Adults measure 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) long. The dwarf subspecies (Anaxyrus americanus charlesmithi) found in the south rarely grows over 2 inches (5 cm). Usually females are bigger than males.
Toad coloration is variable, ranging from light tan to rusty red-brown or dark olive-green. Some have little in the way of a pattern while others may have stripes or reticulation. The ventral side is a uniform tan or light brown, with occasional dark spots or blotches. The back and body of American toads is covered in typical toad bumps or “warts”.
Distribution, Habitat and Behavior
American toads are found throughout eastern North America, from Quebec and Ontario all the way south into Texas and Georgia. They can be found in forests, woodlands, meadows and prairies, where they spend their time during the day concealed under objects such as logs or stones. At night they become active and in early summer or late spring, once the water temperature warms, males vocalize near the shoreline to attract mates. Eggs are laid in long strings in still or very slow-moving water.
Rarely offered for sale at pet stores, but throughout their range American toads are often encountered in nature and sometimes kept as pets.
A standard 15 gallon aquarium that measures 24 inches long by 12 inches wide by 12 inches high (60 cm by 30 cm by 30 cm) is large enough for one or two adult toads. A secure screen cover is essential to prevent escapes. Although they look sluggish and often don’t move quickly, they are capable of climbing out of an open aquarium.
Use a substrate that allows toads to burrow. Coconut husk fiber is a good choice, as are other safe soils. Avoid using soils that contain perlite or vermiculite. Leaf litter, cypress mulch, top soil, or a combination of those can also be used or mixed into coconut husk fiber. Simple substrates such as moist paper towels or foam rubber work well for temporary housing. Avoid using gravel, sand, or fir bark because these substrates are difficult for a toad to pass if they are swallowed, and they also do not retain moisture well.
Hide spots can be provided with cork bark, driftwood, commercially available reptile hides, flower pots, or other objects. Using a layer of dried leaves collected from the area where the toad was found also can work well. Live plants can be added if the enclosure is lit, but ensure they are free of pesticides or other potentially harmful chemicals before use.
Temperature and Humidity
Most wild toads spend their time concealed during the day where the temperature remains cool. In captivity, most toads live well when the day time temperature ranges between 60°F and 75°F (16°C and 24°C). At night the temperature can drop. Avoid exposing American toads to hot temperatures for extended periods of time.
American toads are adaptable and tolerate varying amounts of humidity as long as a source of clean water is available to soak in during dry times. Consider misting part of the cage with water several times a week, or pouring water into one part of the substrate to create a moisture gradient within the enclosure where half stays moist while the other half remains dry.
Provide a water dish that is easily accessible and not any deeper than the height of the toad. The water should be changed daily or when it appears dirty. Most captive American toads will soak in the water dish at night, so it is a good habit to change the water each morning after use. If tap water from a municipality is used it should be treated with an aquarium water conditioner to remove chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals.
American toads are not picky eaters and feed on most invertebrates that fit into their mouth. Crickets, wax worms, meal worms, earth worms, super worms, and other commercially available feeders of that size work well. Offer insect larvae and worms in a small shallow feeding dish, such as the lid of a jar, so that they do not burrow into the substrate before they are found by the toad. Crickets and worms can make up the majority of a toad’s diet, with other food items being offered once every couple weeks. A feeding schedule of three to six food items every two or three days is adequate. Small toads that are under an inch in length should be fed smaller food items such as flightless fruit flies or three day old crickets daily. Adults should have their food coated with high quality vitamin and mineral supplements once every two to four feedings. Juveniles should have their food supplemented more often.