Common toad (Bufo bufo)

French: Crapaud Commun, Crapaud Vulgaire
Spanish: Sapo ComĂșn
GenusBufo (1)
SizeAdult male length: 50 - 60 mm (2)
Adult female length: 80 - 90 mm (2)

The common toad is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). It is protected in Britain under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) with respect to sale only. It is also listed under Annex III of the Bern Convention and Classified as a Species of Conservation Concern under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP), but not a priority species (3).

The common toad (Bufo bufo) is surrounded by a wealth of folklore and superstition (4). It can alter the tone of its skin to suit its surroundings; the upper surface may be brown, greenish or grey, and occasionally features dark markings. Females are often more reddish or brown than males. The underside is typically white or grey, and the eye, which has a horizontal pupil, is copper in colour. The most obvious feature that distinguishes the common toad from frogs is its warty skin; these dark warts secrete powerful toxins when the toad is harassed (2), and potential predators soon learn to avoid toads (5).

The common toad has a very wide British distribution, and is uncommon only in north Scotland. Elsewhere, it has a broad range, which extends from Scandinavia in the north to northwest Africa, and from Portugal extending as far east as Lake Baikal in Siberia. It is however, absent from many islands, including Crete, Malta, Corsica, Sardinia, the Balearics and Ireland (2).

Occurring in a broad variety of habitats, including gardens, the common toad requires large water bodies, and optimal habitats seem to be woodland, scrub and rough grasslands. Breeding ponds containing fish appear to be preferred; the tadpoles are unpalatable and are protected from fish predation (2).

Common toads are largely nocturnal. They are found in ponds only in the breeding season; during the rest of the year they can be found far from water bodies (5). They have a broad diet, feeding on a huge range of prey small enough to swallow, including insects, spiders, earwigs, earthworms, snails and slugs; they have even been observed eating young toads (2). They feed only on land and use a 'sit-and-wait' style of hunting (6). Common toads are usually welcomed by gardeners, thanks to their voracious appetites and penchant for garden pests (4).

The life cycle of the common toad is similar to that of the common frog (Rana temporaria). Common toads begin to migrate to breeding ponds in autumn. The onset of cold weather stimulates hibernation, which takes place en route in abandoned rodent burrows or in leaf litter (2). Migration then recommences in spring.

Breeding activity, which occurs between March and June (6), is often very frenzied in the common toad, with much competition amongst males over access to females. Males grasp females tightly prior to spawning, and there is aggressive activity amongst males who try to 'take-over' females. 'Mating-balls' may often arise, when as many as 10 males jostle for access to a single female; the female occasionally drowns or is crushed as a result (2). Successful pairs will spawn; females release a double-string of eggs, which the male fertilises by releasing his sperm simultaneously. The pair moves around whilst spawning, so that the jelly-coated strings of eggs become wrapped around vegetation. One female may produce up to 5,000 eggs, although the usual number is around 1,500 (2). The black tadpoles move away from the spawning areas a few days after hatching. The common toad tadpoles feed on microorganisms and usually gather in groups, which, in addition to the presence of skin toxins, probably protects them further against predation. Despite this, however, they frequently become prey for diving beetles and other species that have piercing mouthparts, and so can avoid the toxins in the skin (2). It takes 8 to 12 weeks for tadpoles to develop, after metamorphosis the tiny toadlets occasionally emerge en masse. Sexual maturity is reached after two to three years (2). Common toads can live for a very long time; some captive individuals have reached 50 years of age (5).

Although the common toad is common and widespread in Britain, it is likely that habitat loss, particularly the drainage of wetlands, has affected populations (6).

It is illegal to sell common toads under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3).

For more on the common toad and other amphibians and reptiles of the UK:

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This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. Beebee, T & Griffiths, R. (2000) The New Naturalist: Amphibians and reptiles- a natural history of the British herpetofauna. Harper Collins Publishers, London.
  3. The Environment Agency (1998) 'Look-up' chart of species and their legal status. Species and Habitats Handbook. The Environment Agency, Bristol.
  4. Buczacki, S. (2002) Fauna Britannica. Hamlyn, London.
  5. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) - common toad (January, 2003)
  6. Amphibia Web (January, 2003)