CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California





Key to Identifying Toads in California

 






California Frogs and Toads:



observation link

 


1. Does the toad you want to identify have a stripe (dorsal stripe) down the middle of the back?
(Sometimes this stripe is faint or absent, so some toads are listed both as having a stripe, and as not having a stripe.)

toad
toad
toad
Distinct Dorsal Stripe

Go to 3



Faint Dorsal Stripe

Go to 3
No Dorsal Stripe

Go to 2
directly below

2. Toads with no dorsal stripe.

Use the range maps and / or the shape of the parotoid glands to determine species.

Red-spotted Toad

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. Its small, rounded parotoid glands and lack of a dorsal stripe will distinguish it from its neighbors. It often has many red spots on the body, but sometimes the red is missing or faint.
map toad toad
Range - in red Red-spotted Toad
Anaxyrus punctatus

(Bufo punctatus )

Parotoid glands are rounded.
Red spots on back
Arroyo Toad

The Arroyo Toad occurs along the south and south-central coasts up into the mountains. Usually has a light stripe or patch on the head and eyelids. This toad is listed as endangered because it uses creeks with sandy banks to breed, and this habitat is rapidly disappearing or being destroyed.
map toad toad
Range - in red Arroyo Toad
Anaxyrus californicus

(Bufo californicus)

Large, parotoid glands
Arizona Toad

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/or the large long parotoid glands will differentiate this toad from others that inhabit the same area.
map toad toad
Range - in red


Arizona Toad
Anaxyrus microscaphus

(Bufo microscaphus)

Large, elongated parotoid glands, light mark between eyes.
Great Plains Toad

The Great Plains Toad occurs in the far southeast, along the Colorado River and the Imperial Valley to near Palm Springs. The cranial crests form a boss on the snout and separate widely toward the rear of the head, converging towards the front of the snout. The large blotches with light edges will also help you distinguish it from the Rocky Mountain Toad, which also tends to have a more pronounced stripe down the back.
map toad toad
Range - in red Great Plains Toad
Anaxyrus cognatus

(Bufo californicus)

Cranial crests
Yosemite Toad

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 dorsal stripe, while the Yosemite Toad has a more faint stripe. Sometimes there is no stripe.
map toad toad
Range - in red Female Yosemite Toad
Anaxyrus canorus

(Bufo canorus)


Male Yosemite Toad
Anaxyrus canorus

(Bufo canorus)
Sonoran Desert Toad

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 toad
Range - in red

Sonoran Desert Toad
Incilius alvarius

(Bufo alvarius)

Large, long parotoid glands, cranial crests, and white warts.

3. Toads with a dorsal stripe.


Does the toad have enlarged cranial crests on top of the head between the eyes?


toad toad  
Cranial Crests

Go to 4 directly below


No Cranial Crests

Go to 5
 

4. Toads with a dorsal stripe and cranial crests.

Great Plains Toad  
Comparison of a Great Plains Toad on right and a Rocky Mountain Toad on left.

Some Great Plains Toads have a faint dorsal stripe. You can differentiate them from the Rocky Mountain Toad by the cranial crests and the parotoid glands.

The cranial crests of the Great Plains Toad point inward at the front, often coming together.

The parotoid glands of the Rocky Mountain Toad are more elongated than on the Great Plains Toad.


 
Rocky Mountain Toad

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 cranial crests are prominent, sometimes with a boss between them, and they contact the parotoid glands.
map toad toad
Range - in red Rocky Mountain Toad
Anaxyrus woodhousii woodhousii

(Bufo woodhousii woodhousii)

Cranial crests
Great Plains Toad

The Great Plains Toad occurs in the far southeast, along the Colorado River and the Imperial Valley to near Palm Springs. The cranial crests form a boss on the snout and separate widely toward the rear of the head, converging towards the front of the snout. The large blotches with light edges will also help you distinguish it from the Rocky Mountain Toad, which also tends to have a more pronounced stripe down the back.
map toad toad
Range - in red Great Plains Toad
Anaxyrus cognatus

(Bufo californicus)

Cranial crests

5. Toads with a dorsal stripe and no cranial crests

Use the range maps to identify the following species.

Western Toad

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.
map toad toad
Range:
Red: California Toad
Orange: Boreal Toad
(Gray is range of intergradation.)
Boreal Toad
Anaxyrus boreas boreas

(Bufo boreas boreas)


California Toad
Anaxyrus boreas halophilus

(Bufo boreas halophilus)
Black Toad

The Black Toad only occurs only in Deep Springs Valley southeast of Bishop near the Nevada Border and nearby in a couple of locations. It occurs along with the Great Basin Spadefoot, but is entirely different in appearance, being dark black with a stripe down the middle of the back, while the Spadefoot is gray with no stripe, and has vertical pupils, along with other differences.
map toad toad
Range - in red

Black Toad
Anaxyrus exsul

(Bufo exsul)
Yosemite Toad

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 dorsal stripe, while the Yosemite Toad has a more faint stripe. Sometimes the stripe is not apparent.
map toad toad
Range - in red Female Yosemite Toad
Anaxyrus canorus

(Bufo canorus)


Male Yosemite Toad
Anaxyrus canorus

(Bufo canorus)

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