A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

California Toad - Anaxyrus boreas halophilus

(Baird and Girard, 1853)

(= Bufo boreas halophilus)
Click on a picture for a larger view

california toad range map
Range in California: Red & Gray

Click the map for a guide
to the other subspecies.

Listen to this toad:

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One short call

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Adult, San Bernardino County Sub-adult, San Bernardino County Sub-adult, San Bernardino County Adult, Riverside County
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Adult from  Afton Canyon, San Bernardino County Adult, Stanislaus County
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These three adult toads were photographed at night as they sat on the vegetation
of a small pond in Los Angeles county, apparently hunting in ambush mode.
Adult, Borrego Valley, San Diego County
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Adult, Riverside County Adult, San Diego County Sub-adult, Stanislaus County
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Adult, Contra Costa County, as it was found hiding under a fallen log in February. Adult, Riverside County An adult with an irregular dorsal stripe in a breeding creek in Santa Clara County.
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Juvenile California Toads found in southern California are sometimes mistaken for Red-spotted Toads when they have lots of red spots on their backs, like this one from Contra Costa County. Sub-adult, Riverside County Adult, Lassen County © Debbie Frost Juvenile, Lassen County © Debbie Frost
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Toads usually move, as this one is doing, by walking or crawling, along with some short hops, while true frogs typically move mostly by hopping. Adult emerging from a California ground squirrel burrow (lower left of photo on right)
Contra Costa County.
Adult from intergrade zone with
B. b. boreas
, Shasta County
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Adult, Darwin Falls, Inyo County Sub-adult, Stanislaus County, showing brightly-colored pads
on the bottom of the feet that are found on young toads.

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Toads are surprisingly good climbers. This California Toad was photographed climbing the steep walls of a canyon
in San Bernardino County to get to a burrow, which you can see in the third picture. © Jeff Ahrens

Close-up showing large oval parotoid
glands behind the eyes.
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This venerable California Toad was found as a tadpole in Orange County in 1993 and raised in a grade school classroom. It's 21 years old in these photographs taken 9/14 Adult, Santa Cruz County © Zach Lim
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These recently metamorphosed toadlets were found at about 9500 ft. elevation (2,900 m.) in the Sierra Nevada mountains on the Pacific Crest Trail near Mt. Whitney in Inyo County. At this elevation one might expect to see Anaxarus canorus - Yosemite Toad, but that species does not occur so far south. © Douglas S. Brown This Sonoma County juvenile shows white milky secretions from the parotoid glands which contain noxious chemicals that help to deter some predators.
© Dominic Poole
Unusual Colors and Patterns & Hybrids
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Patternless adult, Alameda County.
© Nick Esquivel
Very pale adult from San Diego County Desert valley - looking similar to a
Red-spotted Toad
. © Steve Bledsoe
This tiny juvenile toad was found at Darwin Falls, Inyo County, where hypbrids with Red-spotted Toads - Bufo punctatus have been found. While it resembles a California Toad, it appears to be a hybrid since it lacks a dorsal stripe and has less oval and more rounded parotoid glands, similar to the Red-spotted Toad. © Ceal Klingler
valley gartersnake Western Spadefoot Tadpoles    
Most toads are poisonous to other animals, or they taste so bad that a predator will not eat them. But this Valley Gartersnake had no concerns about eating a California Toad.
© Pamela Greer
Toads are conspicuous and at risk during the breeding season when they enter the water and their movement attracts predators. Here we see the remnants of a male, seen next to some freshly-laid eggs, which was picked off and eaten by a predator during the breeding season in a Contra Costa pond.    
Breeding and Juveniles
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Adults in amplexus, San Joaquin County Adults in amplexus with eggs,
Contra Costa County.
A large communal mass of egg strings,
Contra Costa County
Single string of eggs,
Contra Costa County
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Young tadpole underwater, Kern County Mature tadpole with four legs in water,
Contra Costa County
Recently metamorphosed toadlet,
Contra Costa County.

Go here to see lots more pictures of Breeding, Eggs, Tadpoles and Young

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Habitat, Alameda County pond Breeding habitat, inner coast range flooded field, Kern County Habitat, Contra Costa County pond
Habitat, Alameda County creek
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Habitat, Contra Costa County pond
Breeding Habitat,
San Joaquin County creek
Breeding pond, Contra Costa County Habitat, cattle pond in oak grassland, 1,900 ft., Contra Costa County
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california toad habitat
california toad habitat
Habitat, desert river wetlands, Afton Canyon, San Bernardino County Habitat, desert spring, Darwin Falls,
Inyo County
Habitat, pond in Sierra Nevada Mountains, 4,500 ft., Kern County Habitat, Los Angeles County pond
california toad habitat Variegated Skink Habitat california toad habitat california toad habitat
Habitat, seasonal pool in Central Valley Grasslands, Merced County Habitat, small creek in Coast Range foothills, 500 ft., Stanislaus County Habitat, San Bernardino County creek Breeding habitat,
Santa Clara County creek
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Desert riparian creek habitat,
San Diego County
Habitat, San Bernardino County creek Habitat, wetlands at 2,000 ft., Santa Rosa Plateau, Riverside County Breeding habitat,
Riverside County pond
california toad habitat california toad habitat tiger salamander habitat california toad habitat
Habitat, Alameda County pond

Seasonal pond used for breeding,
Contra Costa County.
Follow this link to see more pictures of this pond as it looked in different months
(of different years) showing how the pond and its surroundings change over the seasons.
Habitat, snow-melt meadow pond at 9500 ft. elevation (2,900 m.) in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Inyo County.
Short Videos
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In late winter just before the breeding season, a huge California toad is found resting underneath a piece of wood near a pond. A male California Toad calls during daylight from the edge of a rocky creek in Alameda County (shown here). The call does not seem to be an agressive or release call, because no other solo male toads were nearby or in contact with him, but there was an amplexing pair swimming back and forth in the water about ten feet away from him. A California Toad moves across the wet ground both by crawling and by hopping This short video shows the life cycle of the California Toad, from the late winter breeding season when frenzied males call and compete and pair up with females who lay long strings of eggs, to tiny black tadpoles just emerged from the eggs then developing and forming huge feeding masses, to the tiny toads, recently-transformed from tadpoles, massing together around the pond edge then dispersing on their own, to an adult toad moving about on its own, as it will remain until the next breeding season.
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These videos showbreeding behavior at the shallow outlet of a pond in Contra Costa County where at least 8 solo males and 10 pairs in amplexus were observed in the area. A male toad picked up out of the breeding pond makes the release call, then swims away.

More videos are available here and here.

Herpetologist Sam Sweet has posted some outstanding descriptions of the biology of Arroyo Toads - Anaxyrus (Bufo) californicus - their breeding, egg deposition, tadpoles and metamorphs, illustrated with many excellent photographs, and including comparisons with sympatric California Toads. These are on public herping forums where you can see them here and here.
Adults grow to 2 - 5 inches from snout to vent ( 5.1 - 12.7 cm). (Stebbins, 2003)

A large and robust toad with dry, warty skin.
No cranial crests are present.
Parotoid Glands are oval and well-developed.
Pupils are horizontal.
Color and Pattern
The ground color is Greenish, tan, reddish brown, dusky gray, or yellow.
Rusty-colored warts are set on dark blotches.
There is much dark blotching above and below, becoming all dark at times.
The throat is pale on both males and females.
A light stripe is usually present on the middle of the back.
Male/Female Differences
Males are usually less blotched than females and have smoother skin.
Females are larger than males and more stout.
During the breeding season, males have dark nuptial pads on the thumbs and the inner two digits of the hands.
Young have no dorsal stripe immediately after transformation.
The bottoms of their feet is bright orange or yellow.
Larvae (Tadpoles)
Tadpoles are dark brown with eyes inset from the edges of the head.
The tip of the tail is rounded.
They grow to about 2.25 inches (5.6 cm) in length before undergoing metamorphosis.

Comparison with  Boreal Toads
A. b. halophilus has fewer dark blotches on the belly than A. b. boreas.
The head of A. b. halophilus is also wider with larger eyes with less distance between the upper eyelids, and
the feet are also smaller than A. b. boreas. (Stebbins)

Comparison with Sympatric  Arroyo Toads
Arroyo toads typically have a light stripe or V across the head and eyelids which is lacking on California Toads.
Mature California Toads typically have a pale dorsolateral stripe (a pale light stripe down the middle of the back) which is lacking on Arroyo Toads.
Juvenile Arroyo Toads show the pale V between the eyes, pale spots on the sacral humps, yellow tubercles, and are unmarked ventrally.
Juvenile Calfornia Toads have no pale V or pale sacral hump spots, rust-colored turbercles, a pale dorsolateral stripe, and are marked with dark spots ventrally.

Juvenile Arroyo toads are typically found fully exposed in direct sunlight on the sandy banks of the natal creek.
Juvenile California toads are typically found dug into wet sand at the edge of the creek, or in shade under vegetation.
Mature California Toad tadpoles appear dark with light mottling while mature Arroyo Toad tadpoles appear light with dark mottling.

Arroyo Toad tadpoles tend to remain motionless more than California Toad tadpoles. About a quarter of a small group of Calfornia Toad tadpoles will be active at any moment, while only a few individuals in a small group of Arroyo Toad tadpoles will be moving at any moment.

Metamorphosing Arroyo Toad tadpoles show the pale V between the eyes, pale spots on the sacral humps, and yellowtubercles.
Metamorphosing California Toads are darker with no pale V or sacral hump coloring, and rust-colored tubercles.
(From Sweet, 2010, 1 and 2)

Life History and Behavior
Active in daytime and at night. Often diurnal after winter emergence, becoming nocturnal in the summer after breeding.
Slow moving, often with a walking or crawling motion along with short hops.
This toad uses poison secretions from parotoid glands and warts to deter predators. Some predators are immune to the poison, and will consume toads. Still other predators such as ravens have learned to avoid the poisons by eating only their viscera through the stomach.
Male Western Toads are not territorial except when breeding. Amplexing males will kick away other males, and males may briefly fight other males at breeding sites.
Western Toads in Colorado have been reported living at least 9 years. I have received a report of a toad raised from a tadpole that is 21 years old and still alive (9/14).
Voice   (Listen)
Male California Toads do not have a pronounced vocal sac, but they do make a call during breeding aggregations. Their call has been described as a high-pitched plinking sound, like the peeping of a chick, repeated seveal times. Since it is not made to attract distant females, the call is not very loud when compared to the call of the sympatric Pacific Treefrog (or simiilar treefrog species.) The sound of a group of males calling has been compared to the sound of a distant flock of geese.

Calls are produced at night and during the day during the short breeding season. Males make their call primarily when they are in close contact with other males. Rather than being advertisement calls made to attract females, these calls are generally considered encounter or aggressive calls, or release calls, which serve to maintain territory and spacing between males. The calls may also serve other purposes - a lone male toad has been observed calling.1  It could also be possible that female toads are attracted to the sounds of male encounter calls, and can judge a male's condition by his call, similar to the function of an advertisement call.

Unreceptive females may also produce a release call when grasped on the back by a male. Males and females sometimes make a release call when grabbed across the back by a human hand.
Diet and Feeding
Diet consists of a wide variety of invertebrates.
Prey is located by vision, then the toad lunges with a large sticky tongue to catch the prey and bring it into the mouth to eat.
Tadpoles consume algae and detritus, including the scavenged carrion of fish and other tadpoles
(including Caifornia Toad tadpoles - Herpetological Review 38(2), 2007 178-9)
Reproduction is aquatic.
Fertilization is external, with the male grasping the back of the female and releasing sperm as the female lays her eggs.

The reproductive cycle is similar to that of most North American Frogs and Toads. Mature adults (4 - 6 years old) come into breeding condition and migrate to ponds or ditches. Males and females pair up in axillary amplexus in the water where the female lays her eggs as the male fertilizes them externally. The adults leave the water and the eggs hatch into tadpoles which feed in the water and eventually grow four legs, lose their tails and emerge onto land where they disperse into the surrounding territory.

Breeding can occur any time from January to early July, depending on the elevation, winter snow levels, or rainfall amounts, taking place shortly after toads emerge from their hibernation sites and migrate to the breeding wetlands. Scent cues are used to find the way to the breeding site. In some areas, breeding occurs after snowmelt when breeding ponds refill with water.  Amplexus and egg-laying takes place in still or barely moving waters of seasonal pools, ponds, streams, and small lakes.
Eggs are laid in long strings with double rows, averaging 5,200 eggs in a clutch.
Fresh eggs contain some of the toad's toxin to protect them from predation, but this poison decreases over time.
Eggs hatch in 3 to 10 days, often longer in the colder waters of higher elevations.
Tadpoles and Young
Tadpoles are dark brown and grow to about 2.25 inches (5.6 cm) in length before undergoing metamorphosis.
Large schools of tadpoles often feed together in shallow water.
Tadpoles enter metamorphosis in 30 - 45 days, usually in summer or early fall, depending on water temperature - colder water delays metamorphosis.
In years of extreme winter weather, especially at higher elevations, metamorphosis might be only a few weeks before snow begins to accumulate again.
When in the process of metamorphosis, many tadpoles are often seen in aggregations at the edge of a pond in various stages of metamorphosis.
After most tadpoles undergo metamorphosis, large numbers of newly-transformed toads are often seen hopping around the edges of the water.
They may stay and spend the winter at the border of their natal wetland, or they may disperse to nearby sites away from the pond.

Hybridizes with A. canorus in the northern part of its range. (Stebbins 2003.)

Inhabits a variety of habitats, including marshes, springs, creeks, small lakes, meadows, woodlands, forests, and desert riparian areas.
In the spring and early summer, toads are often found at the edge of water, sometimes basking on rocks and logs. At other times of the year they are also found farther from the water where they spend much of their time in moist terrestrial habitats.
Toads use rodent holes, rock chambers, and root system hollow as refuges from heat and cold.

Geographical Range
The subspecies Anaxyrus boreas halophilus ranges throughout most of California, from the northern forests east into west central Nevada, and south through most of the state east of the deserts, into northern Baja California. Not present in most of the central high Sierra Nevada mountains where B. canorus is present, except south of Kaiser Pass, Fresno county. Some desert populations include Afton Canyon, Darwin Falls, Grapevine Canyon, the Newberry Mountains, Ridgecrest, Apple Valley, Oro Grande and other locations on the Mohave River, Rosamond, and California City, where the toads were probably introduced.

The species Anaxyrus boreas is found in most of California, northern Baja Caifornia, Nevada, Idaho, western Montana, northern and central Utah, western and south central Wyoming, central Colorado, and extreme north central New Mexico, most of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, western Alberta, and extreme southeastern Alaska. Toads found in the Rocky Mountains have undergone a severe decline.

Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
Anaxyrus boreas is found from sea level to over 11,800 ft. (3,600 m.) (Stebbins, 2003)

Notes on Taxonomy
The SSAR (Herpetological Circular No. 39, 2012) no longer recognizes this or any subspecies of A. boreas: "Goebel et al. (2009, Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 50: 209-225) suggested on the basis of molecular evidence that nominal Anaxyrus boreas is a complex of species (as suggested previously by Bogert, 1960, Animal Sounds Commun.: 179) that do not conform to the traditional limits of taxonomic species and subspecies (and which we do not recognize here for this reason) and that some populations assigned to this taxon may actually be more closely related to Anaxyrus canorus and A. nelsoni - a problem that calls for additional elucidation."

Two subspecies of Anaxyrus boreas are traditionally recognized in California - Anaxyrus boreas halophilus, and Anaxyrus boreas boreas.
(Anaxyrus nelsoni
has also been treated as a subspecies of Anaxyrus boreas: A. b. nelsoni, but this is controversial.)

Formerly included in the genus Bufo. In 2006, Frost et al replaced the long-standing genus Bufo in North America with Anaxyrus, restricting Bufo to the eastern hemisphere. Bufo is still used in most existing references.

Toads at Haiwee Springs in the Coso Range, China Lake Naval Weapons Center Station, Inyo County, were found to be genetically separate enough from A. boreas (with similarities to A. nelsoni) to be considered at least a distinct population segment deserving of protection. (Lannoo 2005)

Hybridizes with Anaxyrus canorus at Blue Lakes and with A. punctatus in Darwin Canyon and near Skinner Reservoir in Riverside County. (Stebbins and McGinnis 2013)

Toads in "Lone Pine, Owen's Valley, Calif." were considered Bufo nelsoni by Wright and Wright in 1949.

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Bufo boreas halophilus - California Toad (Stebbins 1954, 1966, 1985, 2003, Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Bufo boreas halophilus
- California Toad (Salt Marsh Frog, Baird's Toad, Common Toad) (Wright and Wright 1933-1949)
Bufo boreas halophilus
- California Toad (Storer 1925)
Bufo columbiensis (Cope 1889)
Bufo halophila (Baird and Girard 1853)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Anaxyrus boreas is becoming uncommon in many areas of the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountains and other areas, probably due to environmental changes caused by habitat loss, especially loss of wetlands, and chemical contamination of wetlands. Toads are also slow-moving and are frequently run over by traffic as they cross roads at night during their breeding migrations, which could also contribute to their loss.
Family Bufonidae True Toads Gray, 1825
Genus Anaxyrus North American Toads Tschudi, 1845
Species boreas Western Toad (Baird and Girard, 1852)
Subspecies halophilus California Toad

(Baird and Girard, 1853)
Original Description
Bufo boreas Baird and Girard, 1852 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 174
Bufo boreas halophilus Baird and Girard, 1853 California Toad

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Bufo - Toad
Anaxyrus - Greek - A king or chief
Boreas - Greek meaning north wind or northern - which refers to the northern range
Halos - Greek - sea, salt
Philos - Greek - having an affinity for - refers to its coastal distribution

Taken in part from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Related or Similar California Frogs
Anaxyrus boreas boreas
Anaxyrus californicus

Anaxyrus woodhousii
Anaxyrus canorus
Anaxyrus exsul

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife


Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Amphibians of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Elliott, Lang, Carl Gerhardt, and Carlos Davidson. Frogs and Toads of North America, a Comprehensive Guide to their Identification, Behavior, and Calls. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

Lannoo, Michael (Editor). Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species. University of California Press, June 2005.

Storer, Tracy I. A Synopsis of the Amphibia of California. University of California Press Berkeley, California 1925.

Wright, Albert Hazen and Anna Wright. Handbook of Frogs and Toads of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1949.

Davidson, Carlos. Booklet to the CD Frog and Toad Calls of the Pacific Coast - Vanishing Voices. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, 1995.

Conservation Status

The following status listings are copied from the 2017 Special Animals List and the 2017 Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status, you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Check here to see the most current complete lists.

This toad is not on the Special Animals List. There are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.`

Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None

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