The life of frogs and toads


Steve Roark - Tri-State Outside



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Frogs and toads are pretty unique in the animal world. They are amphibians and live a double life, undergoing a complete metamorphosis from larva to adult. Science guys collectively call frogs and toads anurans, which means “without tail.” The name “frog” is used collectively for both groups.

The difference between the two comes down to water or the lack thereof. Frogs are designed for wet environments, with smooth to slimy skin and long, strong legs and webbed hind feet for leaping and swimming. They have bulging eyes for use as periscopes when submerged. Toads are designed for dry land conditions, with stubby bodies with dry and warty skin, and short hind legs for walking or short hopping. Both must lay eggs in water, which is easy for frogs since they hang out around water habitats like ponds and lakes. Toads can breed in forests using temporary ponds (called vernal) that fill up only after heavy spring rains. I’ve found toad eggs in water-filled road ruts. Frogs tend to lay eggs in clusters while toads tend to lay them in long chains. Both frogs and toads are most active during and right after rain events.

Anurans are most noticed in the spring when they begin their courting ritual of calling. While some croaks are for staking out territory, most of the spring singing is males trying to attract a mate. Frog and toad voices are pretty unique and it’s easy to identify them with a little practice. If you would like to hear what different frogs sound like and have internet access, go to https://www.aza.org/frogs-in-tennessee/. Frogs often exhibit counter-calling, when two or three frogs alternate, each calling in turn. This prevents calls from overlapping and making the location of each caller easier for females to find. Tree frogs vocalize by greatly expanding a balloon-like air sac, which is part of their throat skin. This adds volume and resonance so that a small frog can have a big voice. Larger frogs don’t need them and just belt it out.

If you want to pick up frogs and examine them, it’s okay for a little while, just don’t let them dry out. The gray tree frog emits a poison that can irritate your eyes, so wash your hands after handling them. No, you don’t get warts from picking up toads, though toads have warts that are glandular and emit a poison if eaten to dissuade predators.

Since frogs breathe through their skin, air and water pollutants can kill them off pretty easily. Ecologists use them as barometers of environmental health. A good book on frogs and other wildlife is Eastern Forests, a Peterson Field Guide.

Steve Roark is the area forester in Tazewell, Tennessee, for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.

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Steve Roark

Tri-State Outside

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