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Red-Spotted Toad

Most people think it is too dry in the desert for amphibians, but in fact, we have about 20 different kinds of desert amphibians in the Mojave. The red-spotted toad is one of the most common.

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  • Many toads live both on land and in the water. So when the water dries up, if they're old enough, they can just live on land!
  • In the winter months, when it's cold, they hang out in burrows or under rocks, protected from the environment.
  • Many toads slow down their body functions, or metabolism, so they don't need as much water or food. This way they don't have to come out much until the weather gets warmer!
  • When water is not available, the adults go hide in vegetation and under rocks and only come out when it is cool, usually after dark or during storms.
  • Tadpoles do not usually survive very long when the ponds dry up.
  • In the summer when it is really hot, adults, juveniles and tadpoles will swim in water when it is available. This allows them to stay cool and moist... and breath in the case of the tadpoles!
  • While their are tadpoles in other parts of the world (mostly in the tropics) they do not require pools of water, all of the known Mojave Desert toads require standing or flowing water to develop as tadpoles.

The differences between frogs and toads aren't as apparent as originally thought. Traditionally in Europe, toads were tetrapod amphibians, without tails (other than a few two), that lived primarily on land or in drier areas. Frogs, were considered to be the smoother, more aquatic counterparts to toads.

Once these distinctions were set, herpetologists started to associate toads as warty, rougher skinned animals that tended to walk more than hop. These classifications worked fine until more species were discovered and it was found that some frogs were actually more like toads! With some new scientific methods, a few other frogs and toads that were once considered to be in one group, were actually more like the other!

Some people have come to regard all anurans as frogs and toads to be a group within anura called "bufonids". Thus, all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads! It may just be safer to call them all anurans!

  • Adult Length: 5-7.5 cm (2-3 inches) from snout to vent.
  • Color: Brownish-green with reddish-brown spots on dorsal side.

They are short broad toads, with large parotid glands behind their eyes. The parotid glands are their only defense against predators, producing and secreteing a toxin that tastes bad and causes neurological effects. Most animals will spit them out at the taste of the toxin. Most animals don't need too many "tastes" to learn to avoid them all together!

The red-spotted toad lives mostly in the Mojave Desert (yellow to the right), but is found in surrounding areas as well. The red-spotted toad or Bufo punctatus, is one of about 20 different types of anurans in the American deserts! Desert toads live in washes, streams, springs, temporary pools, lakes, ponds, and even rivers. The red-spotted toad tends to prefer rocky temporary pools called tinajas, which means "wine container" in Spanish. Map of US, Mojave Desert

These small temperary pools fill when it rains and evaporate between storms. Tinajas can be home to toads, shrimp, caddisflies, aquatic beetles and plankton. In just 11 days, this tinaja can go from 60 cm (2 feet) deep, to completely dry!

Adult toads tend to find shelter in vegetation, under rocks and in abandoned burrows. This behavior keeps them cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and hides them from predators that would be more than happy to eat a little toad!

While toads usually live near water, they are occasionally seen hopping around as far as 8 km (~5 miles) from water! It is not clear how long they can survive that far from water; we still have much to learn about desert toads.

Desert tadpoles have no choice, they have to live in water. Unfortunately, warmer water evaporates faster, so ponds disappear faster in spring and summer, when most toads lay eggs. Luckily, like other ectotherms, tadpoles develop faster in warmer water. As tadpole body temperature increases so does their metabolism, and development (aging). The quicker a tadpole develops, the sooner it can live on land!
Adults tend to eat insects, but are often willing to eat anything that will fit in their mouths! Juveniles, or tadpoles, tend to eat algae they suck off the water surface or rocks and other features in the ponds. Like the adults, juveniles are also notorious for devouring just about anything that will fit in their little mouths. Another type of Desert toad, from the genera Scaphiopus or Spea, have actually been known to eat other tadpoles in situations where resources become scarse! And you thought YOUR friends had big mouths!
Frogs and toads are amphibians, which means "double-life", they spend part of their lives in the water and part on land. Click on the pictures below to learn more about each developmental stage.
They spend their juvenile phase in the water as tadpoles. They swim around in the water and develop legs and lungs, and absorb their tail and gills as they are no longer necessary. When they are mature enough, they come out of the water and live on land.

Herpetologists are scientists who study or work with amphibians and reptiles. Herpetologists often work in classification or systematics, but they also work with in the fields of:

  • ecology: how the animals and their environments interact
  • physiology: how their bodies work
  • behavior
  • and much more!
Here, a researcher is collecting a water sample from a tadpole pond to take back to the lab. The characteristics of the water, such as mineral content and algae content, tell scientists a lot about the diet and environment of the animals that live in the water. Researchers will also take temperature, pH, salinity, oxygen content, and a few other measurements at the pond. Candice Doing Water Sampling

In Dr. van Breukelen's lab (the lab of our Desert Survivors Expert and where the hosts work), researchers are interested in not only how the red-spotted toads' little bodies work, but how they function under the stressful environmental pressures of life in the desert. When researchers are interested in how the ecosystem affects an organism's physiology, we call this ecophysiology. nearly a toadlet Adult Toad toadlets Amplexing Toads Toad Eggs Tadpoles

Place your cursor over each question when you think you know the answer!

Question 1
Question 2
Question 3
Question 4

Dr. Frank van Breukelen is an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He received his PhD from the University of Colorado, at Boulder. His research centers around metabolic depression in response to environmental stress. Squirrels, snails, toads, caddis flies, and sea monkeys are just a few of the organisms Frank and his students study in their lab. Frank is the primary investigator on the Desert Survivors project and recipient of the NSF career award that makes Desert Survivors possible.

Tune in to Episode One to find out what makes desert animals so special! Episode One highlights what a desert is and how the Mojave Desert was formed.

Amphibians & Reptiles - A list of cool links you can explore!
Frogland - lots of cool froggy stuff, but a little text intensive.
Amphibians and Reptiles Scavenger Hunt - Fun questions to answer with links to help you do the research!
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