I believe this is a juvenile Gulf Coast Toad. I was very surprised to find this little guy in my backyard last summer. As you can see, the toadlet is very small. It is only slightly larger than a toadlet newly transformed from a tadpole. I am not sure how best to estimate the age of toadlets, but I would guess that this one is right around a month old, give or take a week. And, that is what I found puzzling about this observation.

My understanding is that Gulf Coast Toads need a standing body of water to reproduce in. Gulf Coast Toads mate in water, they lay their eggs in water, and they spend almost two months as tadpoles in water. I would expect that even very young toadlets also require close proximity to water, at least for several days after they transform. The problem is there are no standing bodies of water near my house that this little guy could have come from.

The nearest semi-permanent water supply is a small creek that cuts through the middle of our subdivision. At its closest, the creek is several hundred yards/meters away from my house. That means that this little toadlet would have had to traverse the better part of a residential neighborhood, roads and all, in Texas summer heat to make it to my house from the creek.

To further complicate the matter, though, is the fact that my fence has a treated timber baseboard that is actually sunk into the ground. This effectively seals off my backyard from small animals like this toadlet. Still, there are one or two places that it could have made it through, so I cannot totally eliminate it as a possibility.

Is it possible that this is how the toadlet found its way into my backyard? Maybe. Probably. But, is it also possible that Gulf Coast Toads can reproduce in more unexpected places?

Maybe enough water collects for Gulf Coast Toads to breed in unseen places, like under sidewalks, or in water meter recesses. Maybe they are able to make use of standing water in the storm sewage system, and are somehow able to climb out of the deep drains. Or, maybe they are able to breed in areas of vegetation and soil that only stay saturated with water.

There is an area like this in my front yard. Its on the side of my house in a place that sunlight only hits for about an hour every day. Water does not pool here for long, but the ground stays very wet and never fully dries out. The area is a soupy mixture of water, soil, and grass clippings. Is it possible that Gulf Coast eggs could hatch and their tadpoles could live out their larval stage in these kind of conditions? There would be plenty of vegetation for them to eat. Maybe there would be enough moisture there for them to breathe as well. Are there any experts out there who can help address this?

Curiously, I found another toadlet, of similar size, in that exact location in my front yard a little later that day.

13 Replies to “Gulf Coast Toad – A Curious Case”

  1. Wow very interesting, I to have this same thing going on. I had a whole big family of hudge Gulf Coast Toads on my property in the past 10 years we have lived in Paige Texas. We have no water source al all that could give them even a place to bread or the standing water needed for them to go from tadpole to toad, but we have them. A year ago a fire took out our whole area. Our house burned to the ground in the Bastrop Complex Fire. We rebuilt our home on the same area as the old house. I was hoping by doing this we would not disturb our toad habitat. We lucked out! Our toads are back. I counted 8 of different sizes and even a tiny baby. I have no idea where they are getting water from. We had a deck on our home that burned and put a new deck on the new home. For the past months I have been hearing them but could not find them until today when hubby moved some wood and we found 8 of them in different sizes. We have had hardly any rain and we have no standing water anywhere. We have no yard yet. The only thing I can think of is I have a few potted plants on our deck and I water them everyday and their some runoff going under the deck. So we have the same situation and no water source close by at all.

  2. Laura,

    There must be at least a temporary watersource within a mile? These toads thrive in a variety of habitats but they typically breed in either a) vernal ponds or b) limestone creeks away from the main current or waterflow. Is there a creek system within a mile? Are there low lying areas nearby that briefly fill with water in spring?

  3. I have some questions, do gulf coast toads know how to climb and swim? I haven’t found out if they do yet but post a comment if you have an answer

    1. Gulf coast toads have a limited ability to swim and climb. They can move around in the water quite competently, but I don’t think you would ever find one up in a tree.

      1. Yes they are proficient climbers have been known to be found 5meters up a tree. Impressive they use the knot holes and they can potentially lay eggs in a hollow that has filled. This is how pois
        ion dart frogs lay there eggs.

    2. I have been wondering if they climb as well! I’ve got a large potted planter that comes up to my mid calf/knee area and one evening seen this toad literally just plop out. It’s in the pot again today and I honestly am at a complete loss on how it’s getting in there.

  4. We had two toads living under our back porch for years. We’d see them every now and then in the back yard. I think they may have been getting water from a faucet with a hose attached nearby that would drip sometimes. Then this summer, my husband built a pond in our back yard for our pet turtle (red eared slider) to move into. He is outgrowing his tank.Two days after he filled the pond, two toads appeared and were doing their amazingly loud mating call. We have never heard a peep out of these or any toads or frogs in the 20 years we have lived in our house, not until we built this pond. Then suddenly it was quiet again. Two days later, we had zillions of tadpoles in the pond. Our toads found love! So I suppose it is possible that someone nearby has a pond that some toads decided to breed in. I’ve also heard people say that they have gone outside and found tadpoles in water troughs, kiddie pools that hadn’t been emptied, and puddles. The water would have to stay deep enough to feed tadpoles for about 5 weeks before the toads are ready to hop out, but from what I’ve read they are very resilient and can live almost anywhere and only need a water source for breeding, otherwise they find water where they can for drinking. By the way, the walls around our pond are about 2-3 feet high and there is a small “beach” where they landed on the pond side and where they sat to do their mating calling. We saw those toads who were calling hop out easily and also saw one swimming in the water. I think she was the female who had just laid her eggs. Later did some research to find they must be Gulf Coast toads. I’m in Austin, TX.

  5. For the longest time I too was wondering about this. I regularly come across several young gulf coast toads of roughly the same size in my backyard, despite the closest obvious standing water source being a rainwater runoff that’s about half a mile away. I knew there was no way these little guys were hatching so far away and then hopping through all of the obstacles between here and there to end up in my backyard.

    But just today, I came across something which solved this mystery (at least for my location). There has been a moderate drought going on in Galveston County, causing the clay soil which my property sits on to shrink, forming big cracks in the soil. For the most part these cracks are hidden beneath the thatch on the ground, you might never know they’re even present. But while watering my grass I noticed an area of the ground that was drinking up gallon after gallon without puddling on the surface. A closer look revealed a crack in the soil about 3/4 of an inch wide. I was curious how deep the crack ran so I turned the hose on full blast and sat the end inside it to try and fill it up. After about 500-750 gallons of water being dumped down it, it still wasn’t reaching the surface. So apparently there is a fairly large area of empty space beneath the surface, and with the heavy clay composition of the soil it seems very likely that these areas are holding water at the bottom, which would be perfect for the toads to use for reproduction. And it’s not just drought + clay soil that’ll cause this scenario, a leaking water pipe underground will over time create the same sort of aquatic underground cavity elsewhere. I believe this has to be the answer to the gulf coast toad mystery.

  6. I’d didn’t read all the responses so I don’t know if someone already answered your questions already. They can breed in you air conditioner drain puddle, or a neighbors. Anyone in the area could have an old aquarium on the side of the house they haven’t thrown away and it’s sitting right by the house so when it rains the water runs off the roof in to it filling it to the to or nearly to the top. A 20 gallon tank of water would take a lot of time to evaporate. A small water leak in a sprinkler system valve combined with a lid to the valve area that has a chunk broken off by a lawnmower would be sufficient. The most likely is the AC drain, you’ll find lots of houses have toads living under the AC condenser and it not uncommon for the AC drain and the AC condenser to either be on the same side of the house. Its also quite common for the yard area between two houses to have one neighbors AC drain and the other neighbors condenser.

  7. The newly transformed young toads can climb straight up the side of a plastic pail, and even adult toads can climb vertical pipes as long as the diameter is narrow enough for them to touch the sides. I’ve seen the newly transformed little toads swarming out of a gutter downspout, up out of storm drains, and yes even from beneath sidewalks. Other weird places might include garden decorations that water can get into, hollow tree stumps or fence posts, etc. They are most likely breeding in places where there is unseen standing water – which is good, because so are the mosquitoes. You’ll need the toads around. ps yes thats really my name

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