Can Toads Swim? 5 Facts About Their Relationship with Water

Written by Sofia Fantauzzo
Published: December 9, 2023
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Despite their similarities to water-loving frogs and other amphibians, toads live a bit of a different life. Interestingly, toads don’t swim. However, this might not be the strangest thing you learn about these plump amphibians. Here are some other interesting toad factoids (or factoads) that might surprise you.

Frogs and Toads: What’s the Difference?

At first glance, frogs and toads can look almost indistinguishable. However, a closer look reveals a few telling differences.

Both toads and frogs are amphibians, animals that require a moist environment to survive. Salamanders and axolotls also fall into this category. However, frogs depend on a moist environment more so than toads, which is why these jumping creatures never stray too far from water. Alternatively, you’re more likely to see a toad in a dry area like a meadow or field. This is especially true outside of breeding season, as this is when they need access to water the most.

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In addition to the frog’s proclivity for water, you’ll notice they always look a bit more glossy and wet than toads, which tend to look rather dull and even dry. Toads also have bumpy skin, while frogs have sleek, dewy skin. A toad is generally much more squat-looking, with shorter legs and round bodies. Frogs have longer legs used to jump long distances. Usually, a frog’s legs will be longer than their head and body put together.

Now that some basics about toads are out of the way, here are some facts that can illustrate just how unique this amphibian is in its relationship to water.

1. Toads Can Breathe Underwater

An American Toad with throat sac inflated, singing his song and creating ripples in the water.

Even though toads don’t “ribbit” they do sing by inflating their throats to create ripples in the water.

©iStock.com/ttbphoto

Like many other species of amphibians, toads can breathe through their skin. They also have a set of lungs, though they’re not as robust or developed as those of reptiles or birds. If a toad is under sufficiently oxygenated water, they can breathe. Since these animals can’t swim, they might only be in the water for a short period of time before resurfacing and returning to their normal land activities. Toads can also absorb water and therefore, oxygen, through thick substances like mud.

2. Toads Are Mostly Terrestrial

Toad hunting - Open mouth. Duttaphrynus melanostictus is called Asian common toad, Asian black-spined, black-spectacled, common Sunda, Javanese toad. In the garden on the brazilian grass. Night.

Having a toad in your garden can help keep the level of pests like insects and slugs at an all-time low.

©Oksana Bokhonok/Shutterstock.com

Most toad species are terrestrial for a large portion of their lives. This means they spend most of their days outside of water and on dry land. However, toads do need access to water to survive, but also to spawn. A toad will spend most months of the year in somewhat dry conditions, like gardens or open areas of land. Even during the time they’re near water, it’s typically just for a short soak.

3. Toads Require Water to Breed

American Toad Tadpole swimming in a pond.

The best egg-laying waters are calm and shallow.

©greggnormal/Shutterstock.com

Female toads lay eggs into bodies of water where they are promptly fertilized by a male. The necessity of water is due to the fact that toad eggs don’t have a shell to retain moisture. So, a safe and typically still body of water is needed to keep the eggs from drying out.

A few different toad species allowed evolution to take the reins. Living in areas that lack suitable places for toads to lay their eggs “traditionally”, some species found in the Nimbaphrynoides and Nectophrynoides families give birth to live young, skipping the tadpole stage and involvement of water altogether.

For example, Nectophrynoides asperginis, or the Kihansi spray toad, lives in misty areas and survives along waterfalls, getting water from the spray of these falls which lends to their common name. The speed and tumultuous nature of the waterfalls means there aren’t many safe, steady areas of water ideal for egg-laying. Therefore, this species handles breeding in a different way. They require internal fertilization and gestation of the eggs. Since there isn’t a free-living tadpole stage, juveniles are born through the toad’s cloaca.

4. Toads Migrate Back to Their Birthplace to Lay Eggs

The phenomenon of returning to the birthplace to lay eggs is shared by salmon.

©Gannet77/ via Getty Images

Each spring, in the case of most species, toads migrate back to where they were born to have young of their own. Even after reaching their ancestral pool to breed, toads aren’t interested in hanging around for a dip. They usually spend the summer catching insects or other prey while preparing to migrate back to specific areas for the fall and winter.

5. Toads Drink Water Through Their Skin

Eastern American Toad sitting on moss at the water's edge.

Toads can breathe through their skin, but water absorption happens in a particular area of their bodies.

©Tom Reichner/Shutterstock.com

Much like breathing, toads can, in fact, drink water through their skin. This is why shallow areas of water are important for these creatures. They like to sit in water that reaches their abdomen to “drink”. Through their permeable skin and a region called the “seat patch” water is taken into the body. Despite its poorly understood mechanism, this seat patch is crucial to the survival of the toad. Its permeability is regulated by hormones which can control the rate of water absorption, an important element in achieving just the right amount of hydration.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Steve Byland/ via Getty Images


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About the Author

Sofia is a lover of all things nature, and has completed a B.S. in Botany at the University of Florida (Go Gators!). Professionally, interests include everything plant and animal related, with a penchant for writing and bringing science topics to a wider audience. On the off-occasion she is not writing or playing with her cats or crested gecko, she can be found outside pointing out native and invasive plants while playing Pokemon Go.

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