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Houston Toad and Its Habitat

Houston toads are generally brown and speckled, but individual coloration can vary considerably, with some appearing to be light brown and others almost black. They also may have a slightly reddish, yellowish or greyish hue. Their legs have darker bands across them, and there are two dark bands extending from each eye down to the mouth. A variable white stripe usually extends down the middle of the back, but can be absent, and there are irregular white streaks along the sides of the toad’s body. Their undersides are generally white with variable amounts of black speckling. In males the throat is black. Adult Houston toads are medium-sized (2 to 3.5 inches) with females larger and bulkier than males. As with most toads, they are stout-bodied animals with short legs and rough warty skin.

     
   
  Male and female Houston toads  

 

The Houston toad is a very secretive species and is seldom seen, except on warm, humid evenings during its breeding season (January-June, with a peak in February and March), when males call to attract females. Calling males at a breeding pond is known as a “chorus.” The chorus heralds the coming of spring. Echoing through the forest, the high clear trills sound much like the tinkling of small bells. Males vocalize by distending the vocal sac. When the sac is distended, the skin of the throat appears dark and bluish. Females of this species do not vocalize.  Listen to a single male Houston toad.  Listen to a chorus of Houston toads.

 

After adult and young toads leave the breeding pond, they forage across the landscape looking for insects and other invertebrates, traveling up to a mile within a 24-hour period. Because their skin is more-or-less permeable to water, toads become dormant to escape harsh weather conditions, such as winter cold (hibernation) and drought (aestivation). They seek protection during this time by burrowing into sand or hiding under rocks, logs, leaf litter, or in abandoned animal burrows. Even though the Houston toad secretes distasteful chemicals, adults and young are known to fall victims to predators as diverse as spiders, snakes, turtles, owls, raccoons, and other frogs.

 

     
   
  Houston toad habitat  

The Houston toad depends on healthy and mature forest ecosystems with mixed species composition, significant canopy cover, an open understory layer with an herbaceous component, and breeding pools with shaded edges.  Unmanaged forests in residential areas and forests that sustain other types of land uses, such as recreational or agricultural activities, can become less suitable as Houston toad habitat over time.  Without active management, forests can become too dense and shaded, accumulate dangerous levels of burnable duff and debris, and be negatively impacted by cattle, pollutants, and vehicles.  These and other changes may reduce the ability of forest ecosystems to provide quality Houston toad habitat by altering the toad’s food base and competitive environment, increasing the risk of catastrophic fires that could destroy large blocks of habitat, and reducing Houston toad reproductive success.  Active management of existing forests and reducing negative impacts from various types of land uses within and adjacent to forested areas is essential to the long-term sustainability of Houston toad habitat.  Judging from the Bastrop County deep sandy mosaics of breeding habitat and extrapolation from other species, Houston toads may be expected to disperse from their breeding habitat outward to 3 miles.  Dispersal habitats are large and do not require deep sandy soils, but may well require some overstory components. 



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