Frogs are short, squat amphibians, and toads are actually a type of frog. There are nearly 6,500 species of frogs in the world, and new ones are still being discovered.
Frogs breed and lay eggs in water in the spring and summer, depending on the species. Toad eggs can be differentiated from other frogs’ eggs as they are in spiral strings instead of a large mass. Salamander eggs have an additional layer of jelly around the eggs, whereas frog eggs’ individual spheres can be seen at the surface of the mass.
Eggs hatch into tadpoles, which are generally herbivorous larvae. Like most amphibians, frogs metamorphose from aquatic larvae to adults that can be more or less terrestrial. First they grow back legs, then front legs, then the tail is subsumed. Almost every organ changes, as their tiny mouths with teeth for tearing plant platter morph into larger mouths with sticky tongues, their skulls change shape, and from cartilage to bone, and their gills recede and lungs enlarge.
Wood frogs are the colors of the leaf litter on the forest floor where they live, to better blend in. They range from a creamy color to dark brown, sometimes with hints of orange, but they always have a dark mask around their eyes and a light-colored lip.
They are the earliest frogs to emerge and breed in the spring, and can be found migrating during those very early spring rains. They start calling for mates as early as February, followed closely by the spring peeper, but can be differentiated by their lower, quack-like call.
The wood frog’s claim to fame is that it can be frozen solid, and survive to hop again when thawed.
Green frogs are commonly found in or around ponds, lakes and streams. They are often primarily brown or a dark olive green, but the face or lip in particular may have a bright green color.
They are easily differentiated from bullfrogs by the ridge running from their eye all the way down their back. A bullfrog’s ridge circles the tympanum (the round spot behind their eye, basically their eardrum), leaving the back smooth.
They can be heard calling from May to August, and make a glug sound, almost like a banjo.
Bullfrogs also tend to hang around the water, enjoying the same type of habitat as green frogs.
They can be enormous–eight inches long–but size is not the best factor for identification. The ridge around the tympanum is the key. Bullfrogs will eat anything that can fit in their mouths, including birds and mice.
Their call is a loud, low hum, likened to a race car driving by, or the swoosh of a light saber. Bullfrog tadpoles can also be huge, six or more inches long. They take around three years to mature before they metamorphose into adult frogs. Green frog tadpoles can also take more than a season, and get quite large, depending on their habitat. Tadpole differentiation is much trickier.
Northern Leopard Frog
Leopard frogs and pickerel frogs are often confused. While leopard frogs typically have green in their body coloring, it’s not a reliable indicator. Instead, look to the spots. Leopard frogs have rounder, more random spots, often with a thin, light green ring around them. Pickerel frogs have more square spots, in a row-like pattern down the back.
Northern leopard frogs can be heard calling in March and April. They sound like a long creak, or like a balloon being rubbed.
A new species of leopard frog was discovered in New York five years ago. The Atlantic Coast leopard frog is hard to differentiate visually, but its call sounds almost like a cough. If you think you’ve heard it in Westchester, please let me know!
Pickerel frogs are light brown with squarish, dark brown spots. They may have yellow on their belly or inner thighs.
The habitat of the leopard and pickerel frogs are also similar. They may be found in grassy areas, wet meadows, or along streams.
The pickerel frog calls from April to May, slightly later than the leopard frogs, and sounds like snoring.
Gray treefrogs are bright green when they emerge from the water as tiny froglets. Most change to a mottled gray color, to blend in with the bark of the trees, where they live. They have a white splotch underneath their eyes and sticky toepads to help them climb. They are nocturnal and eat insects, so if you have an outdoor light that attracts bugs, you may find a gray treefrog hanging out on your house catching a meal. They are only about 1.5 to 2 inches long when full grown.
You may also hear them calling at night, typically in May. Their call is a short trill. Their tadpoles’ tails will grow red if there are predators in the water.
Northern Spring Peeper
Pseudacris c. crucifer
Everyone knows what a spring peeper sounds like! They chirp early and often in the spring, usually starting mid-March, and can be heard from a long ways off. These tiny chorus frogs may make a big sound at night, but they are rarely seen otherwise. When not breeding in wetlands, they are usually found in forest or lowland habitats nearby. They are usually only about an inch long. Their skin is light brown or grayish, with a darker X on the back.
Bufo a. americanus
The American toad is very common in New York and much of the eastern U.S. They can be various shades of brown, yellowish or even almost brick red. The identifying factor is the number of warts within each dark spot. If there are only one or two, it is an American toad. If there are three or more, it is a Fowler’s toad.
American toads call and breed in March through June. Their call is a very long trill, up to 30 seconds! They are pretty indiscriminate when it comes to where they choose to lay their eggs. You might find them in a roadside ditch that’s filled with water.
The Fowler’s toad is a rarer find. They have a similar varied coloring to American toads, but have a pale line running down the middle of the back. The larger spots with more warts is again the best way to differentiate.
They are nocturnal insectivores, just like the American toad. They also have similarly broad habitat requirements, and may live in forests, fields or marshlands. Fowler’s toads breed a bit later, in May through June, and have a totally different call. They have a loud cry that sounds almost like a deep-voiced baby’s wail. It goes WRAAAAAH.