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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Anaxyrus boreas halophilus - California Toad

(=Bufo boreas halophilus)

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california toad range map
Range in California: Red

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 Close-up showing large oval parotoid
glands behind the eyes.
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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, showing bright pads on bottom of feet found on young toads,
Stanislaus County.
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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

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      
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

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 Breeding habitat, inner coast range,
Kern County
Habitat, Contra Costa County
Habitat, Alameda County
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Habitat, Contra Costa County
Breeding Habitat, San Joaquin County Breeding pond, Contra Costa County Habitat, cattle pond in oak grassland, 1,900 ft., Contra Costa County
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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
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Desert riparian habitat, San Diego County Habitat, San Bernardino County creek Habitat, wetlands at 2,000 ft., Santa Rosa Plateau, Riverside County Breeding habitat, Riverside County
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Habitat, Alameda County

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.
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 (Bufo (Anaxyrus) californicus - their breeding, egg deposition, tadpoles and metamorphs - including comparisons with sympatric California Toads, illustrated with many excellent photographs. 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).
Large and robust with dry, warty skin. No cranial crests. Oval parotoid glands. Tarsal fold is well-developed. Pupils are horizontal. Coloring is greenish, tan, reddish brown, dusky gray, and yellow above with a light-colored stripe down the middle of the back. Warts are often rusty and set on dark blotches. Males are usually less blotched than females and have smoother skin. Male and female throats are pale. Young have no dorsal stripe immediately after transformation.
There are fewer dark blotches on the belly than on A. b. boreas. The head is also wider with larger eyes with less distance between the upper eyelids and the feet are also smaller than A. b. boreas. (Stebbins)
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. 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.
Diurnal and nocturnal. Often diurnal after winter emergence, becoming nocturnal in the summer after breeding.
Toads are not territorial except when breeding. Amplexing males will kick away other males, and males may briefly fight other males at breeding sites.
For defense, this toad relies on parotoid glands and warts which can secrete a poison that deters some predators. Other 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.
Slow moving, often with a walking or crawling motion along with short hops.
Toads have been reported living at least 9 years.
Diet consists of a wide variety of invertebrates. The 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.
Reproduction and Young
Reproduction is aquatic. Fertilization is external. Adults are mature enough to breed when they are 4 - 6 years old. They breed shortly after they emerge from their hibernation sites and migrate to the breeding wetlands, using scent cues to find their way. In some areas, breeding occurs after snowmelt when breeding ponds refill with water. Mating and egg-laying can occur any time from January to early July, depending on the elevation and winter snow levels.

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.

Large schools of tadpoles often feed in shallow water. Tadpoles are dark brown, and grow to about 1 inch in length before metamorphosis. Tadpole development also depends on water temperature; tadpoles enter metamorphosis in 30 - 45 days, usually in late summer or early fall. In years of extreme winter weather, this 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. Large numbers of newly-transformed toads are often seen hopping around the shores of breeding 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.
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. Desert populations include Afton Canyon, Darwin Falls, Grapevine Canyon, the Newberry Mountains, Ridgecrest, Apple Valley, and California City, where the toads were probably introduced.

The species Anaxyrus boreas is found in most of California except the deserts, northern Baja Caifornia, northern Nevada, Idaho, western Montana, northern and central Utah, western and south central Wyoming, central Colorado, and extreme north central New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, western Alberta, and extreme southeastern Alaska. Toads found in the Rocky Mountains have undergone a severe decline.
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.
Bufo boreas is found from sea level to over 11,800 ft. (3,600 m.)
Taxonomic Notes
Two subspecies of Anaxyrus boreas are 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.
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
Genus Anaxyrus North American Toads
Species boreas Western Toad
Subspecies halophilus California Toad

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

Alternate Names
Bufo boreas halophilus - Southern California Toad

Related or Similar California Frogs
Anaxyrus boreas boreas
Anaxyrus californicus

Anaxyrus woodhousii
Anaxyrus canorus
Anaxyrus exsul

More Information and References
Natureserve Explorer

California Dept. of Fish and Game


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.

Wright, Anna. 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 come from the Special Animals List which is published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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

Status Listing
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
Natureserve Global Conservation Status Ranks
World Conservation Union - IUCN Red List


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