Clip of the Week – American toad males competing to mate

Clip of the week

Our latest Clip of the Week shows American toads competing to mate with a female, filmed in the US state of Maryland by John Cancalosi. In the spawning season, male toads have such a strong drive to reproduce, that they will attempt to mate with dead toads, with animals of other species and (as the photographer’s account below reveals) even with a photographer’s tripod!


Find out more about the American toad

The American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) is a common species of toad found throughout the eastern United States and Canada. January or February marks the beginning of their breeding season in Southeastern USA, and it lasts from March to July across most of their range. Males toads will gather in choruses to call females in – usually at night, but also on warm, wet days during the peak of the season. The call of the male is a long, musical bu-r-r-r-r of 6-30 seconds in duration. The female selects a mate and he grasps her behind her forelimbs, encouraging her to deposit thousands of eggs in gelatinous strands. 

John Cancalosi shares the story behind the video…

“For many years, early Spring has been a season of love for me. I often find myself immersed in gooey mud, while being feasted upon by giant blood-sucking leeches, surrounded by an orgy of ardent lovers. Most recently I have done this near America’s capitol in Maryland.

For several days each Spring, toads descend upon local ponds and lakes in an effort to ensure the continuation of their species. The males arrive first and begin calling in order to attract females. So ardent are they that I have seen them grab hold of virtually anything within their grasp, including other males, my tripod and even a friend’s leg in one case! When the males are lucky enough to find a real female, their love knows no bounds and groups of males may hold on to her, in a behaviour known as amplexus, with reckless abandon, even to the point of drowning her on some occasions. However, most mating proceeds in a more evolutionarily adaptive way, with a single male and female. The female lays a long string of eggs, often helped out of her body by a male’s hind legs, with the male fertilizing the eggs as they emerge.

So distracted am I at times, that I have discovered later that huge leeches have been robbing me of my blood while I have been submerged! As evidenced by the streaks of blood running down my legs when I emerge from the water, the leech’s anticoagulants still having their effect. ”