It must be a hard thing, to name an animal. Years after you’ve named it, people who write blogs will criticize the name you chose, and changes in classification will often mean the name you picked is now wrong. Such is the case of today’s animal, the narrow-mouthed toad. For this species isn’t really a toad, and there isn’t much of an explanation as to why it’s called narrow-mouthed, other than that it has a pointy snout.

Eastern narrow-mouthed toads live in the U.S., in the southeastern part of the country. They are extremely flexible creatures, and are able to survive in an area as long as they have shelter and moisture. They are found in a wide range of habitats, including swamps, forests, streams, and under sandy moist suburban lawns.

These toads don’t get overly large, only reaching lengths of 5.3 cm. They can be a number of different colours, from brown to green to grey, with black and white spotting. Narrow-mouthed toads can change colour based on their environment and movement. Telling the difference between males and females of this species is fairly easy; male toads have darkly coloured throats, while females don’t. They lack webbing between their toes, but do a have tubercle on their back heels which is used to dig burrows.

A sandy-looking narrow-mouthed toad. Image source: See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Narrow-mouthed toads are insect eaters, preying on beetles, termites and ants. Ants are their primary food source, and they will sometimes sit right at the openings of anthills to gobble up any unfortunate ant that wanders into the open. The toads have some adaptations that protect them against any aggressive, stinging ants they choose to eat. They have extremely tough skin, and flaps of skin behind their eyes that fold forward to dislodge any attacking ants. The toads also can secrete a mucus that contains membrane-irritating toxins. This not only protects the narrow-mouthed toads from ants, but also helps ward off predators.

Breeding season in narrow-mouthed toads is triggered by strong rains, which usually occur between April and October in the south, and in midsummer in the northern part of their range. Males call to females with a high-pitched sheep-like sound, which I guess the females find alluring. Once a female comes to a male, the male grabs the female and mates with her. He secretes a special goo that makes him stick to the female, which helps him stay on in case other males try and remove him.

Eastern narrow-mouthed toad eggs, floating in some water. Image by Fredlyfish4, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Females lay their eggs on the water’s surface, in clusters of 10-150, for a total of around 800 eggs. These hatch within three days, and metamorphose into adults in 23-67 days. They have unusual feeding habits for frog tadpoles, in that they are filter feeders, living on plankton in the water. Tadpoles are vulnerable to predators, but the older ones are toxic, making them a bit of a dangerous snack.

Though narrow-mouthed toads are not often seen, because they burrow and are nocturnal, they are actually quite common. Thanks to their ability to survive in a variety of habitats, these guys are likely to stay abundant for a long while.

Cover image by Wilafa, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons