Fowler’s Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri)

A hike in the woods with friends between exams was just what the doctor called for. The surrounding trees and good weather did wonders to relieve stress, and we were ecstatic to find more than a few herps on our walk. One of the herps we found was a Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri).

A. fowleri range throughout most of the south eastern United States except for most of Florida and parts of the Carolinas; their range also includes most or parts of states that border the southeast. Fowler’s toads tend to occupy sandy areas close to bodies of water. This makes sense as the toad we found was on a sandy trail next to a lake.

They can be very difficult to identify because of their tendency to hybridize with other toads. Fowler’s toads, however, typically do not have large warts on their front legs, and the dark spots on their backs have about two to three small warts in them as opposed to the American toad’s which contain at most two large warts.

It is uncommonly easy to determine gender in A. fowleri. Sex can be distinguished by the color of their throat. Males have dark throats, while females have pale throats. The picture featured in this article is of a female Fowler’s toad.

A. fowleri call from February to July. Their call has been described as a “weird, wailing scream” and is written as waaaaaaaah. When I listened to a recording of it, I thought it sounded like a mechanical baby which was extremely entertaining.

One really cool thing this toad can do is orient itself with olfactory senses and the position of the sun. This means the Fowler’s toad can tell where it is (North, South, East, West) using the sun and with its nose determine its exact location. By far this is the coolest thing I learned about them.

Anaxyrus fowleri photographed by Megan Massa
Anaxyrus fowleri photographed by Megan Massa

Thank you for reading! I used “Frogs & Toads of the Southeast” by Mike Dorcas and Whit Gibbons and “A Guide to the Frogs and Toads of Virginia” published by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans)

The sight of one of the biggest frogs I had ever seen stopped me in my tracks. It was in a deep pool in the little stream that ran sort of parallel to this section of the trail. Quickly, I rolled up my jeans and took off my shoes and socks before running off the path. Unfortunately, my speed did not give the element of surprise I needed to catch the frog. However, as I walked along the stream bank, I saw plenty more where my big friend had come from – a plethora of huge frogs jumping into the water with little yelps. Jackpot.

One jumped into the water and I decided to just go after it. There was a great pile of dead leaves covering the bottom of the stream, but I stuck my arm into it and began to feel around. Something fleshy brushed against my palm, and I closed my fingers around it, silently praying “Please be a frog. Please just be a frog. Don’t be anything I’m going to regret touching.” Bringing my hand out of the water revealed a captured green frog (Lithobates clamitans).

L. clamitans has been described as one of Virginia’s most active frog species. They range the entire east United States, except for the Florida panhandle and a part of Illinois. There is a subspecies known as the bronze frog (Lithobates clamitans clamitans) that occurs in the southern half of the southeast…except for the Florida panhandle. Sorry Floridians!

L. clamitans is most frequently confused with other species such as the bull frog (Lithobates catesbeianus) and the pig frog (Lithobates grylio). In Virginia, where I found my green frog, the confusion of the ID is between green and bull. The below picture is from the Virginia Herpetological Society’s (VHS) website, depicting the major differences between the two species. Dorsal ridges and snout shape were all I had to go on. None of the pictures taken from my escapade in the stream showed the backs of the frogs, so an ID based on dorsal ridges was out. I puzzled over the frog with the VHS and we came to the conclusion of green frog based on the narrow snout.

Differences between L. clamitans (bottom) and L. catesbeianus (top). Appropriated from the Virginia Herpetological Society's website: http://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/identification-keys/id-keys-frogs/Lithobates-Rana.html
Differences between L. clamitans (top) and L. catesbeianus (bottom). Appropriated from the Virginia Herpetological Society’s website

They call from May to September and breed in the summer months. Their call has been likened to a struck banjo string – more of a “glunk” than an “Alligator Pie” banjo sound. It has been observed that males defend territory in the breeding months but that this territory shrinks when more vegetation is present, effectively blocking their neighbors from sight. Currently, they are calling in the college woods around our lake at my campus.

 

L. clamitans fresh out of the stream. Photographed by Matthew Anothony
L. clamitans fresh out of the stream in the college woods. Photographed by Matthew Anthony

Thank you for reading the article! If you enjoyed it, you should check out my other blog posts.

I used “Frogs & Toads of the Southeast” by Mike Dorcas and Whit Gibbons and “A Guide to the Frogs and Toads of Virginia” published by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. I also referenced a Dave Matthews Band song “Alligator Pie”. To hear the call of the green frog click here.

Pickerel Frog (Lithobates palustris)

I crouched down by the stream where a frog had jumped in. There it was! Under a leaf, thinking it was completely camouflaged. Silly frog. I placed my left hand a little in front of it in the water and poked one of its legs with my right, causing it to swim into my open palm. I quickly cupped it with both hands and got a secure hold on the legs. Lo and behold: a pickerel frog!

Pickerel frogs (Lithobates palustris) are medium sized frogs found in most of the eastern united states except for large chunks of most of the southern states (practically doesn’t occur in FL) and in large portions of KY, IL, TN, and AK. It’s a very hard range to describe.

Their call sounds like a really low, drawn out snore. Pickerel frogs start calling late January and end early May. They are calling absolutely everywhere on my college campus day and night, but it is more pronounced during the evening and into the night.

L. palustris eats invertebrates such as spiders and insects, but occasionally mollusks as well. They also react to movement. If it moves, it’s food. You might recall the T-rex in the first Jurassic Park movie who reacted to movement when investigating the tour trucks – same thing just less terrifying.

A really fascinating feature of this species is its toxins. One book I have tells me it is poisonous and gives no further details. Another tells me that some people have had pickerel frogs that will kill other frogs it is bagged with due to the toxins, while others have not had any problem. Its toxicity is not well studied. We do not know if L. palustris has toxins in only parts of its range or if it’s due to diet or if it only occurs during certain parts of its life cycle. We just don’t know. We also don’t know much about their behavior and life history. Do they establish territories? How long do they live in the wild? These frogs should be studied more – especially their toxins.

Lo and behold: a pickerel frog. Photographed by Matthew Anthony.
Lo and behold: a pickerel frog. Photographed by Matthew Anthony.

Thank you for reading! Please check out my other posts if you enjoyed this one!

I used “Frogs & Toads of the Southeast” by Mike Dorcas and Whit Gibbons and “A Guide to the Frogs and Toads of Virginia” published by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. To hear their call, please follow this link.

THE AMERICAN TOAD, BUFO AMERICANUS

RANGE

The American Toad, bufo americanus, is a large and abundant terrestrial amphibian and is quite common within the Eastern United States. Their full range extends from Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri eastward to the Atlantic coast, north into Canada, and south into the Northern halves of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and North and South Carolina.

IDENTIFICATION

It is a large toad, growing from 2 to 4 inches in length. Within its range it is most often mistaken with the Fowler’s Toad, and unfortunately the two have been known to hybridize, sometimes making identification problematic. Yet for the experienced herper, knowing what to look for makes distinguishing the two species rather simple. Most notable, the large dark patches on the backs of American Toads will contain only one or two warts, while the Fowler’s Toad will have three or more (see pic below).

Note the dark patches only contain one or two warts.
American Toad close up. Note the dark patches only contain one or two warts.

The natural coloration of this toad species varies greatly within individuals and across different localities. Different regions of the US may have distinct local varieties, with colors ranging from browns, blacks, grays, and reddish brown. The bellies of the American Toad are usually spotted.

A small subspecies called the Dwarf American Toad can be found in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Western Tennessee and Kentucky, and Southern Illinois and Indiana. It is significantly smaller than the American Toad (hence the name) and rarely exceeds two and a half inches in length.

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Two large adult American Toads found on my back patio at night.

HABITAT AND DIET

The American Toad is abundant and hearty, needing only adequate moisture and access to insects to thrive. It can be found in a variety of natural habitats and suburban neighborhoods as long as both of these requirements are met. It needs standing water to reproduce and will utilize it as such in any form. The large retention ponds commonly found in American neighborhoods and the outdoor lighting, which attracts multitudes of insects at night, make neighborhoods that feature lawns and gardens ideal for the American Toad. They can often be found in your garden, in the lawn, or underneath outdoor lights at night. All of the photos used for this post were taken of toads found around my house!

The American Toad will eat just about any small invertebrate or insect that it can fit into its mouth. It is primarily nocturnal and hunts at night. Look for these guys underneath outdoor lights just after the sun goes down. They can often be found underneath the light, feasting on whatever insects get too close. Check out the video below to see an American Toad on my back patio feeding.

BREEDING

The American Toad breeds from March to July, when its song, a very pleasant trill lasting 20-30 seconds, can be heard. The female attaches her egg strings to submerged vegetation, with the straddling male fertilizing the eggs as they are lain.

HERPING TIPS AND HANDLING

If you live in the Eastern United States, chances are you have already encountered an American Toad, maybe even several. They are not particularly difficult to find and are easy to grab once spotted, as they do not move very quickly. During the day, these toads will spend their time burrowed down into the cooler and moist dirt or underneath fallen logs or debris. Carefully flipping fallen logs or other debris is a good strategy as any when searching during the day. In the evenings and nighttime hours, check by any outdoor lighting around your house. These toads are notorious for returning to the same light every evening and feasting on the insects that are attracted to the lights. Due to the abundant nature of this toad, you will probably come across them by chance or accidentally, even as you may be walking through a forested path or pulling weeds in your garden.

The American Toad is harmless to humans. Yet it does have a irritating defense mechanism to urinate when handled. The urine is largely odorless. Gentle handling by simply placing the toad in the palm of your hand will reduce the stress on the animal and its likelihood to urinate.

Interestingly, the American Toad, like other toad species, has developed a defense mechanism geared specifically towards snakes. They will inhale as much air as they can, ballooning their bodies to become much more difficult to swallow. I came across just such an interaction on my driveway this summer, in which an beautiful Eastern Garter Snake was attempting to swallow a ballooned American Toad (see pic below).

The defense mechanism of the American Toad against snake predation.
The defense mechanism of the American Toad against snake predation.

AS PETS

This hearty toad species does well in captivity as long as adequate dirt for burrowing, a pool of water is provided for soaking, and an abundance of insects are provided daily. Even so, it is recommended that specimens are not removed from the wild. Check your local state law before choosing to keep an American Toad in captivity.

Thanks for reading!

– Indiana Nature

American Toad close up.
American Toad close up.

Credit to the Peterson Field Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North American and the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians for selected information. All photos © Indiana Nature. View more by visiting:

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Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor, Hyla chrysoscelis)

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The gray treefrog is a commonly spotted frog in eastern North America. There are two species of gray treefrog: the Cope’s gray treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) and the eastern gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor). The two species appear identical, but can be distinguished by their calls or by quantifying their chromosomes (H. versicolor has twice the number of chromosomes as H. chrysoscelis). Gray treefrogs range in color, from green to gray to brown. They can be solid in color, or exhibit blotchy skin patterns to aid in camouflage with their surroundings. They are also able to change their color within seconds. All individuals have a small white spot beneath the eyes, and large toe pads for adhering to trees and foliage. Gray treefrogs have bright patches of yellow or orange along the insides of their hind legs that they flash as an anti-predatory mechanism. Whether these “flash colors” serve to startle potential predators or to falsely indicate the presence of toxins is unknown. These frogs are also known to utilize death feigning when captured or handled.

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Diet/Feeding: Gray treefrogs consume a variety of terrestrial and arboreal invertebrates, including earthworms, flies, beetles, roaches, crickets, and caterpillars. Although they are considered a sit-and-wait predator, they have frequently been observed to jump between branches to catch a prey item.
Habitat/Range: The collective range of both species of treefrog can be found all throughout the eastern United States, beginning in Texas and extending north to the Great Lakes. As their name suggests, treefrogs are primarily arboreal frogs. They typically inhabit deciduous forests and swamplands that are near to aquatic habitats for breeding.
Reproduction: The breeding season for these frogs begins in April and lasts until August. Males migrate to trees and other plants near ponds and swamps, where they begin their mating calls to attract females. Both sexes typically mate up to three times per mating season. The female deposits 30-40 packets of up to 60 eggs each on vegetation that is close to the surface. She can lay up to 2,000 eggs in a single breeding season. The eggs generally hatch in three weeks and the tadpoles remain in their aquatic environments until they metamorphose four weeks later.
Herping Tips: Gray tree frogs are nocturnal and spend most of the day resting in trees. Look closely, they are able to blend in with their environments to avoid predation.
Fun Fact: Gray tree frogs are one of only a few freeze-tolerant frog species, to a temperature of -7.2°C. They can freeze by accumulating glycerol in their muscles, which is then converted to glucose and circulated through the cells. The remaining liquids in the frog’s body freeze until winter is over and the frog thaws, recovering over 33% of its frozen water for use by the body.