American Toad

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Other common names: Eastern American Toad, “Hop Toad”

Scientific name: Anaxyrus (Bufo) americanus

The Basics:
These droll creatures are among the most confiding and responsive of all amphibian pets. Well-protected by skin toxins, American Toads seem to “know” that they have little to fear, and even wild caught adults will feed from the hand in short order. Often foolishly written-off as “children’s pets”, American Toads have much to offer even the most advanced of amphibian keepers.

The huge natural range covers much of eastern North America, from Quebec to Minnesota in the north to South Carolina and Texas in the south.

The American Toad is very adaptable, and may be found in forests, wood lots, meadows, thorn scrub, swamps, farms, city parks and suburban yards. Except when breeding, this terrestrial creature is often to be found well-away from water.

Appearance / Health:
The American Toad is stout and rounded in body shape, with a broad head and an average length of 2-4.5 inches. There are large parotoid (poison) glands behind the eyes, and numerous smaller ones, which appear as “warts”, on the back. American Toads are usually olive or various shades of brown in color, and flecked with black spots, but yellow and reddish specimens sometimes appear.

These quite hardy amphibians may live to 30+ years of age with proper care. Nutritional concerns such as “Short-Tongue Syndrome” (related to a Vitamin A deficiency) and digestive tract blockages that result from feeding large or difficult-to-digest insects, are the most commonly encountered health problems.

Behavior / Temperament:
American Toads are primarily nocturnal, but often become active by day in captivity. Among the calmest of all amphibians, they are very aware of their surroundings and often hop out in anticipation of a meal when someone approaches their terrarium.

While they will readily hop onto the hand for a meal, these friendly creatures should be handled only when necessary, and then with wet hands so that the skin’s protective mucus is not removed. Amphibian skin secretions may cause irritations when transferred to their owner’s wounds, eyes, or the mouth.

American Toads do well in groups if provided enough space and cover. A 20 gallon tank makes a good home for 2-3 adults.

Sphagnum or carpet moss may be used as the substrate, as these are difficult to swallow. Washable terrarium liners also work well. Cork bark rolls, plastic caves or cracked clay flower pots will be well-used as retreats. American Toads may also be housed in terrariums with a deep layer of top soil, covered by dead leaves or carpet moss. In these situations they will establish permanent burrows. Live plants will lessen the need for substrate changes.

These hardy creatures can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, but fare best when kept at 68-78 F. They do not require Ultra-Violet B light, but anecdotal evidence indicates that low levels of UVB, along with UVA, may be of some benefit.

The terrarium should be misted twice daily. They need only a simple water bowl, which should be changed daily. Chlorine and chloramine must be removed from water via liquid preparations available at pet stores.

A highly-varied diet is essential. Crickets alone, even if powdered with supplements, will not support long-term health. Earthworms serve well as the bulk of their diet. Roaches, sow bugs, crickets, small locusts, butterworms, calciworms, cultured houseflies, silkworms, and other commercially-available insects will all be readily accepted. Mealworms have been implicated in digestive system disorders, and should be avoided. Insects should be offered a healthful diet for several days before use.

Most meals should be coated with a powdered Calcium/Vitamin D3 supplement. A vitamin mineral supplement may be used 2-3x weekly.

Captive breeding is not common except in large outdoor enclosures. Males may be distinguished from females by their loose, gray vocal sacs, thick and smaller size. A cooling-off period of 6 weeks at 50 F (after a week-long fast) may spark breeding activity. Following hibernation, the frogs should be placed in 4 inches of water with some cork-bark or floating plants. The temperature is then gradually raised to 70-75 F. A commercial rain chamber, or increased misting, is useful in stimulating breeding behavior.

Gravid female toads deposit strings of 1000-8,000+ eggs on the water’s surface and among aquatic plants. At 70-75 F, the tadpoles hatch within 3-12 days. They may be reared on a diet of fish food flakes, commercial tadpole pellets, algae tablets, and par-boiled kale. Metamorphosis is achieved in 30-60 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio


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