A frog by any other name

Did you know that toads are frogs, but frogs are not toads? It's a puzzle to many people what makes a frog a frog and a toad a toad.

You will see both near bodies of water, but frogs actually live in or near water their entire lives. Toads breed and mature in water, then move on to dry land once they are adults.

How else can you tell a frog from a toad? Frogs have smooth, moist skin, no warts, a narrow body, longer hind legs for hopping, webbed hind feet for swimming, and lay eggs in massive lumps of cloudy jelly. Toads have rough, dry, warty skin with broad, flat bodies. They walk, and their eggs are long and stringy, wrapped around water plants. Frogs have teeth, toads don't.

Frogs jump to escape predators. Toads produce toxic or unpleasant tasting skin secretions, which they release when seized. Because of their bad flavor, toads are not a popular food choice. Even their eggs and tadpoles are toxic. Frogs can also have skin secretions, but it isn't as strong as those of toads.

The secretions don't usually affect people, but your dog may froth at the mouth if it picks up a toad. It will promptly spit it out. If you handle frogs and toads, make sure to wash your hands, because the secretions can burn your eyes. You will not, however, get warts.

This green tree frog was spotted at the Lake Waco Wetlands environmental project. This green tree frog was spotted at the Lake Waco Wetlands environmental project. On a rainy night the air is filled with a cacophony of calls. Many calls are made by insects, but the majority are frogs, and not just one kind, but probably several. While most species have a distinct set of calls, the main reason for the noise is to attract a mate.

This is usually left to the male, as the female of most species will not call to attract a mate. The conundrum for the male is that predators also listen for these calls, so they must be judicious about when they call. The females, of course, prefer complex calls, but males won't usually expend the energy to do that, unless motivated by another male.

There are 46 species of frogs and toads in Texas (3,700 worldwide, 80 native to North America). Twenty-five species call Milam County home. Frogs and toads are Amphibians, which is a wide and varied group of animals that also includes salamanders and newts.

Besides the coolness or ick factor of frogs and toads, depending on your outlook, they are a good bellwether for the health of the environment. Their skin is permeable, and highly susceptible to changes in the air, water, and land. Decreasing populations of frogs and toads could be a sign something is wrong in the environment. Their numbers are going down worldwide, but it isn't clear if Texas frogs and toads are following the same trend. Not enough data exists.

Interestingly, many of the Texas species are adapted to drought, but seem to be intolerant of habitat changes, which are thought to be the prime cause of the disappearance of the Houston Toad in Harris County. Houston Toads still live in other areas of Texas, possibly Milam County. They have been seen in nearby Bastrop County.

Spotting one of these guys would be a big find! They have mottled black or brown patches on cream or purple-grey skin. They like pine forests and prairies, and usually breed between January and June.

You can help Texas Parks and Wildlife learn more about the status of frogs and toads in your area by becoming a member of the Texas Amphibian Watch. It's easy and fun. Go here for more info:

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2009-06-11 digital edition

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