How to Breed American Toads

Male American toads call to attract females.
Male American toads call to attract females. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

American toads (Bufo americanus) settle well into captivity. If they are a native species in your area, you can breed them in a pond. Otherwise, because of the risk of the toads escaping outdoors and possibly causing problems for local wildlife, use a large indoor tank for the purpose. Before you start such a project, ensure you have homes for all the resulting toadlets. If your toads breed, you will have a lot of little toads; one female toad can lay up to 8,000 eggs. Amphibians are not the easiest animals to find good homes for if you get stuck. Once this is all arranged, a breeding project can be fascinating.

Things You'll Need

  • 2-foot long or larger tank
  • Amphibian substrate and accessories
  • Large ceramic dish
  • Aquatic plants
  • Another tank with light and filter
  • Aquarium gravel and rocks
  • Phytoplankton
  • Live food
  • Fish or tadpole food
  • Gravel cleaner with hose
  • Buckets
  • Plastic container
  • Cardboard

Create a terrarium with an amphibian substrate and suitable hiding and resting places, such as pieces of bark.

Introduce a mature male and a mature female toad. The females are larger and have paler throats.

Add a large ceramic dish of dechlorinated water to the tank. Once the toads mate, the female lays her eggs in pools. Some aquatic plants in the dish produce a more natural environment. Toads are excellent swimmers, so the risk of them drowning is minimal.

Set up the second tank as a freshwater aquarium with gravel and aquatic plants. Pile rocks to create a land area on one side of the tank. Once the tadpoles become toads, they move out of the water. Let the tank cycle, the plants establish themselves and natural algae grow while you await the female toad spawning.

Transfer the eggs to the aquarium. Allow at least 1 gallon of water for every three to four eggs. For example, a 15-gallon tank should have no more than 60 eggs. Some of these won’t hatch and some tadpoles will only live a few days, usually leaving an optimal maximum of two tadpoles per gallon. Dispose of excess eggs or set up additional tanks. The eggs are highly unlikely to survive out of water; but to make sure they won’t hatch in the garbage or on your compost heap, you can freeze them first.

Feed the tadpoles phytoplankton (algae) for the first week. Some should be in the tank, but probably not enough to sustain the tadpoles. Extra phytoplankton is available from aquarium suppliers. Boiled lettuce or spinach is another suitable vegetable food. Feed small amounts several times a day.

Continue feeding phytoplankton after a week, but introduce small live food such as daphnia (water fleas) and supplement with high-quality fish or tadpole foods. Judge how much of each food group to feed by how much the tadpoles eat. Unlike fish, tadpoles are unlikely to overeat and your main concern is preventing too much uneaten food from polluting the tank. Once the tadpoles have fully formed front legs, they are likely to stop eating vegetable matter. These foods, along with all the other equipment you need, are available from aquarium suppliers.

Change up to a quarter of the water weekly. Remove water with the gravel cleaner and a bucket, and replace with fresh, dechlorinated water. Place the end of the hose in the bucket under the tank, shake the gravel cleaner up and down in the water, and focus on removing debris along with the water.

Transfer the animals to a terrarium once they have lost their tails and emerge from the water. Move amphibians by pushing them into a plastic container with a piece of cardboard or scooping them out of the water. Don’t touch them with your bare hands unless absolutely necessary.

Tips & Warnings

  • To encourage American toads to breed in a garden pond, discontinue use of chemicals in and around the pond and allow dense vegetation to grow nearby. A loose pile of undisturbed scrap wood is also appealing to toads. If toads don't visit your pond, although they are prevalent in the area, transfer some eggs or tadpoles from a local pond. Once these become toads, they should return to your pond to breed the following year.
  • Dechlorinate tap water either by leaving in a bucket for 24 hours or with a commercial dechlorinator, available from aquarium supply stores.

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