Species Profile

Great Plains Toad

Scientific Name: Anaxyrus cognatus
Other/Previous Names: Bufo cognatus
Taxonomy Group: Amphibians
Range: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2010
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Great Plains Toad

Great Plains Toad Photo 1

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Description

The adult toad is large and broad, with a body length of 4.5 to 10 cm for males, and 5 to 11 cm for females. The back is covered by numerous tubercles or "warts," most of which are less than 1 mm in diameter. It varies in colour from greenish to brown, brown-yellow, or grey, with conspicuous blotches. The blotches are usually paired, and can be rounded or irregular in shape. Dark brown to olive in colour, they have well-defined narrow borders. The belly is almost always uniformly white or cream in colour, and is rarely spotted. Breeding males have a black vocal sac; when expanded, it is sausage-shaped and extends above and beyond the snout. The breeding call of the toad is a loud, "metallic-sounding" trill. Newly hatched tadpoles are black and range in size from 1 to 4 mm. As the larvae develop, the belly becomes iridescent and lighter in colour.

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Distribution and Population

The Great Plains Toad occurs throughout an extensive range in western North America and the northern half of Mexico. In Canada, it is likely widely distributed throughout the area bounded by the Saskatchewan border to the east, the Trans-Canada Highway and Alberta Provincial Highway No. 3 to the south, the Taber-Vauxhall-Lake Newall area to the west, and the Red Deer River to the north. In Alberta, the species is restricted to the southeastern grasslands; in Saskatchewan, most of the few records are near the Alberta border. In recent years (1983 on), there have been reports of the species in extreme southwestern Manitoba. In Alberta, past concerns about declining populations may have been due to lack of investigation during years of higher precipitation, when the species can be detected more readily. More recent surveys (1994, 1996) suggest there are large numbers of the toad at Suffield National Wildlife Area (NWA), Alberta. No information is available to assess the size or trend of populations in Saskatchewan or Manitoba.

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Habitat

The Great Plains Toad breeds mainly in temporary wetlands that fill with water following heavy rains in late spring and early summer. At Suffield NWA, breeding sites were associated with large, shallow, seasonal wetlands with limited residual growth and some new emergent grass along the margins. During periods of extended drought in Alberta, the toads appear to rely upon irrigated areas for breeding habitat.

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Biology

The Great Plains Toad is primarily nocturnal. Research in Oklahoma suggests that there is a high correlation between precipitation and breeding in this species. Breeding does not occur in the absence of rain, even in irrigated areas. The amount of rain that stimulates breeding activity can vary considerably, and the actual breeding can be delayed until the air temperature has reached 12°C or more. Males arrive at breeding ponds in Suffield NWA in early May and commence a chorus of breeding calls, beginning nightly about 45 minutes after sunset and continuing until dawn. Calling males concentrate along the fringes of shallow wetlands where grasses and sedges stick out of the water. A female usually approaches a calling male by swimming underwater. The male climbs on the female’s back and remains there until egg-laying has been completed some 24 hours later. The pair moves together to an appropriate egg-laying site. The male uses his legs or feet to gather the eggs as they are being laid by the female and fertilizes them before they are released. Larger females lay more eggs than smaller females, but even an average-sized female can lay about 20 000 eggs. The larval development period is typically about 45 days, but is decreased when the water temperature is warmer. Tadpoles are about 11 to 13 mm long at the time of metamorphosis (transformation to adult/toad stage). Metamorphosis is highly synchronous (occurring at the same time), but often unsuccessful. Many tadpoles die because the breeding pools frequently dry up. However, toads can avoid dry conditions, including high air temperature with low humidity, by burrowing into the soil beneath the water surface. The heart rate decreases (brachycardia) and there is a shift to anaerobic metabolism, to cope with the lack of oxygen during burrowing.

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Threats

Grassland habitat may be widely available for this species within its range, but many areas of grassland may not include depressions (such as sloughs) suitable for breeding when high spring runoff or heavy rains trigger breeding. Progressive conversion of grasslands to cropland, application of herbicides and pesticides, and local impacts by grazing, may be slowly reducing the quantity and quality of available habitat.

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Protection

Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

In Alberta, the Great Plains Toad is afforded protection as a non-game animal. It cannot be killed for any reason, cannot be bought or sold, and a permit is required for holding one in captivity for educational or scientific purposes. In Saskatchewan, any person may collect, study, hunt, and hold in captivity, without a licence, any toad that is not in a protected area (game preserve, wildlife refuge, regional park, and provincial park or recreation site). In Manitoba, it is covered under a ministerial amendment to the provincial Wildlife Act. Large areas of grassland habitat are associated with federal and provincial pastures, parks, and military reserves, and these are protected from conversion to cropland.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date A multi-jurisdictional team is being assembled to prepare a management plan for the Great Plains Toad in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Summary of Recovery Activities A stewardship guide for landowners has been developed by the Alberta Conservation Association and distributed to landowners. It outlines beneficial management practices for species at risk, including the Great Plains Toad. Some 200 hectares of native riparian habitat are being secured through perpetual conservation agreements.

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

13 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Great Plains Toad Anaxyrus cognatus in Canada (2010)

    The Great Plains Toad is endemic to the North American prairies. Recently, the Great Plains Toad has been reassigned from the genus Bufo to a new genus, Anaxyrus. These toads are distinguishable from other species of toads in Canada by their relatively large size (47-115 mm snout-vent length (SVL) adults), ‘L’ -shaped cranial ridges behind the eyes, and dark paired blotches with light borders on a grey, light-brown or olive-coloured back. Nocturnal and fossorial tendencies make the species difficult to document and monitor. The extremely loud call described as a ‘harsh explosive clatter resembling a jackhammer’ is easily discernible from those of all other amphibians that co-occur in Canada.
  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Great Plains toad Bufo cognatus in Canada (2002)

    The Great Plains toad, Bufo cognatus, is a widely-distributed species in western North America. In Canada, it is restricted to south-eastern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, and extreme south-western Manitoba where it is associated with mixed-grass prairie.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Great Plains Toad (2002)

    Designated Special Concern in April 1999. Status re-examined and confirmed Special Concern in May 2002. Last assessment based on an existing status report.
  • COSEWIC Assessment Summary and Status Report: Great Plains Toad Anaxyrus cognatus (2010)

    Assessment Summary – April 2010 Common nameGreat Plains Toad Scientific nameAnaxyrus cognatus StatusSpecial Concern Reason for designationThis species is widespread but has a scattered distribution of mostly small populations that fluctuate in numbers. It almost meets criteria for Threatened and could become Threatened because of ongoing loss and degradation of habitat, particularly loss of intermittent wetlands from cultivation, oil and gas development and increase in droughts. These threats increase fragmentation of populations and jeopardize their persistence. Occurrence Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba Status historyDesignated Special Concern in April 1999. Status re–examined and confirmed in May 2002 and April 2010. Please note that the related COSEWIC Status Report is available below in PDF format. You will be asked to provide your e-mail address then you will receive a link to download the publication. After processing, your email address is not retained in any way and is automatically discarded by our system.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Great Plains Toad (2010)

    This species is widespread but has a scattered distribution of mostly small populations that fluctuate in numbers. It almost meets criteria for Threatened and could become Threatened because of ongoing loss and degradation of habitat, particularly loss of intermittent wetlands from cultivation, oil and gas development and increase in droughts. These threats increase fragmentation of populations and jeopardize their persistence.
  • Response Statements - Great Plains Toad (2004)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus) in Canada (2013)

    The Great Plains Toad was listed as a species of Special Concern on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2005. The Minister of Environment is the competent minister for the management of the Great Plains Toad and has prepared this plan, as per section 65 of SARA. The plan has been prepared in cooperation with the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (2004)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (2012)

    The purpose of the Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act is to add 18 species to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (the List), and to reclassify 7 listed species, pursuant to subsection 27(1) of SARA. This amendment is made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the Canadian public.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (2005)

    Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is amended by Order of the Governor in Council (GIC), on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, by the addition of 73 species. This Order is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and follows consultations with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the public, and analysis of costs and benefits to Canadians.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 (2010)

    Under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. During the past year, COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings and reviewed the status of 79 wildlife species (species, subspecies, populations). During the meeting of November 2009, COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of the status of 28 wildlife species. COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of an additional 51 wildlife species (species, subspecies and populations) during their April 2010 meeting. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2009-2010 reporting period include the following: Extirpated: 6 Endangered: 39 Threatened: 16 Special Concern: 17 Data Deficient: 1 This report transmits to the Minister the status of 46 species newly classified as extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern, fulfilling COSEWIC’s obligations under SARA Section 24 and 25. A full detailed summary of the assessment for each species and the reason for the designation can be found in Appendix I of the attached report. Since its inception, COSEWIC has assessed 602 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 262 Endangered, 151 Threatened, 166 Special Concern and 23 Extirpated. In addition, 13 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct. Also, to date, 46 wildlife species have been identified by COSEWIC as Data Deficient and 166 wildlife species were assessed as Not at Risk. This year has been a particularly productive year for COSEWIC’s Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) Subcommittee. In April 2010 COSEWIC approved the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Process and Protocol Guidelines, providing clear and agreed principles for the gathering of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge to carry out COSEWIC functions as required under Section 15(2) of SARA (See Appendix III of the attached report). We are grateful for the rich and enthusiastic contribution made by community elders and experts in helping the ATK Subcommittee prepare the ATK protocols.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – November 2010 (2010)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by February 4, 2011 for species undergoing normal consultations and by February 4, 2012 for species undergoing extended consultations.
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: March 2004 (2004)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.