Garden View: Frogs leap, toads hop

The distinguishable characteristics of amphibians

BY ANITA WESTERVELT

TEXAS MASTER NATURALIST

Distinct features can help you identify whether you’re looking at a frog or a toad. A prominent one is that frogs have smooth, slimy skin, while toads are warty looking and have rough, dry skin.

Another quick tell is the legs. A frog’s legs are longer; they are bigger than its head and body. Toads have short legs.

Check out the eyes. A frog’s eyes bulge out from its head, and are round. Toad’s eyes do not prominently stick out of their head, and their eyes are oval shaped. Toads have glands behind their eyes that ooze a poison when they are threatened, a poison that can make other animals sick.

Frogs and toads are amphibians; they make up the order Anura, in the animal kingdom. Toads are a sub-classification of frogs.

There are decided differences in the habitats between frogs and toads. Frogs live in water; they breathe through the buccal (oral) cavity and their skin; they use their nose to breathe when they are out of the water. Toads live mainly on land and breathe through the nose. Frogs and toads do not drink water, but absorb it through their skin.

Both frogs and toads are carnivorous. They eat small fish, insects, spiders, worms, grubs, slugs and snails and other small animals. They catch prey using their long sticky tongue. Frogs have teeth in their upper jaw. Toads have no teeth.

A nice big frog in our parts is the Rio Grande leopard frog. It’s a beauty. Lime green and tan with big spots. They are mostly nocturnal and spend the days camouflaged or along the edge of a water body. They can grow to nearly four and a half inches. Toads and frogs are measured from tip of snout to base of tail bone — called snout-vent length (SVL). The stretched out legs of a toad or frog are not included in the measurement.

Gulf coast toads are prevalent in the Rio Grande Valley. They are mostly seen fleeing from lawnmowers and are easily identified by a light tan stripe running down the center of their back. It’s wise to not handle animals found in the wild. Gulf coast toads can cause skin and eye irritation to humans, if handled.

Frogs have many predators; toads have few because of their rough skin and the poison glands that coat their skin with toxins. Frog predators include snakes, lizards, birds and small animals. Even in the water, frogs are not safe from diving birds and some fish. Hawks, herons, raccoons and some snakes are able to eat toads.

Frogs are rapid swimmers. They bring their hind legs up to their body and then push off, stretching to their full length. Their webbed feet help them push through water. Humans can adopt a frog kick in their swimming style which is generally used with the breast stroke.

Most toads do not have webbed feet. Their shorter hind legs are good for hopping, walking or crawling on the ground. Frogs are more likely to leap or jump.

Internet pages from Herps of Texas, World Atlas, Kid Zone, and CBC Kids were helpful in writing this article. Anita Westervelt is a Texas Master Naturalist and provides monthly articles to The Monitor.