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Houston Toad: Conservation Efforts in Texas

Houston Toad

The Houston Toad (Anaxyrus houstonensis) is a species native to Texas. This toad faces significant challenges, including habitat loss, degradation, fragmentation, and pollution that threaten its survival. This has earned it the endangered species status.

Thankfully, various conservation efforts have been ongoing to help prevent further decline of this toad’s population and promote its recovery.

This article will take you through the various conservation efforts underway to help protect this species from going extinct. Besides, we’ll discuss why the toad is considered an endangered species, its special characteristics, habitat preferences, and so much more.

Houston Toad Conservation Efforts in Texas

As the Houston toad population continues to decline, the relevant bodies have been implementing various conservation strategies to help save its population in the wild and promote its recovery.

Houston Toad Conservation Efforts in Texas

Here are the various conservation efforts already in place to help save the Houston toad:

  • Habitat protection and restoration: Restoration of suitable habitats for Houston toads such as sandy areas and longleaf pines is crucial for the survival of these toads. Efforts are already in place to help protect and enhance these habitats and thus ensure they support the population of these toads.
  • Captive breeding programs: Captive breeding programs have also been established. This simply involves breeding the toads in controlled areas, e.g. research facilities or zoos to help maintain their genetic diversity and provide individuals for potential reintroduction into the wild.
  • Creating public awareness and education: Public awareness and education programs have also been implemented. These are aimed at creating public awareness of the importance of the Houston toad and the role it plays in the ecosystem. These programs also educate the public on the actions they can take to contribute to the toad’s overall conservation efforts.
  • Land use planning and policy advocacy: There are also collaborative efforts involving government agencies, landowners, and policymakers to help incorporate conservation measures into land use planning. This includes advocating for policies that help protect the Houston toad habitat. A perfect example is the Safe Harbor Agreement for the Houston toad. This programmatic and range-wide agreement involves opening doors to private landowners who wish to be part of Houston toad conservation efforts.
  • Research and monitoring: Continuous research is also being conducted to better understand the Houston toad’s biology, behavior, and ecology. Monitoring programs aid in assessing the toad’s population trends, identify its threats, and thus adjust the conservation efforts accordingly.

Why is the Houston Toad Endangered?

The Houston toad is considered an endangered species due to a variety of human-induced as well as natural factors that adversity affects its populations.

Why is the Houston Toad Endangered

Below, we have discussed some key factors that have contributed to the toad being labeled an endangered species:

Habitat loss and alteration

The most serious threat facing these toads is habitat loss and alteration. Precisely, converting the forestlands that these toads call home for urbanization or agriculturalization leads to reduced wetlands and woodlands.

Likewise, the conversion of the ephemeral wetlands into permanent ponds causes the calling males to spread out.

With more ponds on the landscape, the calling of males will be spread. This reduces this ability to attract females for mating during the breeding season.

Conversion of the pools into permanent waters also makes the toads more vulnerable to predators such as snakes and fish. Moreover, it increases competition as well as hybridization with the closely related toad species within their range.

Houston Toad Habitat loss

Habitat destruction

This one is closely related to the habitat loss factor. Clear-cutting of forests causes reduced canopies near the toad breeding ponds as well as on the uplands lying adjacent to these ponds.

This directly results in reduced quality of foraging, breeding, and distribution/resting habitat. It also increases the chances of hybridization and predation for the endangered toads.

Converting the native grasslands and savannah woodlands to the introduced sod-forming grasses, e.g. Bahia grass and Bermuda grass eliminates the habitat for these toads.

This is because grass growth usually gets so dense that the toads can’t move freely. Dense sod also makes burrowing for these toads a challenge.

Periodic drought

As you can easily guess, drought causes the reduction or total loss of breeding sites that are essential for the reproduction of these toads.

It also increases the mortality rate of toadlets and adults. It may also result in catastrophic wildfires that alter the Houston toad habitats.

Houston Toad Periodic drought

Cattle grazing & prolonged fire suppression periods

Continuous grazing of cattle (and high stocking rates), as opposed to rotation grazing, have also caused loss of habitat in significant parts of the Houston toad’s range.

Fire taking prolonged periods of time to suppress has also caused significant habitat loss for these endangered amphibians.

Historically, the periodic fires helped maintain native bunchgrass communities in post-oak savanna and loblolly pine.

Poor fire suppression and grazing that took place since the arrival of European man would then cause most of the former savannah grasslands in the Post Oak region to grow into brush thickets that lack herbaceous vegetation.

Houston Toad

Houston toads rely on the herbaceous layers of wildflowers/herbs and bunchgrasses for hiding and foraging. (Source).

This, together with unmanned forestlands, has contributed to dense shrub overgrowth.

Dense forest understory (shrub growth) means less diverse herbaceous ground cover (including wildflowers/herbs and grasses) and reduced toad food abundance as well as insect diversity.

The dense forest understories are associated with heavy fuel loads, which lead to catastrophic and stand-altering wildfires, such as the 2001 Bastrop County Complex fire.

This fire significantly interfered with the Lost Pines ecosystem which involves isolated loblolly pines that the endangered Houston toads call home. Mind you, Bastrop County Complex was the toad’s last stronghold (Source).

Invasive species

Houston toads are also among the species whose survival is threatened by invasive species. One such species is the red imported fire ant that poses dangers to the longer-term survival of this endangered toad.

Houston Toad Invasive species

The toads are usually found in small, scattered populations in the wild. As a result, they’re more likely to be affected by fire ants compared to other species that are more widespread in their habitats.

Fire ants are notorious for killing young Houston toadlets (around 7 to 10 days old) that are transitioning from the breeding ponds into terrestrial habitats.

Research also suggests that these ants are capable of reducing insect abundance and diversity. This may limit the food supply for toads and further affect their growth.


Like many other amphibians, Houston toads are sensitive to different pollutants, including pesticides and many other organic compounds.

Widespread use of herbicides and pesticides from 1950 to 1975 have contributed to significant population declines.

During this period of time, DDT and other non-specific chemicals accumulated in the environment, affecting not just amphibians but also a variety of other animals’ lives.

These chemicals may affect the toads indirectly (through lowering the diversity and abundance of food supply) or directly (especially in the tadpole stage).

Houston toads are sensitive to different pollutants

Use of pesticides and herbicides for residential and agricultural purposes still poses a threat to the well-being of these toads today.

However, with the proper guidelines, they can still be used successfully without causing much harm to the toads.


The high-traffic toads that pass through Houston toad habitats also act as barriers to their movement. Most of the toads get killed on these roads.

Other linear features such as transmission lines and pipelines may also create barriers to the movement of these toads between their hibernating, foraging, and breeding sites.

This is especially the case if native vegetation has been removed.

Houston Toad Special Characteristics

The Houston toad features several unique characteristics that set it apart from the other toad species and amphibians in general.

Houston Toad Special Characteristics

Here are some of the most notable features of this toad:

  • Houston toad scientific name: The endangered Houston toad’s scientific name is Anaxyrus houstonensis. Note that it was formerly known as Bufo houstonensis.
  • Houston toad size and appearance: The Houston toad measures 2 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent. Its coloration varies from light brown to grayish, or it can be purplish gray. Sometimes, it may feature green patches. The underside is pale with small, dark spots. Males are set apart from females by dark throats, which turn bluish-black when distended.
  • Houston toad call: The Houston toad call comprises a long, high-pitched trill (see the video attached below).
  • Habitat preferences: Adults are found in sandy soils and prefer wooden areas that are interspersed with the open grass. They are also common in coastal prairies. Within their habitats, these toads usually stay near the waters, and during the breeding season, you will almost exclusively find them near rain pools and ponds.
  • Geographical range: The endangered toad occurs in an extremely small range in southeastern Texas.
  • Behavior: This toad is primarily diurnal throughout the year. However, it stays active during the day and at night during the breeding season, with the activity mostly concentrated at night. During the day, before the breeding nights, this toad takes shelter in small mammal burrows that are near water sources.
  • Endangered status: As we have mentioned earlier, Houston toads are an endangered species due to various factors such as habitat loss, habitat degradation, and other threats.

Here’s a video of the Houston toad male making a mating call:


Are Houston Toads Poisonous?

Houston toads are poisonous. They featured parotid glands that secrete toxic substances when they’re under attack or feel stressed. This is their primary line of defense against potential predators in the wild. These chemicals not only make them distasteful to the predators but may also prove poisonous to them.

Is the Houston Toad Dangerous?

The Houston toad isn’t considered dangerous to humans. While it produces toxic substances via its skin, it is not known to harm people and its primary role is to deter potential predators in the wild.

Although this toad isn’t dangerous to humans, you should still keep in mind that it is still a wild animal.

As such, we advise you against handling it, as there’s always the risk of transmission of diseases and even parasites to humans.

Is the Houston Toad Dangerous

Moreover, some individuals may be more sensitive to the substances secreted by this toad, leading to allergic reactions or skin irritations.

If you come in contact with this amphibian, we advise you to wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

This will help minimize the risk of potential irritation or transfer of substances from the toad’s skin to the sensitive areas of your body.

Where Does the Houston Toad Live?

Houston toad habitat is in the loose, deep sands that sustain the Loblolly pine forests. They also find suitable habitats in mixed Post Oak woodland savannah with canopies covering that ranges from 60 to 80%.

Their ideal habitat also includes the open understory, which facilitates the growth of the native bunch grasses and flowing or still water sources for breeding activity.

Where Does the Houston Toad Live


What do Houston toads eat?

The Houston toad diet mainly consists of small invertebrates such as insects, spiders, ground beetles, ants, and other arthropods. They’re opportunistic feeders and use their sticky tongues to capture their prey.

How does the Houston toad escape from predators?

Houston toad employs several defense mechanisms to evade predators. Its warry skin secretes toxins that ward off predators. When attacked by a predator, it can also inflate its body to appear larger and intimidate its predator or make it difficult for it to grab it.

How big are Houston toads?

Houston toads are medium-sized and measure between 2 and 3 inches in length. As with most other toad species, female Houston toads tend to grow larger than males. Adult males have a length ranging between 1.77 and 2.76 inches while females measure 2 to 3.5 inches long.


The Houston toad (Anaxyrus houstonensis) is considered an endangered species due to several factors, most of which are human-influenced. These include habitat loss and alteration, periodic droughts, invasive species, accidents, poor cattle grazing and fire suppression practices, and pollution resulting from herbicides and insecticides.

Conservation efforts underway to help protect this endangered species of Texas include the establishment of captive breeding programs, habitat restoration and protection, and creating public awareness. There has also been increased research and monitoring of these toads to help mitigate the threats they face and ensure their survival.

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