Beneficial animals

American Toad: Not So Warty, a Laidback Gardener’s Friend

I say “wart” and you immediately think… toad! This little creature, often disliked because of persistent myths, is in fact a precious ally for your garden. Forget preconceived ideas about their supposedly slimy, warty appearance. The American toad is a charming creature that deserves our full attention and admiration as gardeners.

Meet Gilbert. Gilbert is an American toad (Anaxirus americanus) who lives in my garden. I sometimes see him around my crop boxes. I may have several Gilberts in my garden…

Do Not Eat the Toads!

Did you know that toads’ famous warts are actually glands that produce a toxin to protect themselves from predators? Eating or licking them is not at all recommended: it’s enough to make you sick and never touch a toad again!

To protect themselves, they also have very good camouflage. Photo : wanderingeden

But don’t worry, unless you eat them (which I don’t recommend!), American toads are not at all toxic to humans, and you won’t get warts if you touch them. Ideally, however, you shouldn’t touch them, because OUR skin secretes an oil that is harmful to them.

Unlike other amphibians, American toads are not permanently dependent on water. They tend to be terrestrial, adapting well to gardens and flowerbeds. When they do need water, they simply soak up moisture from the ground or submerge themselves in a puddle to absorb water through their skin. This is why our touch is harmful to them: the oil from our skin can clog the pores that allow them to hydrate.

If you come across one in a place that seems dry, don’t try to relocate it to a pond. They’re perfectly self-sufficient and happy in your garden, where soil moisture is enough for them.

If you absolutely must move it (if it’s fallen into your watering can, for example), be sure to moisten your hands before picking it up, and avoid rubbing their skin. Stroking an amphibian is like blocking your nose! Photo: oliviamayy8.

He Who Eats Last Eats Best

What makes the American toad extraordinary for the laidback gardener is its voracious appetite. It can devour up to 1,000 insects a day!

But it’s not just insects it’s a generalist, devouring everything that moves and enters its mouth. Imagine the service he can do for your garden by getting rid of pests such as slugs, beetles and snails. With this super glutton at your side, your garden is safe.

Even if its tongue isn’t as long as in the cartoons, it moves at a very impressive speed and is sticky enough to leave no chance to potential prey.

Another fascinating feature of the American toad is its role as a “bioindicator”. This is the name given to species that are highly sensitive to human disturbance and cannot live in environments that have been overly modified by our activities. As an amphibian sensitive to pollution and chemicals, the presence of the American toad in your garden is a sign of a healthy environment. Great stuff! Who wants to eat tomatoes full of chemicals, anyway?

So leave your prejudices behind and open the doors of your garden to these charming toads. I leave the grass long enough in my garden to make it more inviting to my benefactors. The American toad is part of my garden ecosystem and does me a favor. How about you?

Photo : kateinma11

Audrey Martel is a biologist who graduated from the University of Montreal. After more than ten years in the field of scientific animation, notably for Parks Canada and the Granby Zoo, she joined Nature Conservancy of Canada to take up new challenges in scientific writing. She then moved into marketing and joined Leo Studio. Full of life and always up for a giggle, or the discovery of a new edible plant, she never abandoned her love for nature and writes articles for both Nature sauvage and the Laidback Gardener.

2 comments on “American Toad: Not So Warty, a Laidback Gardener’s Friend

  1. I have a toad that turned up in my garden this spring. I don’t use poisons in the garden and with the plentiful rain we’re having this summer he should be quite happy. We keep crossing paths every now and then and I’m careful to keep an eye out for him when I’m working in the borders. He’s a very welcome guest!

  2. Vicki L Offenberger

    Thank you Audrey! You provided much needed information on the incredible American Toad. I’ve always known they are a blessing in the garden. But not to the extent of which you shared, wow! Thanks again!

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