When Toads Turn Color…

Helmeted Water Toad

Written by Jessica

When not busy looking after her young family, Jessica can be found out and about photographing wildlife. With a particular passion for birds, she loves breeding canaries. Jessica also enjoys researching and writing about different animals.

Last Updated on February 3, 2021

Toads are among the most interesting creatures in the amphibian world. They exhibit a lot of behaviors science still doesn’t understand. For example, it is commonly known that toads can change color. Sometimes color changes are quick and temporary. Other times they are more gradual and last longer. There is no single reason this happens.

Years of scientific research have provided few concrete answers regarding amphibian color changes. Color change is a highly complex issue that varies not only by species, but also environment. Rather than trying to offer black-and-white answers in this post, I will cover some of the factors commonly linked to color changes in toads.

As you read, keep in mind that noticing a color change in your toad is no reason to panic. Do not look at color changes in isolation. Instead, pay attention to other factors: your toad’s eating habits, its activity level, its weight, and so forth. A color change by itself is no reason for alarm. Combined with other odd behaviors, there might be something to be concerned about.

Why Is My Toad Getting Darker?

It is not uncommon for pet toad owners to notice color changes but not be able to describe them accurately. The best way they know how is to simply state that their toads are getting darker. Of course, ‘darker’ is a relative term. A toad born fairly light-skinned can look dramatically darker as an adult compared to another toad with skin that was already dark at birth.

Science seems to suggest that some species of toads can change color to adapt to their environment. This is a way to address the predation issue. Believe it or not, color changes of this sort are really optical illusions. A toad may appear darker only because its ambient environment is darker as well.

Color changes of this nature are sometimes linked to a change of seasons. A toad might appear lighter over the winter months, then begin to gradually get darker as spring approaches. Such a color change would be in keeping with spring foliage.

Why Is My Toad Turning Black?

Humidity and stress levels seem to affect the color of certain species of toads more than others. For instance, excessive humidity can lead to a corresponding rise in a toad’s body temperature. In some species, higher body temperatures result in a more black appearance. Reducing the humidity or temperature can help the animal’s color return to normal.

In terms of stress and its relation to color changes, the science isn’t clear on why this happens. Nonetheless, it has been observed in some species of toads that excessive stress leads to a blacker color. Toads in captivity may exhibit this sign of stress if they are handled too frequently. You can tell if that’s the problem by avoiding handling for a couple of weeks. If the toad’s color returns to normal, it was probably just stressed.

Unfortunately, there are certain bacterial infections that can cause toads to turn black. These are infections that attack the skin. There are medical sprays you can apply to both kill the bacteria and help restore the toad’s natural color. But do not just assume that a darker color is an indication of infection.

A skin infection would likely be accompanied by other symptoms. Look for things such as lethargy and cloudy eyes. Of course, not eating is another sign as well.

American Toad
American Toad

Why Is My Toad Turning White?

It is less common for toads to go from dark to light. However, it does happen. The reason for such a color change could be anything from age to natural habitat to fear of predation. Again, science is not absolutely certain about why a toad might turn white.

Some species of toads secrete a white toxin that warns predators to stay away. A toad in captivity could turn white if it feels threatened. Despite no predators actually being around, something else in the toad’s environment could be frightening it. The white color is a direct result of the toxins being released.

Other toad species demonstrate lighter skin as they age. Your toad turning white could simply be a matter of getting old. If not, a third possible reason is adaptation to the current environment. Is there more natural sunlight in the room where your toad is kept? Have you added a new light to the enclosure?

A toad might turn white simply because it is adapting to environmental changes. Just as a toad might turn darker in the spring, turning lighter over the winter months makes perfect sense from the natural selection side of things.

Finally, some species of toads, especially African species, naturally turn white in the heat of the day to regulate body temperature. A white skin color more easily reflects sunlight. If you have a toad from one of these species, you should notice daily color changes.

Why Is My Toad Pale?

On a more general note, toad owners will ask why their pets are getting pale. A pale complexion is less a color change and more of a response to certain conditions. In most cases, toads turn pale because their body temperatures are not as high as they should be. Turning up the heat will restore the toad’s natural color.

That said, a toad’s complexion can look pale and cloudy in the hours leading up to shedding dead skin. Once the skin is shed, the toad’s natural color returns. If you notice blotches of pale color instead of a consistent complexion, check to see if the toad has already started to shed.

If a toad remains pale after shedding its skin and you adjusting the temperature accordingly, there may be something else wrong. Carefully observe for other symptoms of illness. A toad that remains consistently pale after a few days could be sick.

In Summary

To wrap all of this up, it is commonly known in the scientific world that toads change color. Most amphibians do. Color changes are not necessarily a cause for alarm as long as a toad continues to exhibit healthy behavior otherwise.

Color changes can be caused by a change in a toad’s natural environment. They can be caused by fear and stress. Sometimes a toad changes color as a result aging. Other times, it is a response to predation. There simply is no single answer we can apply to every toad in every circumstance.

Photo Credits:

Featured Image (Helmeted Water Toad): José Grau de Puerto Montt – CC BY-SA 3.0

Common Midwife Toad: Christian Fischer – CC BY-SA 3.0

Mexican Burrowing Toad: Pstevendactylus – CC BY-SA 3.0

Common Spadefoot Toad: Franco Andreone – CC BY-SA 2.5

American Toad: Cephas – CC BY-SA 3.0

European Fire-Bellied Toad: Marek Szczepanek – CC BY-SA 3.0

Western Spadefoot Toad: Takwish – CC BY-SA 2.5

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