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Frog Friday: Frog or Toad?

American Toad. Photo by Paul Sattler.

This week’s #FrogFriday will attempt to answer the age-old question “Is it a frog or a toad?

Frogs and toads are both amphibians and comprise the subgroup (order) of amphibians known as the Anurans. Frogs and toads are closely associated with water; each breeding and laying their eggs in various types of wetlands ranging in size from lakes to puddles. Depending on the species, breeding typically occurs from mid-winter to early summer. Eggs develop into larvae, commonly known as tadpoles that have gills and a tail. The tadpoles eventually develop legs and lungs, absorb their fishlike tail and disperse to a more terrestrial home. This process or metamorphosis may take as long as two years or as little as just a few weeks depending on the species and the environment where they are adapted to survive.

Like with many questions in nature, this one will have a few exceptions that blur the lines just a bit. For the purposes of this article, we’ll speak generally about the most common frogs and toads in Virginia. Stay tuned for later editions of Frog Friday, when we describe species like the eastern spadefoot and the eastern narrow-mouthed toad that don’t exactly fit the standard frog or toad stereotype.

Frogs typically have large eyes; smooth, slimy or moist skin; lay their eggs in large clusters under the water; and have large hind legs for jumping. There are two major families of frogs in Virginia: the tree frogs (family Hylidae) and the true frogs (family Ranidae). The true frogs are the ones we typically think about when the word frog is mentioned. They have relatively large hind legs, well-defined webbed rear feet and are commonly heard at night or evening around ponds and lakes in the spring and summer. They are very closely associated with water and never stray very far from the water’s edge. These are also the frogs that are commonly depicted on TV or movies and that every young child knows that if you kiss the right one it may turn into a prince. Tree frogs are similar to true frogs in many ways, but have adapted adhesive pads on their toes to assist in climbing.

American Toad. photo by John White.

Toads are characteristically short/squat animals with dry rough skin, horizontal pupils and no teeth on the upper jaw. Unlike true frogs and treefrogs, the front and hind legs are proportionately similar in size. One of the most interesting features of toads is the parotoid gland that secrets a toxin. Although harmless to humans, the toxin may cause irritation in the mouth and throat of any would be predator. Toads are much more terrestrial than frogs and move a good distance from the pools where they hatched. Toads are generally in woodland environments and are commonly found in gardens or hunting insects in urban areas around houses especially nightlights or any place that might attract insects.

Frog and Toad Comparison Table
  • March 6, 2015