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  • Species Dive 11: The quintessential Southern Toad

    The Southern Toad (Anaxyrus terrestris) is a medium-sized frog species found throughout the southeastern United States, including parts of southern Mississippi. These toads are an important part of the local ecosystem, serving as both predator and prey in various food webs. The southern toad is a terrestrial species, meaning that it spends most of its time on land rather than in water. They can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, marshes, and suburban areas. These toads are particularly common in areas with sandy or loose soils, as they may burrow to escape the heat and dryness of the summer months. Especially in warmer months, they are active after dusk catching prey or moving to breeding wetlands during warm rains.

    Amplexing pair of Southern toads in a coastal neighborhood after a rainy morning

    Southern toads, like other North American toads, have appetites for diverse prey items, including ants, beetles, spiders, and even worms or snails. They help to control the populations of these smaller creatures, especially in urban areas where these frogs’ populations persist. Southern toads are also important prey items for birds, snakes, and mammals. In particular, the Eastern and Southern Hognose snakes rely on toads for a majority of their diet.

    Despite spending most of their adult life on land, toads still require small bodies of water to produce offspring. They may be seen or heard in nearly any type of wetland in their range. In the spring and early summer, male southern toads will begin calling to attract females to their breeding sites. They are often heard calling among Spring Peepers, Southern Chorus Frogs, Barking Treefrogs, and Green Treefrogs. The southern toad call sounds like a long “whirrrr” . Once a female has been attracted to a male’s call, the two will engage in amplexus (the male grasping onto the female and fertilizing the eggs as they are laid). Southern toad egg masses appear as long strands and may be visually abundant in highly active shallow wetlands.

    This common species can take on a variety of looks and sizes in southern Mississippi. Females tend to be larger than males. Patterns may vary from completely reddish, gray, mottled brown or any combination of those (see images below). Their cranial crest morphology is the most important feature for determining species though. In Southern toads, a prominent tear-shaped lump differentiates them from other species in their range, such as the Fowler’s Toad or Gulf Coast Toad.

    Dark individual from the Florida Panhandle with cranial crest “knobs” present