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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California





Identifying Toads in California

 






California Frogs and Toads:




observation link

 


Many toads found in California are very similar in appearance. You can tell them apart by some distinct and some more subtle characteristics. The location where a toad is found can also help you to identify the species. Some toads found in California have a very limited range. Check the range maps to see if a particular species of toad is found in your area. If not, continue down the list.

You may want to try using a California Toad Key I have made which tries to categorize the toads based on whether or not they have a stripe on the back (Dorsolateral Stripe) and raised crests on the head (Cranial Crests.)



Sonoran Desert Toad
Incilius alvarius
(formerly Bufo alvarius)

The Sonoran Desert Toad once occured in parts of the Imperial Valley and along the Colorado River. It seems to have totally disappeared from California. If you find one in California, let me or somebody know! It is characterized by large long parotoid glands, a cranial crest, a lack of a dorsal stripe, and large white warts behind the eye and on top of the rear thigh. It is generally green or olive in color without very dark spots or blotches. It would occur along with Rocky Mountain Toads, Red-spotted Toads, and Great Plains Toads, but both should be readily distinguished by its color, size, parotoid glands and warts.
map toad sonoran desert toad
Large size, no mid-dorsal stripe, green or olive color
toad sonoran desert toad
Historic range - in red
Enlarged elongated parotoid glands, cranial crests, and white warts.
   
Black Toad
Anaxyrus exsul
(formerly Bufo exsul)

The Black Toad occurs only in Deep Springs Valley southeast of Bishop near the Nevada Border. It occurs with the Great Basin Spadefoot, but is entirely different in appearance, being dark black with a stripe down the middle of the back.
map toad toad
Black coloring with a light mid-dorsal stripe
Black Toad Black Toad
Range - in red
(Blue = introduced population in Saline Valley)
   
   
Arizona Toad
Anaxyrus microscaphus (formerly Bufo microscaphus)

The Arizona Toad only occurs in a small area just west of the Colordo River, although it may not occur in California anymore. The lack of a stripe on the back, and the large long parotoid glands will differentiate this toad from others that inhabit the same area.
map toad toad
Large long parotoid glands, no mid-dorsal stripe,
often a light mark between the eyes
toad
Possible historic range - in red
Large, elongated parotoid glands, light mark between eyes.
   
Yosemite Toad
Anaxyrus canorus (formerly Bufo canorus)

Males and females vary in appearance. Yosemite toads only occur at high elevations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They do not occur with any other species of toad, although the California Toad occurs nearby. The California toad has a distinct light dorsal stripe while the Yosemite Toad has a faint light stripe or no stripe.
map toad toad
Female Male
Dorsal stripe is faint or absent, females with dark markings

toad
Historic range - in red Faint dorsal stripe
   
The ranges of the following toads overlap in some areas, making their identification a little more difficult. Check the range maps to learn which of these toads occurs in your area, then pay attention to some of the basic details listed below.


 
Rocky Mountain Toad
Anaxyrus woodhousii woodhousii (formerly Bufo woodhousii woodhousii)

The Rocky Mountain, or Woodhouse's Toad has spread into California in the far southeast, along the Colorado River and the Imperial Valley to near Palm Springs. The light stripe on the back will help you distinguish it from the Red-spotted Toad. The presence of long parotoid glands and an enlarged cranial crest will help you distinguish it from the California Toad.
map toad Rocky mountain toad
Light mid-dorsal stripe, long parotoid glands, enlarged cranial crests
Rocky mountain toad Rocky mountain toad
Range - in red Elongated paratoid glands
behind the eyes
Enlarged cranial crests between eyes
  Great Plains Toad
  Comparison of Anaxyrus cognatus on right
and Anaxyrus woodhousii on left.
The cranial crests of A. cognatus point inward at the front, often coming together.
The parotoid glands of A. woodhousii are more elongated than on A. cognatus.

     
Great Plains Toad
Anaxyrus cognatus (formerly Bufo cognatus)

The Great Plains Toad occurs in the far southeast, along the Colorado River and the Imperial Valley to near Palm Springs.
It has cranial crests and elongated parotoid glands which will help you distinguish it from the Red-spotted Toad, which has no cranial crests and rounded parotoid glands, and California Toads, which have no cranial crest and a stripe down the back. The large blotches with light edges will help you distinguish it from the Rocky Mountain Toad, which also tends to have a more pronounced stripe down the back.
     
map toad Great Plains Toad
Elongated parotoid glands, cranial crests, faint mid-dorsal stripe or none at all
toad toad
Range - in red Cranial crests converge at the front Elongated paratoid glands
  Great Plains Toad
  Comparison of Anaxyrus cognatus on right
and Anaxyrus woodhousii on left.
The cranial crests of A. cognatus point inward at the front, often coming together.
The parotoid glands of A. woodhousii are more elongated than on A. cognatus.
     
Red-spotted Toad 
Anaxyrus punctatus (formerly Bufo punctatus)

The Red-spotted Toad occurs in Southern California, mainly in the deserts east of the mountain ranges and north through much of the Mojave Desert. It's small, rounded parotoid glands and lack of a back stripe will distinguish it from its neighbors. It often has many red spots on the body, but sometimes the red is lacking.
map toad Red-spotted Toad
Small rounded parotoid glands, no mid-dorsal stripe. Often with many red-spots.
toad Red-spotted Toad
Range - in red Rounded paratoid glands
Red spots on back
No stripe or faint stripe
on the middle of the back
     
Western Toad
Anaxyrus boreas (Bufo boreas) (Two subspecies occur in California)

Western Toads are found throughout much of the state, excluding the high Sierras and the deserts (although they can be found in some desert towns.) There are two subspecies, as indicated by the map below. A light stripe down the middle of the back and horizontal pupils should help you distinguish these toads from other toads, frogs and spadefoots occurring in the same area.
map boreal toad toad
Boreal Toad
Anaxyrus boreas boreas
(Bufo boreas boreas)
California Toad
Anaxyrus boreas halophilus
(Bufo boreas halophilus)
toad toad
Historic Range:
Red: California Toad
Orange: Boreal Toad
(Gray is approximate range of intergradation.)
Distinct mid-dorsal stripe, slightly elongated parotoid glands, no cranial crests.
   
Arroyo Toad
Anaxyrus californicus (formerly Bufo californicus)

The Arroyo Toad occurs along the south and south-central coasts. The lack of a stripe down the middle of the back, non-enlarged toe pads, horizontal pupils, enlarged parotoid glands, and usually a light mark on the head between the eyes, will help you distinguish this toad from other frogs, toads, and spadefoots occurring in the same area.
map toad arroyo toad
No mid-dorsal stripe, enlarged parotoid glands, usually a light mark between the eyes
toad
Range - in red Parotoid glands are oval.
Cranial crests are not present.
Usually a light mark across the head between the eyes
     

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