Are Toads in Gardens Good or Bad? [The Warty Facts]


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Are Toads in Gardens Good or Bad? (Garden Toad Pros & Cons)

Cane toad in grass
Toads are highly misunderstood creatures that can actually provide benefits to your garden. Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Many gardeners have probably been surprised at one point by their resident garden toads paying them a visit. Often described as lumpy, bumpy, and warty, toads have an uncanny resemblance to an assortment of substrate types and plant features. These cold-blooded animals have shocked, delighted, and unfortunately disgusted people all over the world. You might one day find yourself weeding the vegetable bed, only to graze your hand on the rough back of a sleeping toad!

With a reputation for being carriers of disease and for causing warts (a common myth), toads are highly misunderstood creatures that rarely receive the appreciation they deserve. These nocturnal amphibians are incredibly beneficial to have in gardens, as long as they occur in moderate numbers. Their presence can help a garden thrive in all sorts of ways and goes far beyond simply increasing local biodiversity.

These clumsy creatures are often grouped under frogs for easy classification. Though toads are indeed a type of frog, not all frogs can be considered toads. If the “frog” in your garden has a rough exterior, a robust and heavy body, and prefers to walk or hop just off the ground, it must be a toad. This article will take you through the many benefits a healthy toad will provide and give you tips on how to attract more of them. If you find toads problematic at best, read on for instructions on how to safely get rid of them.


A Brief Primer on Toads

A toad jumping
Toads have shorter legs than frogs, meaning that they can’t jump very high. N p holmes, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Toads are classified under the Bufonidae family of the order Anura. They are distinguished by their short legs, which prevent them from jumping as long-legged frogs do. Highly camouflaged with their surroundings, toads tend to be covered in brown bumps. Some of these, such as the ones found on the sides of their heads, have glands that secrete bufotoxins. These secretions are repulsive and potentially poisonous to predators. Unless ingested, they are seldom harmful to humans upon contact.

Mainly terrestrial, adult toads live most of their life on land, only returning to the water to lay their eggs and eat aquatic insects. Their tadpoles remain in water for about a few months to a year, depending on the species. In optimal environments, a toad can live for as long as 15 years! They can become true residents of the garden, especially if their favored insects are abundant.

Common toad species include the European toad (Bufo bufo), giant tropical toad (Bufo marinus), American toad (Anaxyrus americanus), cane toad (Rhinella marina), and giant toad (Bufo spinosus). In some western regions, such as Britain, some of these species are protected by federal laws and are prohibited from being sold or traded despite their widespread occurrence. Though they are highly adaptable, natural toad populations are increasingly under threat due to habitat destruction.


Benefits of Toads in Gardens

1) Pest control

Wyoming toads eating worms
Toads have a very large appetite and can significantly reduce pest populations. USFWS Mountain-Prairie, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Toads are carnivorous amphibians with an appetite to match their large statures. A single hungry toad can eat as many as 100 insects in just one night! Their favorite prey types include mosquitoes and their larvae, snails, slugs, caterpillars, millipedes, spiders, and centipedes. When uncontrolled, large populations of these insects can wreak havoc wherever they go, becoming vectors of disease and grazing down precious flowering plants.

When present in moderate numbers, toads can significantly reduce pest populations. This eliminates the need for potentially harmful pesticides that may leak into the groundwater system and harm other animals in the process. Larger toads are more adventurous when it comes to their diet. They may attempt to eat anything that moves, as long as it fits into their mouths. This includes small snakes, baby birds, and mice.

Occasionally, toads will feed on desirable pollinators and earthworms as well. Their tadpoles and toadlets may feed on fish fry in ornamental ponds. These instances would simply be coincidental, however, as toads seem to have a preference for troublesome insects that can multiply quickly. For this reason, many gardeners wish to attract toads to their gardens. Some even opt to create homes for them to establish their permanence.


2) Increased biodiversity

Snail on a plant
Toads can help thin out snail & slug populations, which leads to increased biodiversity in your garden. Photo by PIXNIO

Self-sustaining gardens that remain free of disease and pest-related problems share two major characteristics: a diverse spread of native plants and an equally diverse and thoroughly distributed selection of fauna. Hand in hand, these support an ecosystem that can thrive under optimal environmental conditions and face ecological threats with a measure of resilience.

As toads play a central role in the food chain, their control of pests gives room for other beneficial insects and small animals to grow. This form of top-down control prevents singular pest species from stratifying the communities of both plants and animals.

Envision this toad-free scenario: snails and slugs increase in abundance and feed on herbaceous flowering plants, preventing them from attracting a diversity of pollinators to the garden. While snails continue to increase in number, so do plants that have specialized defenses against them. As a result, few species are able to colonize the garden – at the loss of many desirable plants and their associated animals. Pop a few hungry toads into the mix, and you’ll find that a fair number of snails and slugs can be abolished after a short period of time, allowing the herbaceous plants to recover and stand their ground.


3) Water filtration by tadpoles

Toad tadpole feeding on plant matter
Toad tadpoles can help with water filtration as they decompose plant material, reducing turbidity in the pond. Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the early stages of life, toad tadpoles are omnivores that must feed on algae and aquatic vegetation, including particles of disintegrated detritus and debris. In both ornamental and wildlife ponds, they tend to travel in schools as they search for pockets that are rich in particulate food. When they occur in large numbers, they can significantly aid in decomposing plant material and reducing turbidity. They quickly grow out of this stage and begin to favor live prey, however.


4) Bioindicators of a healthy environment

Toad resting in grass
Toads act as a bioindicator of a healthy environment, as they prefer to visit gardens that aren’t filled with manmade pollutants and chemicals. Stephanie Young Merzel / CC BY 2.0

Toads prefer to visit and remain in gardens with a healthy environmental profile. As bioindicators, they avoid areas that are filled with many manmade pollutants and chemicals, such as effluents, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. Due to their permeable skin, pollutants are highly toxic to them upon contact. If a variety of toads are able to thrive in your area, it may be considered fairly clean.

Due to rapid rates of urbanization and environmental fragmentation, many toads have had to learn to survive in highly polluted areas where they feed on waste and disease-ridden insects. They cannot be expected to live out their full lifespans in these areas, though there are instances where they become enormous due to the high availability of trash food, lack of competitors, and absent predators.


How to Attract Toads to Your Garden

1) Cultivate native plants

A toad sheltering under plants
Native shrubs and trees can act as a sturdy form of shelter for toads. Photo from Max Pixel

Toads tend to gravitate toward the plants that they are most familiar with in the wild. They don’t rely on the plants as food; rather, the plants attract the specific types of insects favored by native toads as prey. You can opt to grow ornamental, non-invasive plants that are sourced elsewhere, but make sure these don’t dominate the garden as toads may be warded off by their unfamiliar features.

Native shrubs and trees with extensive root systems, particularly those that create elevated structures, can attract toads as they may serve as sturdy forms of shelter. Toads may dig burrows in between enlarged roots, serving as the walls of their home. Moreover, these substrate zones tend to be shaded under a canopy of leaves or a profusion of stems, keeping the soil cool throughout the day.


2) Build a water feature

Common toad in a wildlife pond
Wildlife ponds attract adult toads and give them a place to lay their eggs. Lisa Jarvis / CC BY-SA 2.0

The best way to attract toads is by creating a wildlife pond in your garden. These will draw mature individuals, which are likely to lay thousands of eggs in the pond. After a few days, you’ll find droves of hungry tadpoles, which will grow rapidly and eventually exit the water as fully developed toads. Some are likely to remain in your garden, whereas the rest will leave in search of other habitats once the wet season is over.

Even small water features, such as miniature fountains and bowl ponds, can successfully attract toads. This is due to their capacity to attract many insects, especially those that require water for their eggs and larvae. Damp areas tend to be breeding grounds for many pests, so you can count on toads to make their homes nearby. Compared to frogs, toads are more capable of surviving in dry areas. Nonetheless, the consistent availability of clean water is a necessity for their survival.


3) Avoid using chemical fertilizer & pesticides

Two toads in a pond
You should avoid using chemical products as they can contaminate your pond water, affecting toads’ internal organs by entering through their skin. sighmanb / CC BY 2.0

Toads are extremely sensitive to chemical pollutants, which can affect their internal organs by entering through their skin. Stick to organic or homemade products which are designed to target plant pests without harming larger animals. By making the switch to all-natural materials, you would be doing a favor to not only toads but all types of beneficial animals in your garden. Keep in mind that they obtain water from natural sources, which can easily be contaminated by chemicals.


4) Create a special toad shelter

Toad sheltering in a toad house
Having a toad shelter in your garden is a great way to attract toads. Try to make sure that there are walls and a roof, but leave the floor bare for them to burrow. Image by 4wphoto from Pixabay

A toad abode, or a specially constructed shelter for amphibians, is an effective means of luring toads and getting them to stay on your property. This can be made using recycled garden materials, such as an unused flowerpot, broken jar, or hollow cement bricks. Simply choose a sturdy object with a toad-sized hole to serve as an entrance. Try to find one that will provide walls and a roof but can leave a bare floor to allow the toad to burrow.

Place the toad abode in an area that is partly sheltered by foliage and is close to a water feature. This way, the toad need never roam far for a drink and can stay comfortable throughout the day. A night light would be a great feature to add close by. This would surely attract an endless supply of insects for your toads!


5) Avoid mowing the lawn

Small toad in long blades of grass
You should try not to mow the lawn close to ponds & other water features, as small toads may be hiding in between the blades of grass! Russell Smith / CC BY 2.0

Lawnmowers are great for maintaining turf but can cause mass critter mortalities, especially during peak seasons of amphibian reproduction.  As many young toads make their way from water sources and into other habitats, they will often venture through grassy areas.

Avoid mowing the grass close to ponds and other water features. If you must, visually inspect the area beforehand, and don’t forget that small toads may be hiding under the blades of grass. It would be safer, yet more time consuming, to make use of cutting shears in these areas instead.


Can Toads Be Harmful?

Cane toad on a rock
The cane toad (pictured) is considered an invasive species in Australia, due to its fatal poison glands affecting many native animals. Pavel Kirillov from St.Petersburg, Russia, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When found in large numbers, toads can be more harmful than beneficial. They may compete with other animals for food and generate enormous amounts of waste. In Australia, where the cane toad (Rhinella marina) is considered an invasive species, many native animals are adversely affected by their abundance. Their poison glands are unfortunately fatal to many predators, which don’t instinctively avoid them. They can be harmful to curious pets as well.

In private gardens, large toads can knock over small pots, smother and urinate over young plants, burrow into moistened potted soil, and eat their fair share of desirable insects and worms. A large population may also attract predators, such as large snakes. Some snakes can even accumulate toad toxins and use them for their own protection against predation. Additional measures may be required to prevent snakes from entering toad-filled gardens.

Moreover, even toad tadpoles are capable of producing bufotoxins that can be poisonous to animals, particularly fish, that ingest them. They are often perceived as unwanted pond inhabitants when compared to the relatively harmless tadpoles of true frogs. Ornamental fish often spit them out or avoid them altogether once they’ve had a taste. 


How to Safely Get Rid of Toads

Toad eggs
If you’d like to get rid of toads & there are large clumps of toad eggs in your pond, you can leave them out to dry in the sun. Judy Gallagher / CC BY 2.0

If you find that your garden has become invaded by toads, you may need to consider a few ways to safely and effectively get rid of them or at least reduce their numbers. Start off by removing potential sites of shelter, such as empty pots, water containers, and cave-like objects. Clear out detritus, hollow logs, and brush piles that they may be hiding in or under.

Remove food and water sources, if possible, to discourage the toads from remaining in your garden. Keeping some night lights off may help reduce nocturnal insect populations. If you have a pond, it may be necessary to fence out the toads to prevent them from breeding further. Ideally, the fence slats should be tight enough to prevent them from slipping through the gaps. A height of about 10 inches may be enough to keep them from jumping over the fence. If you find large clumps of toad eggs in your pond, you can remove them and bake them under the sun so that they dry out completely.

Do not simply trap toads or fish out tadpoles with the intention of moving them to any other body of water. Trapping them is certainly more humane than killing them, but you will have to think of a suitable place to relocate them beforehand. Pick an area that is fairly distanced from urban zones and private properties – the more undeveloped, the better. If dealing with an invasive species, consult your local wildlife department for instructions on how to trap and euthanize the toads and tadpoles.


The Final Verdict

Adult toad with offspring
The benefits of toads far outweigh the harms, as long as there aren’t too many of them. GollyGforce / CC BY 2.0

In manageable numbers, toads are desirable creatures to have in gardens with native plants. The benefits of their presence far outweigh the possible harms. Both urban and rural gardens should fare well with a handful of resident toads, particularly if they have patches of plants that are susceptible to pest infestations. If you have mosquitoes in your area, toads and their tadpoles can make great biocontrol agents and eliminate the need for the chemical treatment of water systems.

Issues with toads are often associated with large colonies, which tend to occur seasonally, and invasiveness of introduced species. It’s best to eliminate egg and tadpole colonies before they arise in large numbers as mature toads. Sometimes, their onset is spurred by pockets of freshwater in unmaintained and overgrown properties. It always helps to keep one’s garden maintained as this would minimize areas where wild animals can eventually settle and breed.

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