previously Bufo boreas,
now, Anaxyrus boreas
On July 17, 2020 this and other photos shown below were taken of a Western Toad resting beside Beaumont Road on the north side of Hotel Lake. Taking the photo was rather easy because, as we learned later, western toads are not easily spooked to jump and hop away; if you get near them they are apt to simply walk away in a rather dignified manner.
It was some time later that the photos were sent off the Sunshine Coast Wildlife Project led by husband-wife team, David Stiles and Michelle Evelyn. Here is the surprising answer we got back from Michelle:
“This is amazing news! One of the only sightings of Western Toads on the Sunshine Coast outside of Jervis Inlet, Salmon Inlet, or Nelson Island. One of my favourite creatures. And a species at risk.
…Thanks for this great news! Warm wishes, Michelle.”
All of this was long before we began working on our Hotel Lake Advisory website. Now, with spring upon us, it is a good time to add a page about this rather elusive wildlife neighbour. Why now? Because scientists want to know if there is indeed a population of toads breeding in Hotel Lake or a nearby lake or wetland, and May and June might be a good time to look for large schools of western toad tadpoles in shallow areas.
Western Toad in North America
The Western Toad range extends from Baja California (Mexico), Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico and then north through western Canada and up into Alaska. In Canada, the Western Toad is found throughout British Columbia and western Alberta, and also the Liard River basin and south Yukon and Northwest Territories. Of particular interest here in BC, at least one reference mentions that the Western Toad is thought to be the only “amphibian” native to Haida Gwaii.
About Western Toads
British Columbia's Conservation Data Center lists eleven frog species and one toad species, the Western Toad. Of these species, only the Western Toad has bumpy skin and a lighter stripe down its back. Other amphibious species found in the SCRD area include the northern red-legged frog, the Pacific Chorus Frog (Pacific tree frog), and the Red TailedFrog.
Differentiating between toads and frogs is not the easiest thing to do but it can be simplified by looking for distinctive characteristics. Toads have stocky bodies that range between 5.5 and 14.5 cm and also have short legs while frogs have elongated bodies and long legs.
Compared with other amphibious frogs in our area, the western toad is somewhat oversized and a “Hummer” of the amphibians. It is not only large, it gives the appearance of being ruggedly constructed; even their former name “Bufo boreas” has a kind of tough sound to it. As that name implies they are members of the Bufonidae family (meaning true toads). True toads are toothless and have a warty appearance and a parotid gland behind the eyes.
A western toad's hind feet have horny tubercles for burrowing and the males have black nuptial pads on their thumbs to grasp females during mating. The skin on their backs, sides and upper limbs is thick, soft, dry and lumpy with warts. Colouration on the upper body is a splendid mixture of greens, greys, browns and black that provide a highly effective camouflage. Most western toads also have a pale stripe from their snout, down the full length of their back. The grey skin in the pelvic groin area is able to absorb moisture from the environment. Females are significantly larger than males and have a rougher skin appearance than males. The eyes are golden with a horizontal pupil and immediately behind the eyes are oval shaped parotid glands. When the toad is stressed, it excretes a mild alkaloid poison called bufotoxin from its parotid glands as a deterrent to predators. Ingestion of bufotoxin by humans can cause weakness, cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, nystagmus, coma, and death. Dogs are particularly susceptible and should be restrained from ingesting these toads.
Adult toads include a wide variety of invertebrates in their diet such as aquatic insects, spiders, small mollusks and crayfish and, on land, worms and insects.
Western toads in most of Alberta and some parts of eastern BC are designated “calling” because they have vocal sacs and make loud calls in breeding season. However western toads in Coastal BC do not have vocal sacs and thus are designated “non-calling”. Although our west coast toads are generally silent, males and females are capable of emitting a chirping sound if grasped.
Female toads become sexually mature after 2-6 years and reproduce at least once and possibly more often during their lifetime. In the Spring when breeding time approaches, local populations of Western Toads, generally come together in large numbers in locations like wetlands, streams and shallow lake edges. Each population is known to use the same breeding location over the years. In the March-May timeframe, males search for females in the shallow waters. The male mounts and secures its position on the female by using it's black nuptial pads on their thumbs to grasp females during mating. The female deposits its eggs into the water while the male fertilizes them. Females lay 12 to 16 thousand eggs (black dots in single or multiple strings of translucent jelly) in shallow water not deeper than 30cm and preferably amongst aquatic plant life to provide some protection from predatory fish.
It is believed that only 1 percent of all eggs laid will fully develop into adult toads. Tadpoles, when they develop, are black or dark brown and congregate in large schools. Tadpoles eat aquatic plants and algae. As they grow into juvenile toads or “toadlets”, sized 6mm or longer, they become a miniature version of the adult except for the back stripe. Around the end of summer, a mass migration takes place as the toadlets shun their aquatic environment and move to upland summer and overwinter ranges. This highlights a fundamental characteristic of the Western Toad which prefers to migrate, sometimes a considerable distance inland ( 1-2 km) from their place of birth, to live and hibernate in wetlands, meadows, forests and while they prefer a moist and damp environment their thick skin allows them to survive in dryer areas. Although Western Toads can live up to 35 years in captivity, they are believed to live 9-11 years, in the wild.
Video: Tadpoles: The Big Migration
By: Natural History Cinematographer & Photographer, Maxwel Hohn
Western oads move quite a bit and, unlike frogs, can live happily in a variety of locations from semi-dry to moist. However, during the spring breeding time they return to water bodies preferably with shallow sandy bottoms where females can lay their eggs in aquatic conditions. After breeding they return to summer ranges in forrest or grasslands. They can move considerable distances from water.
They hibernate for 3-6 months each year and to do so must hibernate underground as deep as necessary to avoid the winter frost line. Advantage might be taken of existing burrows and insulated cavities under fallen trees and forest till or they may burrow individual or communal dens (hibernacula) in which to spend the winter.
Because Western Toads mass-migrate (disperse) from their birthplace to other habitats and later return to the same breeding locations over the years, it is important that we understand and protect their migration/dispersal patterns. Since 2013, A Rocha has been monitoring and creating safe passages for the Western Toads on our west coast. Work in the Langley area to address habitat loss and road mortality when these toads migrate between their freshwater and upland areas is explained in this excellent video credited to: Hannah Mae Henry.
Today amphibians are in decline globally and over 40% of Earth’s amphibian species are threatened with extinction. The Western Toad has in recent years experienced large declines in population in western North America, including areas in BC. Why is this happening?
The primary threat is human driven. Urban development and forestry cause habitat loss and the destruction of the connectivity between breeding locations and upland habitat. Alterations in riparian areas, roadways that interdict migrating corridors and the applications of pesticides and fertilizers can be highly detrimental to western toads and other wildlife. Partly because amphibians have permeable skin through which they ingest water and air, they are very susceptible to pollution.
In BC the western toad has been legally recognized and protected under the BC Wildlife Act and is a species categorized as"Identified Wildlife". Modifications to toad habitat may require authorization under the Water Act, the Fisheries Act and/or Riparian Areas Regulation. Federal Fisheries Act prohibits the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat; this is the same habitat that the Western Toad and many other species depend upon.
The BC Conservation Data Centre lists the Western Toad as being on their yellow list (Any species or ecosystem that is apparently secure or secure (least risk of being lost)). However this seems at odds with other sources placing the Western Toad on the blue list. Other institutions and sources describe the toad as near threatened, with its population decreasing.
Monitoring the health of toad and frog populations is considered to be an important tool in our ability to track the health of our aquatic and land environments as well as to help identify Western Toad populations and their breeding areas and upland habitats.
To learn more about Western Toads and efforts of biologists to research and protect them in other parts of BC, you can watch this wonderful trailer for the video "Toad People"
Photos, and a message from the Sunshine Coast Wildlife Project
Scientists want to know if there is indeed a population of toad breeding in Hotel Lake or a nearby lake or wetland, and May and June might be a good time to look for large schools of Western Toad tadpoles in shallow areas. In later summer, keep an eye out for tiny toadlets along the shoreline as they prepare to disperse to the surrounding forest. Any past or current potential sightings of Western Toads anywhere on the Sunshine Coast should be reported to the Sunshine Coast Wildlife Project at:
email@example.com or 604-989-1007.
Library of references
(all underlined titles are active links)
2020 Management Plan for the Western Toad in Canada, published by Government of Canada.
BC Conservation Data Centre The B.C. Conservation Data Centre (CDC) assists in the conservation of our province's biodiversity by collecting and sharing scientific data and information about wildlife and ecosystems in B.C.
Biodiversity of the Central Coast A collaborative effort developed through the University of Victoria with generous support from Tula Foundation and the Hakai Institute and made possible by input and contributions from many photographers, researchers, students, and other coastal ecology enthusiasts.
Sunshine Coast Wildlife Project - Helping Amphibians
Led by husband-wife team, David Stiles and Michelle Evelyn. David holds a BSc from UBC and has spent the past 20 years working on wildlife conservation projects in British Columbia, California, and Mexico. He has worked with a great diversity of wildlife species. Michelle holds a BSc from UBC and MSc and PhD from Stanford University. She is a Registered Professional Biologist, Research Affiliate with the UBC Biodiversity Research Centre.
E-FAUNA BC: ELECTRONIC ATLAS OF THE WILDLIFE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
Introduction to the Mammals of BC: select "Vertebrates of BC" then "amphibious"
Differences between Toads and Frogs, Wildlife preservation
Differences between Toads and Frogs, Forest Reserve District Willcounty
South Coast Conservation Program