesting article on the home ranges of American toads is posted at:

My Animal Collection: How a Herpetologist Keeps American Toads, Bufo (Anaxyrus) americanus and Related Species, Part II

Click: My Animal Collection: How a Herpetologist Keeps American Toads, Bufo (Anaxyrus) americanus and Related Species, Part I, to read the first part of this article.


American ToadAmerican toads are, in contrast to many amphibians, quite resilient in terms of temperature tolerance.   However, they do best at moderate temperatures, and in the heat of summer will attempt to burrow below the substrate.  Mine are kept at room temperature, which ranges from 62 F in winter to 78 F in the summer.  During particularly hot spells, I move them to an air conditioned room or the cool basement.

Naturalistic and “Hybrid” Terrariums

Toads also adapt well to planted, naturalistic terrariums.  A substrate of top soil and peat moss will allow them to construct burrows, which will be used repeatedly by the same animals.  Cover the soil with one of the moss-based products listed above and dead leaves in order to retain moisture.

A “hybrid” type set-up combines certain features of both styles described above.  A substrate of smooth aquarium stones (1/2 inch size or larger, to prevent ingestion) allows for live plants but deters burrowing (see photo).

R-Zilla Rock Dens serve well as shelters in such terrariums, or you can create your own using cork bark or rocks.  When designing rock caves, consider that the toads may injure themselves if able to burrow and collapse the structure.  Exo-Terra Terrarium Plants are extremely life-like and can be used to good effect in naturalistic terrariums as well.

A Terrarium for Public Display

I designed the gravel-base terrarium shown in the accompanying photo for a museum in New York City.  Zoo-Med Terrarium Moss is mixed into the gravel, which itself sits on an Under-gravel Filter Plate.  A drain cut into the tank’s glass bottom allows the entire terrarium to be hosed down.  A water reserve is kept below the under-gravel plate, creating a damp but not wet environment for the resident toads and salamanders.

Feeding American Toads and Their Relatives

Wild Caught Invertebrates

From spring through fall, I feed my toads exclusively upon wild-caught invertebrates.  A Zoo Med Bug Napper yields plenty of moths and beetles, and easily meets their needs.  However, I enjoy poking around, and so also collect tree crickets, sow bugs, harvestman (“daddy longlegs”), millipedes, termites, earthworms, field crickets and caterpillars whenever I am able.  I feed the toads just about every day during the summer (2-3 small insects each) and 2-3 times weekly when temperatures drop.

I avoid spiders, fireflies, ladybugs and brightly-colored insects, due to possible toxicity problems, and do not collect for a week or so after the area has been sprayed to control West Nile virus.

Commercially Available Insects

During the winter, I keep breeding colonies of sowbugs, earthworms and mealworms as a food source for my collection (regarding mealworms, feed toads only newly molted, or white grubs, and beetles).  The balance of the diet is made up of crickets, roaches, waxworms and butter worms.

Training your pet to tong-feed will go a long way in helping you to introduce dietary variety.  By doing so, I have been able to add Zoo Med Canned Caterpillars and Grasshoppers to my toads’ diets.

I powder feeder insects with a Tetra Repto Cal Supplement once weekly during the winter.  I’ve found that such is unnecessary in summer, when wild caught invertebrates dominate the diet.

Some Thoughts on Prey Size

I have always believed that American toads are designed, by mouth structure and feeing behavior, to take smaller-sized prey than do similarly-sized frogs (i.e. the green frog, Lithobates clamitans).  Even when feeding adult toads, I rarely use insects larger than a ½ to ¾ grown cricket.  Toads under my care are still thriving in their late 20’s and, while I cannot document such, I believe that prey size may be a contributing factor.


I’ve written other articles on toads and on amphibian care in general.  Please check out the following when you have a chance:

Canned Insects and other Invertebrates – An Important New Food for Pet Reptiles and Amphibians

Making the Most of the Mealworm: some tips on enhancing the nutritional value of this pet trade staple

Providing a Balanced Diet to Reptile and Amphibian Pets – approaches to consider

Terrestrial Isopods (Sowbugs, Pillbugs, Potato Bugs) As Food for Captive Reptiles and Amphibians

The Marine Toad, Bufo marinus (recently re-classified as Rhinella marina) in Nature and Captivity – Part I, Natural History

My Animal Collection: How a Herpetologist Keeps American Toads, Bufo (Anaxyrus) americanus and Related Species, Part I

American Toad Setup

Today’s article is the second in a series concerning animals in my own collection.  For additional information concerning this line of articles, please see My Animal Collection: How a Herpetologist Keeps Barking Treefrogs (Hyla gratiosa) and Gray Treefrogs (Hyla versicolor).

Note: the following information is also largely applicable to other toads that commonly appear in the pet trade, i.e. the Great Plains toad, B. cognatus, the Gulf Coast toad, B. valliceps, the southern toad, B. terrestris, Woodhouse’s toad, B. woodhousei and the Texas toad, B. speciosus.  Fowler’s toads and the various Spadefoot toads prefer arid substrates…I’ll cover the care of both in the future.

Most North American toads in the Genus Bufo have been recently reclassified within the Genus Anaxyrus, but not all herpetologists agree on this point.

An Ideal Terrarium Pet

As with many of the animals I favor, American toads have much to offer the hobbyist but are not as popular as some of their more colorful relatives (actually, they vary greatly in color – I have run across yellow, reddish and nearly black specimens in the field).

Perhaps because they are so well- protected by virulent skin toxins, American toads are calm and confiding in captivity.  They usually take on diurnal habits, and even wild caught adults will feed from the hand in short order.  Pardon the stretch, but their behavior brings to mind that of the striped skunks I have kept.  Skunks seem to know that they are “untouchable”, and hence are very approachable (even in the wild)…toads are much like that, at least in my mind!

They are also quite intelligent and responsive – please see my article entitled “Amphibian Learning Abilities – the Southern Toad, Bufo (Anaxyrus) terrestris and Bumblebee Mimicsfor further details.

Designing the Terrarium

I currently keep 2 yearling American toads in a Tom Aquarium Jumbo PLA-House Plastic Terrarium.  This terrarium’s ventilation ports assure adequate air exchange (despite favoring moist habitats, toads and other amphibians fare poorly in stagnant air) yet are small enough to prevent small feeder insects from escaping.  This set-up is dismantled and cleaned weekly – the terrarium’s light weight simplifies this chore.


The substrate pictured in the photo is R-Zilla Compressed Frog MossAmerican toads prefer a drier environment than do most frogs, so I use only ½ to ¾ of the amount of water called for in the instructions when preparing the moss (the moss is packaged dry, and must be reconstituted).  Hagen Exo-Terra Plume Moss and Zoo Med Terrarium Moss are also good choices for toads and other amphibians.

In this terrarium, the substrate is rinsed or spot-cleaned once mid-week and replaced weekly.  As with most amphibian terrariums, I use only hot water to clean, with bleach or table salt added when something stronger is called for.


The terrarium is sprayed once daily with de-chlorinated water.The toads also frequently soak in their water bowl…just bear in mind that they are poor swimmers, so provide an easily-exited container for their pool.

Terrarium Decorations

I set up the terrarium in manner that encourages easy visibility and feeding- time interactions.  This is not always possible with amphibian pets, of course, as secretive species will languish and die if unable to hide.  American toads take to it readily however, and so observations, feeding and cleaning are much simplified.  In this terrarium the toads have become quite tame – noticing when I enter the room hopping forward in anticipation of a meal.

I provide a Zoo Med Turtle Hut or a Cork Bark Hollow as a retreat, but the toads are more often to be found on top of it, scanning the moss for insects or, it seems, watching the room in general.


The PLA-House Hood Light fits right onto the terrarium’s lid, and is useful for providing additional illumination without excess heat.

In planted terrariums, a Reptisun 2.0 Florescent Bulb will provide sufficient light for plants without exposing the toads to harmful levels of UVB – most amphibians have UVB “filters” in their skin, and actively avoid the sun.

Click: My Animal Collection: How a Herpetologist Keeps American Toads, Bufo (Anaxyrus) americanus and Related Species, Part II to read the rest of this article.


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