Despite its name, the Common Toad is no longer as common as it once was, and toads are now considered an ‘at risk’, Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species, and are protected by law from sale and trade.
Common toads can be distinguished from the similar looking Common Frog by their drier, and more warty skin, and their very striking coppery eyes. They also tend to move by walking, rather than hopping. The glands in the toad’s skin contain powerful toxins which deter many predators, and allows them the luxury of this more sedentary lifestyle.
Common toads prefer deeper water bodies in which to breed. Like the adults, the tadpoles contain toxins in their skin, which makes them unpleasant to fish, so allowing them to live in fish ponds, where other amphibian larvae particularly those of newts would be eaten.
Toads have a strong migratory instinct, following the same route back to their ancestral breeding ponds each spring. This leads to the characteristic mass ‘toad crossings’, which can sadly result in considerable road deaths.
Breeding toads congregate in early spring, often a couple of weeks after the common frogs, but then after a week or so tend to move away from ponds and resume their solitary lifestyle in a more terrestrial habitat.
Toadspawn is laid in characteristic strings (not clumps), which hatch after around 12 days, the tadpoles taking around 3 months to metamorphose into adults.
Common toads are most active at night when they hunt, their favourite foods including snails, slugs, ants and spiders. Toads tend to be fairly sedentary, and may remain in your garden for long periods over the summer. However, as the temperature drops in the autumn, they will start to look for somewhere to hibernate. This could be a log pile, under a large stone, or in a man made structure like an old flower pot, and you can encourage toads to stay in your garden by providing suitable hibernation structures. Toads then wait out the cold months of the year before starting the whole cycle again in the spring, and it is said that they can live for up to 40 years.