Amphibians can survive in various climates and conditions, but they are universally vulnerable to extreme colds. Toads are easy to find during the Spring and Summer, but they seem to go missing during Winters. Their sudden disappearance leaves animal lovers and enthusiasts to wonder where they go during the coldest season of the year.
Toads generally burrow underground during the Winter, seeking shelter around 3 ft below the frost line since toads are not freeze-tolerant. Hiding underground typically provides shelter from the cold. Toads survive winter by hibernating, and absorbing moisture and oxygen from the surrounding soil.
One study (Bull, 2006) conducted into toad hibernation locations assessed the general popularity of common underground areas, and the findings are as follows:
|Where Toads Hibernate||Pourcentage|
|Under Large Rocks||27%|
|Under Logs or Root Wads||19%|
|Under Banks Adjacent to Streams||15%|
While most toads hibernate underground during winter, many factors still influence their survival rates. Join us as we discuss some of the most common areas toads use for hibernation during winters and how they survive extremely cold climate conditions.
Note: The use of the term “hibernation” to qualify prolonged, ectothermic amphibian rest is a debated topic in the biology community, as many scientists prefer the term “brumation” for frogs. Brumaiton is used to qualify prolonged periods of rest for ectothermic animals. However, due to what readers are searching online, we will use the term “hibernation” this article.
Toads Hibernate Underground During Winter
Toads hibernate on land, generally 1 m or 3 ft below the frost line. Toads hibernate in rodent tunnels, natural crevices, under rocks, and prefer soft sand to create their own burrows. Toads have been found to burrow in groups in communal hibernation sites if locations are scarce.
Toads seek shelter in the warmest places possible, involving areas that are shielded from snow and frost. Toads burrow and hide underground during winter, approximately 3 feet below the frost line. Finding shelter at these depths typically helps their bodies maintain sufficient warmth to survive throughout winters since they are not freeze tolerate like other frogs.
While these areas are most common throughout various regions, toads are incredibly creative with their hibernation locations, depending on what is available in the wild. Using existing underground spaces is generally preferred as it saves time and energy for toads as winter draws near.
Other common hibernation areas for toads include:
- Peat hummocks
- Red Squirrel middens
- Cavities under trees
- Decayed root tunnels
- Natural crevice systems
- Abandoned beaver lodges
- Common Muskrat tunnels
- Spruce-dominated tree stands
While natural crevices and underground locations are easy to find in some areas, not all toads have access to these areas. For this reason, many toads resort to finding a suitable location and creating their own hideaways.
These amphibians are equipped with unique feet. Unlike frogs which generally have padded or webbed feet for swimming and climbing, toads generally have strong, spade or finger shaped feet for digging. Toads usually prefer softer sand or soil, as this type of ground is easier to manipulate when creating custom burrows for hibernation.
Toads typically hibernate in isolation wherever possible. However, this is not always possible depending on what resources are available in the wild. Toads may hibernate in groups if there is a shortage of suitable hibernation locations. This compromise may not be ideal for toads, but it generally increases the overall survival rates and aids species continuation.
What Happens If Toads Do Not Find Suitable Locations?
If toads do not find suitable shelter to hibernate throughout freezing winters, they will be exposed to harsh colds and will likely pass away from freezing. Another risk is that toads may be disturbed from their hibernation state too soon if they have chosen unsuitable locations, which can lead to ‘winter kill’.
Unlike some amphibians such as tree frogs, toads are not freeze-tolerant creatures. They cannot adapt their bodily functions enough to survive in harsh colds, and they will die if left exposed to these conditions.
Research and studies have reported that toads can die at temperatures ranging between 29°F and 23°F. Since they are so vulnerable to cold conditions and hibernation spots can be challenging to find, toads often return to the same hibernation locations each year to ensure their survival.
How Toads Survive The Winter
The hibernation location plays a massive role in their survival chances and will directly impact how much cold toads are exposed to (CTNF). They will not be able to survive for very long if they have not identified a suitable location. But, their preparation concerning primary survival needs greatly impacts their longevity.
Toads start preparing for winter’s onset well in advance, typically starting their preparation after the mating season ends. They eat large amounts of food before winter to create food reserves in their systems and ensure that they have enough nourishment to maintain vital bodily functions while hibernating.
The United States Department of Agriculture estimated that one adult toad could consume up to around 10,000 pests over a single summer to acquire sufficient stored nutrition for winter. These pests can range depending on the toad species but generally include small invertebrates such as bugs and insects or even small mammals such as rodents.
Since toads overeat throughout the year and use these reserves in winter, their overall size can fluctuate. It is common for onlookers to witness plump toads throughout summer and skinny toads emerging during spring. I sure saw this every year with the toads that liked to roam my backyard as a child.
A common misconception is that toads hibernate near water sources, a method that is fairly widespread amongst many frog species. Toads primarily need water bodies for hydration, finding prey, and reproduction. But, they do not need to hibernate near water bodies.
Primary aspects of health can generally be taken care of underground since spaces deep underground often feature higher moisture levels. Since toads absorb water through their skin and drinking patches, they can absorb the soil’s moisture content while they hibernate to keep them hydrated through the season.
Another concern is the potential for toads suffocating underground, but toads can still breathe underground thanks to their permeable skin. The soil around them usually holds a fair amount of oxygen, which toads can absorb directly into their bodies via gas exchange.
How To Help Toads Hibernate
If your region experiences chilling colds and freezing temperatures throughout winter, the toads in your area will certainly need to hibernate to survive. Animal lovers and amphibian enthusiasts can help them endure such harsh climate conditions by providing alternative toad hibernation locations.
Human intervention can be particularly helpful in cases where hibernation locations are lacking, and toads may be forced to share their spots. A hibernaculum or natural underground area can be created in your yard or communal habitats if permitted. Such areas are useful for many animals seeking shelter from the cold, including toads.
I personally noticed that toads disappear and begin the hibernation process in South Eastern Canada well before the first frost, around the end of August and beginning of September. Try to create a toad hibernaculum in your yard by mid Summer so the toads have time to find the location and use it in the Winter.
More About Toads And Hibernation
Although toads are vulnerable to harsh conditions and extreme colds, they are incredibly skilled and creative survivors. Toads generally hide underground during winters after bulking up on nutrient reserves, which allows them to continue vital bodily functions while maintaining a relatively stable body temperature.
Learn more about how frogs and toads hibernate during winter on our blog:
- Frog Hibernation: How Frogs Survive Winter
- When Do Frogs Come Out Of Hibernation?
- Where Do Tree Frogs Go In The Winter?
- Where Do Toads Live?
Bull, Evelyn L. 2006. Sexual differences in the ecology and habitat selection of western toads (Bufo boreas) in northeastern Oregon. Herpetological Conservation and Biology. Vol. 1(1): 27-38