Frogs and toads have an ancient history, with fossils dating back to the time of the dinosaurs.
Algonquin Provincial Park naturalist David LeGros has been fascinated by these amphibians since he was a small child and shares some fun facts about them.
What is the difference between frogs and toads?
There are thirteen different types of frogs and toads in Ontario. They are both amphibians (meaning they are cold-blooded, breed in water, and have permeable skin) and are very similar. In fact, toads are actually a species of frog.
Gray tree frog
But while frogs have moist, slimy skin and generally live most of their lives in or near water, toads have dry, warty skin and spend most of their time on land. Toads are what you will find in your garden. And no, you won’t get warts when you touch them!
Frogs and toads are solitary.
For the most part, frogs and toads travel through life alone. The only time they get together is in early spring and then only long enough to mate. That croak that is heard at dusk is that of the male calling to attract the female and attract her to him.
Frogs and toads reproduce through external fertilization. The female lays her eggs in or on the water, either in a long row or in a cluster, and the male fertilizes them. The male and female then go their separate ways, letting the embryos develop into fish-like tadpoles and, eventually, baby frogs or toads. This process is called metamorphosis.
Frogs and toads are most active at night.
Frogs and toads lose moisture quickly through their skin, so they need to be careful in the sun: drying out can be quite dangerous. During the day they sit in protected places. At night, they become active and wait patiently to ambush a passing insect or other prey. When one passes by, they stick out their long, sticky tongues and, in an instant, snatch it away!
Green frog. Photo: David Legrós.
Frogs and toads are good food for birds of prey, snakes, and many mammals. Their best defense is to be well camouflaged, but if that fails, they can quickly move away from danger.
Frogs and toads start life as vegetarians
Tadpoles feed on microplants and algae, but when they reach adulthood, frogs and toads become carnivores and eat mainly insects and invertebrates. Some frogs devour small birds and mammals, fish and snakes… practically anything that moves and fits in their mouth!
Frogs and toads do not chew their food. They swallow their prey whole. They use their hands and eyeballs to push it from the throat to the stomach. That’s why they seem to blink when they eat!
Frogs and toads sleep throughout the winter.
American toad. Photo: David Legrós.
As the temperature begins to drop, their metabolism slows down and they begin to hibernate until April or May. Some, like the American toad, hide in the ground. Others, like the bullfrog, dive to sleep at the bottom of ponds, lakes or rivers. And some, like the gray tree frog and the wood frog, hibernate under leaves or logs or in rock crevices in the forest.
In fact, the wood frog freezes in winter. Your breathing and heartbeat stop, but because the water in your cells is replaced with glucose, your organs and muscles are not damaged. In spring, when the earth’s temperature rises, the wood frog thaws and jumps!
Frogs and toads tell us a lot about the health of our environment.
Because they need both aquatic and terrestrial habitats to complete their life cycle and have very sensitive skin that absorbs pollutants, frogs and toads are good indicators of how healthy the environment is.
Do you feel friendly with frogs?
If you would like to get involved and contribute to our knowledge about these fascinating amphibians, please participate in FrogWatch Ontario.
There are two levels of frog watchers, and whichever you choose, you’ll help scientists identify population trends and track climate change!