Credit: John D. Willson/United States Geological Survey
Houston toads are generally brown and speckled, but individual coloration can vary considerably, with some appearing to be light brown and others almost black. They also may have a slightly reddish, yellowish or greyish hue. Their legs have darker bands across them, and there are two dark bands extending from each eye down to the mouth. A variable white stripe usually extends down the middle of the back, but can be absent, and there are irregular white streaks along the sides of the toad’s body. Their undersides are generally white with variable amounts of black speckling. In males the throat is black. Adult Houston toads are medium-sized (2 to 3.5 inches) with females larger and bulkier than males. As with most toads, they are stout-bodied animals with short legs and rough warty skin. They move by making short hops.
Because most kinds of toads are not able to leap to escape from predators, they have developed a different means of protection. First, the they have developed coloration and rough skin to camouflage them from predators. However, if the camouflage doesn’t work, the toads have a backup. Their skin secretes potent chemicals that are distasteful, and sometimes poisonous, to predators. These chemicals are concentrated in the toads’ parotid glands, which are located just behind their heads. In addition to protecting toads from being eaten, many of these chemicals (such as serotonin and alkaloids) are used as medicines to treat heart and nervous disorders in humans.