Fish & Reptiles: Western Toad

Ah those summer days! One of the most optimum times for discovering nature in Kootenai Country Montana! While roaming the shallow edges of lakes, ponds, and slow streams, it’s possible to encounter the Western Toad (Bufo boreas). This species can be found from valley bottoms to higher elevations...

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Our small but woods savvy population work, recreate, hunt, fish, pick huckleberries, and gather morel mushrooms in the adjacent forests to subsidize our existence. The barter system is in play here, especially in the summertime when edible berries, mushrooms, and wild medicinal plants are more readily available. Conversations at the post office are about trading huckleberry pancake syrup for fresh caught, home-canned kokanee salmon.

Almost everyone here is outdoorsy in some fashion, shape, or form. Adults band together to offer free outdoor educational programs to our youth, take a group of kids fishing, or for a cookout at one of many beautiful spots in our area. It’s touching to see so many caring adults give freely of their time and efforts to make sure the kids have a good outdoor education and a good summer! It brings us back in tune with Mother Nature, and bonds us together. It also seems to rub off on the grown-ups as they laugh and feel young again.

Youngsters have a vast and diverse paradise to explore! While roaming the shallow edges of lakes, ponds, and slow streams, it’s possible to encounter the Western Toad (Bufo boreas). This species can be found from valley bottoms to higher elevations. The adults are brown, gray, or olive green with a prominent yellow or white line down the center of the back. Adults are about 2-to-5 inches in length. There usually are no ridges running between the eyes called cranial crests. Like the legends our Mom’s told us when we were young, there are many warts and glands on the dry skin, but actually human beings usually do not break out in warts after handling toads. The Western Toad’s eyes have horizontal pupils. The adult toads have two black tubercles on each hind foot. This toad typically lays eggs in long, clear, double strings, and each egg has a black center. Tadpoles are usually jet black.

Tadpoles form huge schools with millions of individuals, in breeding sites with muddy bottoms that are used by adults year after year. When giant water bugs feed on these western toad tadpoles, an alarm substance is emitted, causing tadpoles to increase their activity and avoid the predation area. Adult toads consume flying insects, crayfish, earthworms and sowbugs. Frogs have wet skin, but toads have skin that feels dry, and the back, sides, and upper legs are covered with glands that can exude toxic poisons, and perhaps that is the origin of the Old Wives’ Tales. So, please handle these creatures carefully!

Western Toads, sometimes called Boreal Toads are preyed upon by birds of prey, garter snakes, and aquatic insects. Ravens are careful to eviscerate adult toads, leaving the toxic skin. Toads are usually most active at night, burying themselves in loose soil and humus, or sometimes hiding in the burrows of gophers or ground squirrels during the warmth of the day. Adult western toads are largely terrestrial and often found some distance from water. Although once common and widespread in Montana, they are now believed to be in some degree of decline, with some local populations still thriving.

In Kootenai Country Montana, it’s a paradise for both kids and adults, especially in summer! Although our summers are indeed short and sweet. The snow disappears from most of our high peaks for only a short while. A plethora of outdoor education programs sponsored by local conservation groups are offered to adults and kids. Families unite for the activities that make them feel part of our surroundings. As such is life, we know that our children are not going to be kids forever. So we savor it, take it all in, grab our kids and head to the woods, lakes, and rivers. There, we laugh and feel young together.

(Author’s note: Reference: Montana State University Extension Service-Riparian Forest Wildlife.)