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Toad vs. Frog: Differences in Anatomy, Habitat and More

A green Bullfrog sitting on a rock looking into the distance
Do you know how to tell whether this is a frog or a toad? Herman Bresser / Getty Images

It’s time to set the record straight about toad vs. frog identification. On the surface, these amphibians appear a lot alike, thanks to similarities in their body types, behavior and scientific classifications. But the truth behind their similarities and differences, it turns out, can be more complicated.

Both frogs and toads are members of the order Anura. However, frogs can belong to many different families, while toads belong only to the family Bufonidae. Additionally, from a scientific classification standpoint, every toad is technically a frog. To make things even more confusing, not all frogs are toads.

But that’s just the start when it comes to comparing toads and frogs, with there also being major differences in their anatomy, habitats and offspring. Read on to learn more about what sets true toads apart from true frogs.

4 Differences in Appearance

At first glance, toads and frogs appear similar, but a closer look reveals they differ significantly in the following areas.

1. Skin

Toads have dry, bumpy skin, whereas frogs have generally smooth or slimy skin. The uneven, warty texture helps protect a toad from dehydration and also serves as camouflage. Some toads even have glands on their skin that secrete toxins as self-defense.

In contrast, frogs' smooth, moist skin helps them thrive both in the water and on dry land. One benefit to having such smooth skin is it makes it easier to absorb oxygen over their entire surface area, helping them adapt to life in and around bodies of water.

2. Legs

Frogs have long hind legs, specifically designed for leaping and swimming, while toads tend to have stubby, short hind legs better suited for navigating short distances on land. With their characteristic hopping movements, frogs can cover significant distances and make it look effortless.

Toads, on the other hand, require just short hops since they generally need to cover less ground.

3. Eyes

Toads' eyes bulge more than frogs' eyes do. This makes sense, given that toads need to be better at spotting prey on land. With eyes that sit higher on their heads, they gain the ability to survey their surroundings more efficiently.

Frogs, with their sleeker and slightly more recessed eyes, are better suited for a dual existence on land and in the water, where having a streamlined body can be a plus.

4. Coloration

Both frogs and toads can display a range of colors; however, frogs tend to be more colorful. Toads come in browns, greens and grays. Combined with their warty texture, these earthy colors allow them to blend seamlessly into fields and forests so they can avoid predators.

Frogs may exhibit more vibrant hues, including green, yellow, orange, blue, purple and other shades. The purpose of such intense colors is twofold: to attract a mate, and to warn predators of their toxicity.

Population and Habitat

There are more than 6,000 species of frogs and more than 300 species of true toads. You can find frogs and toads all over the world (they live on every single continent except Antarctica), although they have distinct preferences when it comes to their type of habitat.

While both toads and frogs require water to survive, frogs spend less of their time on dry land than toads tend to do.

Frogs like to divide their activities between both land and water, living in and around ponds, lakes and streams where they can absorb oxygen and moisture through their uniquely permeable skin. Toads, on the other hand, show a clear preference for gardens, forests and meadows where their warty and dry, bumpy skin serves as camouflage.

Reproduction: Eggs and Tadpoles

Reproduction for both amphibians follows similar patterns, although there are notable differences between frogs and toads in their egg-laying behavior and the appearance of their tadpoles.

Toads lay eggs in long, gelatinous strands, typically in water, creating protective clusters for the developing embryos. The gelatinous texture provides buoyancy, preventing the eggs from sinking and enhancing their chances of survival.

Frogs, however, tend to lay eggs in large clusters, forming a gel-like mass that floats on the water's surface.

Once hatched, the toad eggs and frog eggs result in tadpoles. Frog tadpoles, often found in ponds and lakes, have streamlined bodies and long tails for efficient swimming, while toad tadpoles are adapted to shallower water, with thicker bodies and shorter tails.

Songs and Vocalizations

Toad songs and frog vocalizations can vary widely among species, from the rhythmic croaking of bullfrogs to the trilling sounds of tree frogs.

Male frogs are renowned for their melodic and often complex calls, which they use primarily to attract mates, establish territories and communicate with other members of their species.

Toads, on the other hand, produce shorter, less musical calls, often described as chirping sounds. While frog songs are prominent during the breeding season, toads may vocalize year-round.

The primary function of both toad and frog vocalizations is to attract females as mates, establish territories and communicate with other members of their species.

Toxicity and Poisonous Skin

Both frogs and toads defend themselves against predators through the use of poison, although not all frogs and toads are toxic. Certain toad species are known for having specialized skin glands that secrete poisonous substances.

When threatened, these toads release toxins that can be harmful or even deadly to predators, serving as a potent deterrent.

Protecting Toads and Frogs

Protecting frogs and toads in the wild is crucial for maintaining the health and balance of ecosystems. These amphibians play pivotal roles as indicator species — creatures that reflect the overall condition of a natural area.

Yet more than 40 percent of frogs, salamanders and other amphibians are facing the threat of extinction, with climate change, pollution and resource destruction being major factors.

Conservation efforts often target preserving wetlands, which are crucial habitats for both frogs and toads. Additionally, captive breeding programs and habitat restoration projects aim to provide suitable living conditions and bolster their populations in the wild.

Meanwhile, educational campaigns increase awareness about the significance of frogs and toads, fostering public support for conservation initiatives.

Despite these efforts, challenges persist. Some argue that limited resources should be directed toward protecting more economically significant species. However, experts warn that the decline of frogs and toads can be an early sign of broader ecological issues and waiting to address these declines risks irreparable damage to the world's ecosystems.

Ultimately, prioritizing the conservation of frogs and toads could be a critical step toward ensuring the planet's biodiversity.

This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

Original article: Toad vs. Frog: Differences in Anatomy, Habitat and More

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