Photo Credit: Roger Birkhead
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Anaxyrus quercicus
STATUS: Uncommon to fairly common south of Blackland Prairie. Found locally in Coosa River Valley of Ridge and Valley, where it has not been verified for many years. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.
DESCRIPTION: As a member of the family Bufonidae, the oak toad, like other bufonids, is a true toad having non-slimy warty skin, two parotoid glands behind the eyes and lack teeth in the upper jaw. It is the smallest of all the toads in the U.S. averaging about 1.5 inches in length. The back or dorsum varies in color from light gray to dark brown, sometimes almost black with three to four pairs of irregularly shaped darker spots. They typically have a conspicuous light narrow mid-dorsal stripe that extends the entire length of the back.
DISTRIBUTION: Their range extends from eastern Lousiana, throughout Florida, and northward to Virginia following a wide band roughly along the Coastal Plain. In Alabama, there are historic records in the Coosa River Valley of Ridge and Valley and more currently south of the Blackbelt to the coastline in the Lower Coastal Plain.
They exist in Alabama in healthy populations but are typically not observed very often. It’s more commonly heard during period of heavy precipitation, as the males proclaim their territory to potential mates and telling other males to stay away.
HABITAT: These tiny toads are usually only observed during and after events of precipitation in which they exit their burrow to either feed or breed. The majority of their lives are spent underground until climatic conditions are conducive for their exit. They are most often associated with open canopy oak-pine forests containing shallow temporal ponds, ditches or wet prairies within the southeastern coastal plain. Their preferred habitat include sites that have been maintained by fire such as longleaf-turkey oak, upland scrub and pine flatwoods communities with deep sandy soils. In Alabama, these community types tend to lie within the Lower Coastal Plain which is typified by the deep sandy soils.
FEEDING HABITS: Like most other toads, it will eat anything that moves, as long as it can subdue and fit the prey item into its mouth. The prey list typically includes a variety of small spiders and insects, with a high preference for ants.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Their breeding season extends throughout the summer, stretching from early April extending through August. During this period, the toads will periodically exit their burrows as the warm spring thunderstorms rain and fill temporary depressions, cypress or flatwood ponds and roadside ditches, which they utilize to forage and perform their reproductive rituals. From the pond edge or clump of vegetation, males elicit a high-pitched “peep” that resembles the sound of baby chickens, announcing to rival males to stay away and attracting potential mates. During these episodes, the majority of activity occurs during the day, although some continues into the night. The eggs are deposited individually or in short, narrow gelatinous strands commonly containing three to eight eggs per strand. Females have the potential of laying 200-500 eggs. The eggs normally hatch within 1-3 days depending on water temperature producing small tadpoles. The tadpoles are non-selective filter feeders that ingest a wide array of algae and decaying animal matter. Within a couple of months, the tadpoles metamorphosis into adult toads.
The oak toad has several predators including raccoons, crows, hog-nosed and garter snakes, gopher frogs and marine toads. When confronted by predators, they often inflate their bodies in hopes of becoming an object too large swallow to deter the chance of being eaten. As with other toads, the also possess a pair of paratoid glands on the back behind each eye that secrete toxins when disturbed that often have a horrible taste or ill effects making the toad an unappealing meal.
The Oak Toad has been categorized as being a moderate conservation concern due to its population levels and current threats to its habitat. Progressive development, destruction of wetlands and urban sprawl all pose potential threats to amphibian species. Their use of small localized breeding sites makes them more susceptible and readily impacted by habitat destruction and fragmentation. In addition, the reclusive nature of the oak toad makes for difficult accurate population assessments. It has not been documented in many years in the historical population range in the upper regions of Alabama and remains an uncommon find south of the Blackbelt Region as well.
Mount, Robert H. 1975. The Reptiles & Amphibians of Alabama. Auburn Printing Co., Auburn, AL. 347pp.
Ashton, R.E. , Ashton, P.S. 1988. Handbook of Reptiles and Amphibians of Florida, Part Three, The Amphibians. Windward Publishing Inc., Miami, FL. 191pp.
AUTHOR: Keith Gauldin, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries