Arizona’s Unique Wildlife: The Colorado River Toad

The Colorado River Toad, also called the Sonoran Desert Toad, is a fascinating species unique to the Sonoran Desert region in the southern United States.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Much of central and southern Arizona is in the Sonoran Desert, home to some of the most unique wildlife you will see anywhere.  If you survive the 115+ summer temperatures and wild monsoon weather, one species you are guaranteed to see is the Colorado River Toad.

This huge, smooth-skinned toad was so named because he was originally discovered at the junction of the Colorado and Gila Rivers near Yuma, Arizona.  He is more correctly called the Sonoran Desert Toad, as his habitat is limited to that area; Arizona, New Mexico, southern California, and northern Mexico, from sea level to about 5300 feet.  His scientific name is Bufo Alvarius.  

Of the 260 or so toads that inhabit the Earth, this is one of the few that is classified as psychoactive.  The skin and venom contain a mixture of bufotenin – a tryptamine found in some mushrooms – and 5-MeO-DMT – a psychedelic tryptamine.  This is their primary source of defense.  The venom is stored in glands behind their eardrums and on all four legs, and oozes in minute amounts from the skin itself.  Dog owners will tell you that their pets act like they’re high when they lick or bite a toad.  Now you know why!

The Colorado River Toad is prolific during the summer months, especially in wetter years, but can be found from May to September.  In populated areas they will hide under houses or steps.  The evening porch lights bring them out for a feeding frenzy, as they love all sorts of insects.  In the wild they bury themselves in the mud and often stay in hibernation for months or even years, coming out only when there is enough rain to soften the hard desert ground.  Then they are out en masse, breeding and laying their long, rope-like strands of eggs in any shallow water they find.  Canals, drainage ditches, cattle ponds, gardens, and slow-moving streams are all likely spots to find toads, for they love the water.

Colorado River Toads begin life as yellowish-brown tadpoles.  Within a month they move onto land, and eat vociferously until it is time to hibernate.  You may see them in the evening or very early morning, but the best time is at night.  They eat insects, beetles, spiders, centipedes, lizards, mice, and other toads.  Scorpions are a favorite delicacy, and for this redeeming quality they are welcomed in many yards.  Old timers say they store the scorpion poison in their blood, but no actual proof of that statement has been found to date.

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11 Responses to “Arizona’s Unique Wildlife: The Colorado River Toad”
  1. Christine Ramsay Says...

    On July 28, 2010 at 7:35 am

    These toads sound like fascinating creatures. A great post.


  2. SharifaMcFarlane Says...

    On July 28, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I think there are a few people that try to get a high that way too. Interesting article Maranatha.

  3. Eunice Tan Says...

    On July 28, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    The wonder of nature.

  4. Anuradha Ramkumar Says...

    On July 29, 2010 at 2:34 am

    Very fascinating.

  5. papaleng Says...

    On July 29, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    well-researched article. That toad is really amazing.

  6. Atanacio Says...

    On July 31, 2010 at 10:12 am

    wow very well written

  7. alxymy Says...

    On August 3, 2010 at 2:22 am

    Wow i never did find my self fond of frogs or toads since i was six but that frog pic is so cute and your article is so well written.

  8. Jeremy Mailman Says...

    On August 3, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Just helped my son dissect a frog for his school assignment. Just felt sorry for that frog. Oh, well…. lol… Nice piece!

  9. FaceOff Says...

    On August 4, 2010 at 1:11 am

    very nice

  10. Melinda J Says...

    On August 5, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Frogs and toads freaks me out, and I am so afraid of them. Despite my feelings on amphibians, your article was great.

  11. S A JOHNSON Says...

    On August 7, 2010 at 6:42 am

    Very well written and fun to read. There are a lot of toads around my grandma’s house. When we were little, we would catch them and release them for fun.

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