From Tadpoles to Toads


I was recently on vacation with my family at a nearby state park. As the week passed my nephew, Max, became quickly known as the toad finder. “Found another one,” he would call out. Having a fondness for toads myself, I couldn’t help but smile each time he found one. By about toad number eight, the rest of the family would laugh and say “it’s just a toad.” To Max, it was another cool find. To me, it’s an amazing feat. Not necessarily the toad finding, but the life of each toad.


Most people are aware that a toad starts off in an egg. The egg hatches into tadpole and gradually changes into an adult toad. However, did you know that one female toad can lay up to 12,000 eggs in one summer? Toad eggs look similar to cooked strands of spaghetti with small black dots inside. After a week or two, the eggs hatch and tiny black tadpoles swim around looking for plant material to eat.

After another two to three weeks, the tadpoles begin to develop back and front legs. This process of change from egg to tadpole to adult, also known as metamorphosis, happens fairly quickly with American toads when compared to other frogs. For example, a bull frog will remain in the tadpole stage for up to two years! It’s all in the location. American toads will breed in temporary vernal ponds, but the tadpoles can’t survive without water so they grow quickly. Bull frogs breed in deeper water that stays around all year, so they can take more time with their development.


My favorite time of the year in nature is around the middle of June when the toads come out of the water with all four legs and are ready to hop into the forest to find a new home. When you first look down in the water, it looks as if bugs are crawling around the pond. But with closer inspection you’ll these tiny toads that could easily fit on your fingernail! Every year I find it amazing that these tiny toadlets will grow into the toads that young boys and girls (and me) like to catch. Something that starts off looking like spaghetti and then turns into a 2-4 inch full-grown toad really is amazing.

I encourage you to go out and find a toad this summer. Take a look, and then let it go to finish out its amazing life cycle.

Julie Robinson, Naturalist