Frequently-Asked Frog Questions

What's the difference between a frog and a toad?

Frogs usually have smooth, moist skin and spend most of their lives in or near water. Toads usually have dry, warty-looking skin and spend more time living on land.

Scientifically, things are a more complicated. Besides the true frogs (Ranidae) and toads (Bufonidae), there are separate families for tree frogs, spadefoot toads, poison-arrow frogs, and several other groups. The order that contains all the frogs and toads is called Salientia (from a Latin word that means "leaping") or Anura ("tailless"). Here is the family tree that shows how the frog and toad families are grouped.

What do frogs eat?

Frogs and toads are carnivores -- that is, they eat other animals, typically bugs and worms. Frogs are beneficial to humans because they eat so many insect pests. Some large species of frogs, like the African bullfrog, will try to eat just about anything, including other frogs as well as small fish, reptiles, and mammals.

Why do frogs jump?

There are lots of animals (like alligators, snakes, owls, and even people) who think that frogs make tasty snacks. Since frogs don't have sharp teeth or claws to defend themselves against predators, the best thing they can do to avoid being eaten is to escape as quickly as possible when they spot a hungry-looking animal approaching them. Sproinnggg!!! Some kinds of frogs can jump distances up to 20 times their own body length in a single leap. When disturbed, frogs often jump into a puddle or pond where they can hide underwater. Their erratic zig-zag jumping on land also serves to confuse potential predators.

Why do frogs croak?

In most frog species only the males croak. They croak to attract female frogs for breeding, and to warn away other male frogs from their territory. Female frogs think croaking is very sexy.

Many kinds of frogs puff themselves up enormously with air when they croak. This amplifies the sounds made by the frog's vocal chords, kind of like how the stretched membrane of a drum works. This is why a little critter like a frog can make such loud noises!

So tell me more about frog sex!

Male frogs and toads are not particularly bright when it comes to sex. They'll attempt to mate with anything that moves, including other males and floating leaves. Eventually they'll figure out they've made a mistake and try again with a different target. When they finally find a female, they'll climb on her back so that they can fertilize her eggs as she lays them. This mating grasp is called amplexus. Male frogs have specially adapted thumbs so that they can hang on to the female's back even if she gets bored and tries to hop away. The male frog also needs to hang on tightly to the female because sometimes more males try to join in the fun in a kind of frog orgy.

Most frogs and toads need to lay their eggs in water. Each female lays thousands of eggs at a time, in strings or slimy masses. The eggs hatch into tadpoles, which are very different from adult frogs. They live exclusively in the water and breathe through gills instead of lungs like an adult frog. They have a tail for swimming instead of legs and arms for hopping. And tadpoles have a small rasping mouth for scraping algae off the bottom of the pond instead of the wide mouth and strong jaws suited to the adult frog's carnivorous diet. The process of changing from a tadpole into an adult frog is called metamorphosis. Depending on the species, it can take a few weeks to a year or more for the tadpoles to grow up. Frogs and toads who live in dry places where rains are seasonal have to grow up quickly because the tadpoles will die if their temporary ponds dry up first.

Some kinds of frogs and toads have different ways to raise their families. In some species, the eggs hatch directly into little froglets and there is no tadpole stage at all. One kind of treefrog builds hanging nests; the tadpoles drop into water below as they hatch. The Surinam Toad is probably the weirdest of all: it carries its tadpoles around in a built-in nest in the spongy skin on its back.

How do frogs and toads survive in the winter?

They hibernate in burrows or bury themselves in mud. Frogs and toads are cold-blooded and their body processes slow down as the outside temperature drops. (This is why you sometimes find sluggish-acting toads on cool mornings in the spring.) Frogs' bodies have some natural antifreeze built into them, but some kinds of frogs who live in especially cold climates can even survive being frozen solid.

Can frogs give you warts?

Don't be silly! Warts are caused by a virus, not by frogs.

This common myth probably originated because many toads have bumps on their skin that that look like warts. The large bumps behind the toad's ears (the parotoid glands) contain a nasty poison. It not only tastes bad but also irritates the mouth of any predators who try to eat toads, and can cause convulsions or even death. You should be careful in handling toads and always wash your hands afterwards.

What's the biggest kind of frog?

It's the goliath frog that is native to Cameroon in western Africa. These frogs have bodies that are nearly a foot (30 cm) long and legs that are even longer than that! Cane toads (also known as giant toads or marine toads) and various species of bullfrogs also get pretty big.

At the other end of the scale, some species of tiny frogs, such as spring peepers, may be less than half an inch (1 cm) long, even when they're fully grown.

Can it really rain frogs?

Yes! It doesn't happen very often, but there are several known instances where frogs have been sucked up by tornadoes or violent winds associated with thunderstorms, and dropped down out of the sky miles from their ponds. Check out the Froggy Page's Scientific Amphibian section for some links to articles on this subject.

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Sandra Loosemore