Toads are members of the Amphibia Class, alongside frogs, salamanders, caecilians, and newts. Like snakes, they’re ectothermic, relying on the heat of the sun to warm their bodies. Most toads grow to modest sizes, but one species more than earns its title as the largest toad in the world. The largest toad in the world is the cane toad, also known as the marine toad, or giant neotropical toad.
Here, we’ll learn all about the cane toad. We’ll start by diving into its appearance, behavior, habitat, and range. We’ll go over the ways this massive amphibian reproduces, and how it can increase its population so swiftly. Then, we’ll learn about what cane toads eat, and whether or not these slimy hoppers are poisonous. After that, we’ll take a look at the true size of the cane toad, and the largest pet cane toad ever recorded. Finally, we’ll check out what it means to call the cane toad an invasive species, and what you should do if you happen to handle one.
All About the Cane Toad—The Largest Toad in the World
Cane toads look like your typical toad—long, powerful back legs, bowlegged, bulldog-like front legs, and large mouths. They have rough, warty skin that fades from yellowish-brown on the back to dirty tan on the belly. Unlike other species of amphibians, cane toad’s toes have no ‘toe-pads’, and only the back feet have partial webbing. Cane toads have large eyes with horizontal, slitted pupils. They also have bony ridges over their eyes that connect just over the nose in a ridge. Behind the eyes lie large poison glands.
Cane toads are originally native to the Amazon Basin in South America, as well as parts of Central America. There, they live in many habitats, including tropical rainforests and semiarid deserts. These toads are frequently found near water, but aren’t as aquatic as other species of amphibians.
All cane toads start life as eggs floating in the water. Females can reproduce at any time of the year, and lay between 8,000-30,000 eggs at a time. The eggs develop into legless tadpoles. After about a month, they grow into small versions of the adults called toadlets. Once they’ve grown to a couple of inches long, they can begin creating more toadlets. Cane toads live for anywhere from 5-10 years in the wild.
What do Cane Toads Eat?
For their size, cane toads are wonders of the natural world. An adult cane toad is the apex predator of its domain. These powerful hunters use their long back legs to ambush prey; they can leap several feet in one bound. Cane toads hunt everything that they can fit into their mouth. For young toads, this includes insects like cockroaches, crickets, centipedes, and ants. They’ll also happily eat slugs, snails, leeches, and spiders.
The bigger the toad, the bigger the creatures it can eat. The largest adult cane toads are capable of consuming lizards, snakes, mice, rats, birds, and even other toads and frogs. Because they are such consummate eaters, cane toads can rapidly change the ecology of any area they live in.
Just How Big is the Largest Toad in the World?
The average length for an adult cane toad is 4-6 inches from snout to rear end, this does not include the length of the legs when outstretched. If these toads only ever grew to six inches long though, they wouldn’t be the largest toad in the world. In fact, the largest toad in the world grows up to a whopping nine inches long. Females are slightly bigger than males. And there are reports of cane toads growing up to an astounding 15 inches long, and weighing up to four pounds.
Are Cane Toads Poisonous?
Unlike rattlesnakes, which use their fangs to inject venom into their prey, cane toads use their bodies to passively poison would-be attackers. The large glands just behind the cane toads’ eyes actually hold large reserves of a sticky, milky poison called bufotoxin. When threatened, cane toads actually secrete this bufotoxin through their skin. This means that, for any creature unfortunate enough to try to take a bite of a cane toad, death often comes swiftly and without mercy. Even cane toad tadpoles and eggs secrete this poison, making them unsafe for any creature to consume or even touch.
Is the World’s Largest Toad an Invasive Species?
The largest toad in the world is one of the most problematic invasive species on the planet. Decades ago, people envisioned the cane toad as the key to biological insect pest control. This was particularly true in countries like Australia that grew and exported sugarcane—a crop that needed to be protected from insects.
Unfortunately, the largest toad in the world did even better in its new home than expected. Cane toads came to displace many of the native amphibians. And, since cane toads eat anything that comes across their path (if they can fit it in their mouth, these monsters eat it) they’ve actually decimated small mammal populations.
Further, cane toads secrete poison. So, when lizards or snakes, or even dogs or cats, try to get a mouthful of a cane toad, they often die from the poisonous after-effects. Even the eggs are unsafe to eat; there are several recorded human deaths attributed to ingestion of cane toads or their eggs.
But, cane toads aren’t just invasive in the land down under. They’ve also been introduced to Hawaii, Guam, Florida, Papua New Guinea, islands in the Caribbean and west Pacific, and the Philippines.
What to Do if You Accidentally Touch a Cane Toad
Because the largest toad in the world secretes poison from its skin, it’s unsafe to touch. If you do accidentally handle one, thoroughly wash the contacted part of your body, and seek immediate medical attention. If your pet touches a cane toad, or tries to eat one, seek emergency medical care immediately.
The Largest Pet Cane Toad on Record
The largest pet cane toad ever recorded live in Sweden. His name was Prinsen (The Prince, in Swedish) and he measured over nine inches long.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Seregraff/Shutterstock.com
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