How to Keep a Wild Toad for a Pet
Is It Legal To Keep Wild Toads As Pets?
If you wish to keep a wild toad for a pet, you have to find out first whether you can actually do so legally. Since laws vary from country to country, and state to state in the USA it is impossible to give a simple answer here. However, finding toads that can legally be taken from the wild and kept as pets, should not be too difficult wherever you live. Even Massachusetts, a state that has very strict laws about keeping of wild animals, allows American toads, and Fowler's toads to be kept as pets, as long as you limit yourself to two individuals.
Before you decide to keep a toad you found in your backyard, or on a camping trip, you must make sure that you identify its species. For example, many states, outlaw the keeping of the Colorado River toad, b alvinius, because of the psychoactive substances these toads synthesise. In the UK the common toad Bufo buff, is fine for a pet but the natterjack toad, Epidalea calamita, are strictly protected. However, they are now so rare, it is highly unlikely that you will find one in your garden.
Where to Find Wild Toads?
Although they are amphibians, toads are less closely associated with bodies of water than frogs, they will often only go near water to breed. Hence it is quite usual to find wild toads in your backyard or in a park. The most likely animal you will find is the common American toad, Bufo americanus, if you are in the US, or the common toad, Bufo buff, if you are in Europe.
The best times to look for toads is in the spring, after heavy rains, although you can probably locate them in the summer and fall. Toads hibernate in winter so it is unlikely that you will come across one when it gets really cold and the ground freezes.
Murphy's law dictates that, even if you were tripping over toads in your backyard on a daily basis, now that you are actually looking for one you will not be able to find one. In common with most amphibians they like to hide, and you might need to look under some stones, or in the midst of leaf litter to locate one. However, I am sure that with a little bit of perseverance you will be able to locate one. It is actually better to find a juvenile, which is more likely to adapt quickly to a life in captivity than an adult toad.
Does taking wild animals for pets appeal to you?
Setting up a Toad Enclosure
Most toads are quite sedentary, spending a lot of their times burrowed in soil or hiding under a stone and do not need a particularly big enclosure to live in. They need to be kept in a terrarium that will keep their surroundings moist but allow good ventilation, hence a small fish tank is an acceptable enclosure but it must be fitted with a screen top. To prevent the toad from escaping make sure the top is tightly fitted to the tank. If you are keeping one of the common Bufo toads than a tank 24"x12"x12" should be sufficient for one individual or a pair.
Most of the furnishings required for keeping toads are similar to the equipment for small-to-medium terrestrial frogs. Toads like to burrow in soil or leaf litter, hence it is best to use something they can dig in for substrate. There is quite a lot of controversy about using the soil from the location you took the toad from, as opposed to buying specialised amphibian substrates, such as coconut-husk based eco earth etc.
The danger with collecting furnishings from outside to use in amphibian enclosures is that they may be contaminated with pesticides or fertilisers which could harm your pets. However, if your backyard or park has a thriving toad population, chances are the soil there is safe. It is always safest to buy commercially produced substrates, however, and they are not expensive. Avoid putting gravel or other substrates which your toad might swallow while hunting and which could cause intestinal impaction.
You should provide your toad with hiding places in the form of pieces of bark, branches or rocks. You could either collect these from the locale where you caught your toad, or buy some of the commercially produced reptile hides and caves.
All amphibians must have constant access to fresh water. Like frogs, toads do not actually drink but absorb water through their skins. All that they require is a shallow bowl, they are not good swimmers. Make sure they can easily get into and out of the bowl. The water you use must be changed daily to prevent bacterial contamination which would cause your pet to become ill, and must be dechlorinated, tap water could poison them. Either leave the water standing for 24 hours, preferable with an airstone bubbling through it, or use a water dechlorinator for aquarium fish.
Temperature and Humidity
Most true toads native to Europe and the United States prefer cooler temperatures. They will generally spend their days burrowed in soil or leaf litter and emerge at night when the temperatures are cooler. They usually do well with a daytime temperature between 60-70F. In general you will not need any special heating or lighting equipment for your enclosure, unless you are keeping it in an unheated room in winter where the temperatures fall very low.
Because of their warty skins toads need lower ambient humidity than frogs, and will get enough moisture from soaking in their water bowls at nights. However, if your house is particular dry, for example if you use central heating in winter, you might want to increase the humidity in the enclosure by spraying it with clean, dechlorinated water a few times a week.
Food for Toad
Toads are ravenous insectivores and will readily consume any invertebrate that fits into their mouths. Although there might be a temptation to collect slugs and worms from outside to feed your pet amphibian, there is always a danger of introducing diseases or poisoning the toad with pesticides. In the end it might be more convenient to obtain crickets and other feeder insects bred specifically for amphibian and reptile keepers.
In general the same principles apply as when feeding frogs. Crickets will probably form the bulk of your toads diet and should be gut loaded on carrots and other fruits and vegetables before putting them into the terrarium. You should also use a calcium and vitamin D supplement to ensure all your toad's mineral needs are met.