Description: The average body length of southern toads
is 41-75 mm (1.6-2.9 in), although some individuals found on isolated
island populations can reach 113 mm (4.4 in). Males are smaller
than females, and typically have a darker throat during the breeding
season. General coloration is usually brown but can vary to dark
gray, blackish, or even brick red. Several dark spots or blotches
are frequently present on the back and upper sides, each surrounding
one or more warts. A light line extends partway down the middorsal
of some southern toads, although it may be obscure or absent in
others. The belly is grayish white, while the chest is spotted.
The skin of these toads is dry and warty, and they have an elongated,
enlarged parotoid gland behind each eye. High cranial crests extend
from pronounced knobs and approach each other toward the snout.
The distinctive knobs project upward in front of the parotoid
glands, often giving the animal a horned appearance.
Distribution and Habitat: Southern toads can be found
in every southeastern state except Tennessee. They occur for the
most part below the Fall Line, their range extending from southeastern
Virginia to Florida and eastern Louisiana. There is also an isolated
colony in northwestern South Carolina. When not breeding, this
species resides in a wide variety of terrestrial habitats, particularly
those associated with sandy soils that facilitate burrowing. These
include agricultural fields, coastal scrub, pine woodlands, hardwood
hammocks, and residential areas, all of which must be near water.
During the breeding season, these toads use a broad spectrum of
Reproduction and Development: Breeding generally takes
place from February to October, depending on location and weather
conditions. Most reproductive activity occurs in early to late
spring. The voice is a shrill, musical trill nearly an octave
higher than the call of the American toad. The call lasts from
about 2 to 8 seconds, with approximately 75 trills per second.
Warm, rainy weather triggers these toads to make the transition
from upland terrestrial habitats to breeding grounds. Adults may
also call on warm nights with heavy rain outside of the breeding
season. Shallow, standing water is a prerequisite for a potential
breeding site. Southern toads will indiscriminately congregate
in wetlands, ponds, flooded low areas in both wood and field,
or even in water-filled ditches and tire ruts to breed. The chorusing
of large aggregations can be deafening. Females typically lay
2500-4000 eggs in long, coiled, gelatinous strands. Eggs hatch
in only 2-4 days and tadpoles undergo metamorphosis after 30-55
days, when they are less than half an inch long. Great numbers
of newly metamorphosed toadlets can often be found near their
natal wetlands. After reaching sexual maturity at about 2-3 years,
individuals presumably continue to breed every year. The lifespan
is at least 10 years.
Habits: In the northern part of their range, southern
toads are inactive during the late fall and winter, while in most
of Florida they remain active year-round. The highest level of
activity occurs from dusk to dawn; they usually seek cover under
forest litter or dig into loose soil during the day. Burrowing
is accomplished with the use of keratinized, spadelike protuberances
found on the back of each hind foot. Between feeding, hibernation,
and breeding, southern toads maintain an extensive range of up
to one square mile. They will eat just about anything they can
catch with their sticky tongue and swallow, including beetles,
earwigs, ants, cockroaches, crickets, snails, bees, and lightning
bugs. Tadpoles consume aquatic vegetation and algae that they
scrape from leaves, and will occasionally eat carrion as well.
Snakes, especially hognose snakes, watersnakes, indigo snakes,
garter snakes, eastern ribbon snakes, and black racers, are the
primary predators of southern toads. Giant water bugs and turtles
have also been reported to prey upon this species. Two-toed amphiumas,
lesser sirens, and aquatic insects such as dragonfly larvae will
kill and eat tadpoles. Southern toads rely on concealment beneath
logs, ground litter, or substrate as their primary defense, but
are also safeguarded by toxic skin secretions produced by the
parotoid glands. Eggs and tadpoles are also foul tasting to many
aquatic predators. When threatened, these toads will inflate their
lungs and stretch out their hind legs in order to appear too large
Conservation: Southern toads are not protected in any
part of their geographic range. They are common and appear to
do well in suburban and agricultural areas. Cane toads, an introduced
species in parts of Florida, may compete with or even prey upon
their smaller cousins, as there has been a decrease in southern
toad populations in these areas.
Conant, Roger, and Joseph T. Collins. A Field Guide to Reptiles
& Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
Dorcas, Mike, and Whit Gibbons. Frogs and Toads of the Southeast.
Athens: University of Georgia, 2008.
Jensen, John B., Carlos D. Camp, Whit Gibbons, and Matt J. Elliott.
Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia,
Account Author: Lindsay Partymiller