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Toads and Their Mysterious Minds

Toads and Their Mysterious Minds

By Mary Higgins, M.Ed.

With their dry, warty skin and bulging eyes, the American toad is not a particularly attractive animal but still draws attention with children and some women, at least according to fairy tale lore. Weighing less than one ounce, the common toad can experience feelings, hard as it may be to believe.

With their amazing brains, toads have been able to follow a maze in lab settings, but when you hang out with them, more mysteries unravel about their brain capacity. Last summer I had two frogs become daily swimming pals with my toads. Unfortunately, the frogs’ lives were very short. One died followed by the other a month later. One of my toads, after the death of the second frog, became highly agitated, and reared up on her hind legs, climbing the walls of the terrarium. She was unable to calm down until she could see that the other toad she lives with, was still alive.

I have been keeping toads for seventeen years and have long suspected that toads experience feelings of sadness and compassion. At the time when my third toad began his journey to the great pond in the sky, his partner in the box reached one arm across the departing one’s back as though offering comfort.

Toads also seem to have a long memory. When one toad steals the food offered to another, it’s time for a head tackle. The toad who’s been denied the food sends a strong message, placing its upper body on the head of the other toad. Hoping to avoid the clash of the titans, I recently separated my toads for forty-eight hours, thinking they would forget the incident. No such luck. Within moments of being returned to the box, the toad who felt wronged immediately tackled the one who stole his worm.

As with dogs, there is an alpha toad. Whoever has been occupying the premises the longest develops a sense of entitlement in receiving food, leaving the box for a walk and securing preferred areas: water bowl, stone to sit on or a tunnel to hide inside of. As toads love the security of touching walls, the smaller of my two water bowls is the “preferred” place. Even when the water is allowed to evaporate, I will find one toad sitting in this cozy little container.

Toads also enjoy trading places by using some crude architectural skills. Having read that toads see in color, I decorate my terrariums with small brightly colored foam blocks in one area with moss and branches covering the rest. It’s not unusual to find these burrowers having moved the blocks to lie beneath them, remodeling the place for their comfort and security. One toad will remain in this spot for 12 hours while the other sits in water until they exchange locations. Who knows what goes in the minds of the toads–it’s a mystery to us!



  1. Thales

    Hello, I have a hard time finding research on frogs, especially on their minds. Thank you for your contribution, this is not my area of ​​study or my mother tongue, I am from Brazil and in my home where I take care of 3 adult frogs, and I realized that they have a good memory and a good sense of orientation, this it’s amazing

  2. Walt

    Thank you for this article! Last spring we welcomed two toads into our home who had been injured when their habitat was bulldozed. Out of concern that they wouldn’t survive long in the wild with their permanent injuries (one with a broken leg and one with a broken arm), our children begged us to adopt the toads. And so we did.

    One of them ended up needing to have his leg amputated due to complications from his injury – it was the first time our vet had performed this surgery on a toad, and the office staff was fascinated by the process of his surgery and his recovery, frequently asking us to bring him by for informal follow-up visits.

    I have grown very fond of our toads, and consider them as part of the family. And I have ABSOLUTELY seen that they exhibit personality. When recovering from the amputation, we had to keep them separated for two weeks, and the other toad got visibly depressed (I’m not exaggerating) that her friend was not around, and she perked up once he returned to her.

    My in-laws watched them for a few days recently while we were out of town, and when we returned my wife went by herself to bring the toads home, and upon their return to the house they started hopping around animatedly and the male was “chirping” in excitement! (That sound the males make, that’s what we call it – chirping.)

    I have grown to believe in my heart that these little critters have emotions, are capable of thought and emotion (I’ve seen them hold grudges, just like you described!) and are even capable of affection – and perhaps, even, love.

    What I do know is that I’ve certainly come to love them, and I oftentimes find myself wondering whether they can tell how much affection I feel for them, and hoping with all earnestness that they do.

    1. franklin

      I have had toads and frogs for Years and raised them as pets and members of the family! It sounds absurd but toads are profoundly interactive with those creatures around them I have seem them share food with each other and “doggie play with each laying on top of each other what splendid creatures they are and huge friends of man destroying crop destroying insects and acting like friends! How wonderful they are

    2. Debbie Cavallaro

      I have been thinking that it is us that are ignorant to that fact that all creatures are capable of emotions,and that we need to realize that.We need to respect them,and give them credit for their aliveness(?),and ability to be what they are.This realization makes me think again about eating animals.We have a stock tank with the annual mob of frogs,chorusing regularly next to our front door.I love them,and feel rich when they visit us.

  3. Cathy

    I have had a female toad for over a year. She had shared a terrarium for a few months with another female and was never really interested in her. Actually, she seemed to keep her distance. My other female, who passed away, was a beast! She loved eating, ate from a dish and from my hand. I keep a container of feeders close by and each time I would click the flashlight to retrieve a mealy or isopod, she would hop to the front and wait for her meal! She knew the sound of the flashlight, as well as my voice! She would watch me as I retrieved her food, reminded me of a dog. After she passed, my second female was by herself for 6 months and seemed to be very depressed and noticed she was alone. She wasn’t very active, except for at feeding time and an occasional soak in her water dish but had no other interest. A month ago, I found a skinny male with only one eye. I’m sure he had a hard time catching prey since he couldn’t fully see, so I decided to bring him in and fatten him up. I named him Popeye! Lol! Within 2 days he was seemingly very comfortable in his surroundings and my female, Halfpint, started to show an interest in him. The two of them lay in the food dish together, usually around the time of their feedings. They both hop around, which Halfpint does more often now, and will even have a soak together. Sometimes I find him sitting on her… no, not mating! He doesn’t like when she sits on him and begins chirping, which tells me that I need to take her off of him. She’s twice his size! I believe he’s content because he feels safe, has fresh water to bathe (which he loves to splash around) and knows he’s going to be fed. I find them looking towards the TV and believe they enjoy seeing the colors and movement. I’ve been raising & releasing toads for over 2 years because I’m trying to bring their population back up in my area… I call it “Project Toad Restoration”. I’ve closely observed over 2 dozen toads and I can tell you that they definitely have different personalities, expressions, preferences and a certain level of intelligence! While some toads prefer to be alone, others are more social, especially when young. Some are shy while others are aggressive or playful. I’m so glad that Halfpint is more active and gets along well with Popeye! They are amusing to watch! The toads that are outside, some that I released, do recognize me and sit/stay in place and wait for me to bring them worms and other insects to eat. I even trained my dog to sit next to them and remind me where they are as I am returning from my yard with worms. Some come right up to my door, which requires them to hop up a ramp, and wait for me to come out. I think if they could knock, they would! Lol!! The females appear to be more laid back but the males are more skittish. I once had a resident toad for 8 years. She lived in a retaining wall that is slowly eroding away… I refer to it as my “Living Wall” as many critters live within it… toads, frogs, small snakes and plenty of insects to eat. “Mama” toad had come to see me year after year and it started my love and appreciation for toads!

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