Colorado River Toad (Incilius alvarius)

Toads in general are fairly odd looking animals. I don’t think I’ve seen a toad and thought to myself ‘wow, what a beautiful animal,’ but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Still, today’s animal, the Colorado River toad, is not one of the best-looking toads out there.

Colorado River toads are not just found in the Colorado River — they also live in the Gila River, which means you can find these toads in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Northern Mexico. They primarily live in semi-arid and arid habitats, and are especially abundant near sources of water, such as streams, canals, and drainage ditches. These toads have a patch of skin on their bellies that absorbs oxygen from any water the toad is sitting in.

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The distribution of the Colorado River toad. Image source: Wikipedia

Colorado River toads get pretty big for toads, and are the largest native toad in the United States (only being surpassed by the invasive cane toad). They grow to be 19 cm long, and have super attractive olive green skin with warts on their hind legs. River toads have large parotid glands behind their eyes, and a light green eardrum just below these glands.

River toads are nocturnal, spending the daytime sequestered in rodent burrows. They come out at night to feed, munching on a variety of tasty insects, including snails, beetles, spiders and grasshoppers. River toads will also eat other vertebrates, such as lizards, small mammals, and other amphibians.

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See how ugly these guys are? Image source: Wikipedia

Colorado River toads don’t have to worry too much about predators; they have glands on their legs and on the corners of their mouths that secrete toxins. These are enough to deter most predators, as animals as large as dogs have been paralyzed or killed by the toxins. Some animals have learned to work around the River toads’ secretions — raccoons in particular are known for pulling a toad by its leg and then flipping it over, so they can feed on the toxin-free belly.

While the toxins produced by the Colorado River toad can be deadly, they are also hallucinogenic. The main compounds in River toad secretions are 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin, both of which are used recreationally. Smoking these substances avoids their toxic effects, and gives the user a sense of euphoria as well as hallucinations. There are laws restricting the use of toad toxins, however, as the toxins are controlled substances.

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I got to test out my new watercolour pencils to draw these guys! You can check out my website for more art. 

While its overall population is doing quite well, in California and New Mexico, the Colorado River toad is endangered or threatened. It is therefore illegal to capture a River toad from the wild in those states. Hopefully these measures work and prevent this funny little toad from going through widespread population decline.

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