Will the real Houston toad please stand up?
One of the biggest challenges faced by conservationists is convincing people that the Houston toad is really endangered! Though the Houston toad has been on the Endangered Species List since the 1970’s, many people don’t believe that they are threatened at all. Why is this?
The confusion is due to a case of mistaken identity! Another very common toad, the Gulf Coast toad (Incilius nebulifer) looks very similar to the Houston toad, especially if it is observed in the evening when it is more difficult to see. The Gulf Coast toad does not have the same specific habitat requirements as the Houston toad and can live almost everywhere – even in the city! The picture below compares the two species:
Here are a couple of rules to follow to help tell the two species apart:
1) Houston toads are mostly found in Bastrop and Robertson counties. If you live in Houston or in the surrounding Houston area, you will not find any Houston toads! Any toads you see in the greater Houston-metro area are Gulf Coast toads.
2) Houston toads must have sandy soil. If you live in an area without sand or that has lots of development, you have Gulf Coast toads.
3) Houston toads are only really active around ponds between late January and early May. If you see toads outside this window of time, you are most likely observing Gulf Coast toads (other toads may include the Spadefoot toad, the Woodhouse’s toad, or the East Texas toad depending on where you live).
4) Houston toads and Gulf Coast toads have different facial features. See the image below for details:
Houston toads (left): Have a L-shaped ridge behind their eyes (called the cranial crest) and a bean-shaped gland (parotoid gland)
Gulf coast toads (right): Have a Y-shaped cranial crest and a football shaped parotoid gland behind their eyes. Their heads and nose are are also generally more pointed