2017-2018 Full Tennessee Hunting and Trapping Guide

Frogs of Tennessee

  • Frog of TN
  • Frog ID Guide
  • The Frogs & Toads of Tennessee

    Tennessee is home to 21 species of frogs and toads. What is the difference between a frog and toad?

    american toad

    In general, frogs have smooth moist skin, can jump very well, and usually are found close to a water source even as adults.

    Toads have dry warty skin, make short hops, and may be found far from water as adults. However, technically toads are frogs!

     

    frog skintoad skin
    frog skin on the left, toad skin on the right

    Frogs and toads belong to the group of animals known as amphibians. Amphibians are the class of vertebrate animals containing the Anura (frogs and toads), Urodeles or Caudata (salamanders and sirens), and the lesser known Gymnophiona (caecilians) which do not occur in North America.

    Amphibians are ectothermic (cold-blooded), have smooth porous skin, primarily fertilize their eggs externally and do not have a hard shell or membrane around the eggs.

    The word amphibian comes from the Greek language and means "dual life." This refers to the lifestyle practiced by many amphibians. The adults are primarily terrestrial (land-dwelling) and the larva (tadpoles) are mainly aquatic (live in water).

     

    The Life Cycle of the Anuran

    cycle Male frogs gather at the breeding pools and begin to vocalize (call) to attract females. Females arrive at the breeding sites and seek out the most attractive males. Those males with the deepest voices and the longest calls attract the most females. Larger frogs have deeper voices and those frogs that are the largest and have the longest calls are the most fit.

    A male grasps a female from behind and grips her behind her front legs and hangs on until mating is completed (amplexus). During amplexus, the female expels her eggs and the male releases sperm into the water to fertilize them. This type of fertilization is called external fertilization.

    The eggs are laid in jelly-like masses in groups of a few to as many as several hundred depending upon the species. The egg cells of each embryo begin to divide into more cells (egg cell cleavage) and grow to form the tadpole. The eggs hatch within a few days.

    tadpole stages Tadpoles remain in the water a few weeks for most species, and up to 2 years for other species, before they metamorphose. Metamorphosis is the process in which a tadpole changes into a frog.

    Metamorphosis is a complex series of changes both external and internal. Lungs are formed, gills are absorbed, the digestive system changes from a primarily vegetarian one to a carnivorous one, legs appear and the tail is absorbed. These are only a few of the miraculous changes a tadpole undergoes on its way to becoming a frog or toad.

    Once metamorphosis is complete, the frog or toad leaves the water to live a mostly terrestrial life, returning to the water to breed and produce the next generation of tadpoles.

     

    Population Information

    Natural extinctions and population fluctuations are a normal part of nature. Scientists have uncovered five mass extinctions throughout the history of earth. But the accelerated rate at which many species are now declining and disappearing is very alarming to the scientific community. It is believed we are now in the sixth mass extinction event; the first ever caused by the actions of a single species, humankind. During the past couple decades, scientists have become concerned that many of our amphibian populations are declining and some species have become extinct in areas of the world that are relatively undisturbed by man. Below are but a few examples of the many declines and extinctions of the past two decades:

    The golden toad (Bufo periglenes) was first discovered in the remote and pristine cloud forests of the Monteverde Preserve of Costa Rica in 1967. This toad was very unusual because it was sexually dimorphic (the sexes could easily be identified.) The last golden toad ever seen was in 1987 and they have now been declared extinct.

    The northern gastric brooding frog (Rheobatrachus vitellinus) of Australia was discovered in 1984 and last seen in the wild in 1985 following the fate of the closely related gastric brooding frog (Rheobatrachus silus) that was discovered in Australia in 1973 and had disappeared by 1981. These unusual frogs brooded their young in their stomachs and were of interest to the scientific and medical community as they ceased  [Chiricahua leopard frog] producing hydrochloric acid in the stomach when they were brooding young frogs.

    In the United States, populations of the western toad (Bufo boreas) and Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) have plummeted by 80%, the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana mucosa) has disappeared from much of its range, and recent surveys to find the Yosemite toad (Bufo canoris) in Yosemite National Park were fruitless. Two species, the relic leopard frog (Rana onca) and the Wyoming toad (Bufo baxteri) are on the brink of becoming extinct in the wild and the Vegas Valley leopard frog (Rana fisheri), last seen in 1942, is now extinct.

    Population declines and extinctions are not the only problems facing amphibians today. Scientists have noted an increase in reports of malformations. Scientists believe there are three main factors contributing to the increase in malformations: increases in UV-B radiation because of the thinning ozone layer, chemical pollution (insecticides and pesticides), and parasites (chytrid fungus). These factors combined with a weakened immune system due to environmental stressors, can increase the number of malformations found in a population. Malformations come in many forms ranging from missing limbs, bones and eyes, to extra limbs, digits and eyes. Few, if any, of these malformed amphibians survive to reproduce. Tennessee does not appear to have an abnormal number of malformations, but we need to be watchful. For more information about malformations, including state maps showing reported malformations, visit the North American Reporting Center for Amphibian Malformations.

    Amphibians, including the frogs and toads, around for over 360 million years, survived the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs. Below is relative time scale showing geologic history and when the amphibians first appeared.

    era scale

     

    Some Identified Causes of Amphibian Declines Around the World

    • Increased UV radiation due to ozone depletion (montane species which breed in open water are most at risk.)
    • Chemical pollution (including fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides.)
    • Climate change, both temporary and long term (temporary changes include, drought and flood; long term changes include changes in wind patterns, rain patterns and especially global warming.)
    • Disease (chytrid fungus has been implicated in the decline of many species.)
    • Increased predation (cats, coyotes and some introduced species are major predators of tadpoles, frogs and other wildlife.)
    • Introduction of exotic species, including plants (native species often lose out when having to compete with exotic species, and native plants can use up resources, like water, that are needed by amphibians.)
    • Land use policies (stocking fish in amphibian habitat, installation of dams, planting of non-native plants.)
    • Habitat loss and degradation (including agriculture, construction, logging, urbanization and mining.)
    • Habitat fragmentation (division of a habitat by roadways, housing developments and other impenetrable barriers.)
  • American Bullfrog

    American Bullfrog

    Description: American bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) are the largest native frogs in the U.S. They typically range from 3.5 - 6 inches long. They are green to brown in color and are characterized by a ridge curving from behind the eye around the tympanum (the "ears"). They will eat almost any living creature they can fit into their mouths.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay 1000 - 5000 eggs in a thick surface film. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes 1 - 2 years. The American bullfrog requires 2 - 3 additional years to reach maturity.

    Habitat: American bullfrogs live in medium to large permanent bodies of water (lakes or ponds) throughout Tennessee.

    Photo by John White.

     

     

    Green Frog

    Green FrogDescription: Green frogs (Rana clamitans) range in size from 2 - 3.5 inches long. They are green to brown in color, and are characterized by ridges around the tympanum and folds of skin extending down the middle of the back.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay 1000 - 4000 eggs on the water's surface. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes 2 - 3 months. Maturity is reached in 2 years after completion of metamorphosis.

    Habitat: Green frogs live in semi-permanent to permanent shallow bodies of water (lakes, ponds, streams or ditches) throughout Tennessee.

    Photo by William Flaxington.

     

    Wood Frog

    Wood FrogDescription: Wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) are typically 1.25 - 3 inches long. They are brown to pink in color and are characterized by a dark mask extending from the eye backwards across the tympanum. Wood frogs are found as far north as Alaska.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay large globular masses of up to 3000 eggs and anchor them to submerged vegetation. Wood frogs are communal breeders so many egg masses are often laid at one time. Eggs hatch within 3 weeks. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 2 months, and maturity is reached in 2 - 4 years.

    Habitat: Wood frogs are found in moist woodlands in eastern to north central Tennessee. Breeding may take place in open water ponds to roadside ditches.

    Photo by Scott Egan, University of Rhode Island Dept. of Natural Resources.

     

     

    Southern Leopard Frog

    Southern Leopard FrogDescription: Southern leopard frogs (Rana sphenocephala) are 2.5 - 3 inches long. They are green and brown in color with dark rounded spots on the back, a light line on the lip, and a light spot in the center of the tympanum. They have a long pointed snout.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females may produce 3000 - 5000 eggs laid in a globular mass and attached to stems of vegetation. Eggs hatch in 7 - 12 days. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 2 -3 months.

    Habitat: Southern leopard frogs are found in shallow permanent or semi-permanent water from woodland ponds to roadside ditches throughout Tennessee except in the eastern high elevations. These frogs may travel far from water if there is adequate cover.

    Photo by Denny Cannon.

     

     

    Pickerel Frog

    Pickerel FrogDescription: Pickerel frogs (Rana palustris) are typically 1.75 - 3 inches long. They are brown, copper or green in color and are characterized by distinctive square spots in two rows down the back, and bright yellow to orange splotches on the inner surfaces of the upper thighs and groin.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay eggs underwater in loose globular masses attached to vegetation. Eggs take about 2 weeks to hatch. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 2 - 3 months.

    Habitat: These frogs are found in moist woods, bogs, grassy fields near streams, and in the twilight zones of caves. They are found throughout the state, but are more rare in the western part of Tennessee.

    Photo by Allen Sheldon.

     

    Gopher Frog

    Gopher FrogDescription: Gopher frogs (Rana capito) are 2.5 - 3.5 inches long. They are dark gray in color with dark irregular spots on the back, and a mottled belly. They have prominent folds of skin extending down the back.

    Reproduction & Growth: The dusky gopher frog is an explosive breeder, all of the mature, healthy adults in a population breeding at once. The males usually call to attract females only after heavy rains. Females lay egg masses of up to 7000 eggs and attach them to vegetation. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 3 - 4 months.

    Habitat: The dusky gopher frog is found in wooded areas where it spends the daylight hours underground in the burrows of other animals. Only two individuals of this species have been found in Tennessee in the central region.

    Photo by Bob English.

     

     

    Crawfish Frog

    Crawfish FrogDescription: Crawfish frogs (Rana areolata) are typically 2.25 - 3 inches long. They are dark gray in color and are characterized by dark spots outlined with a light border on the back.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay masses of 3000 - 7000 eggs. Eggs are attached to stems of vegetation. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 2 months.

    Habitat: Northern crawfish frogs are normally found in lowland woods, river floodplains and wetland prairies in western Tennessee. They remain underground in the burrows of other animals (often crawfish burrows) during the day.

    Photo by Bob English.

     

     

     

    Green Treefrog

    Green Tree FrogDescription: Green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) are 1.25 - 2.25 inches long. They are usually bright green in color with a distinct white or yellow stripe from the mouth to the thigh. Occasionally, the back is flecked with yellow.

    Reproduction & Growth: The eggs are laid in small packets or films at or near the surface and attached to floating vegetation. The eggs are brownish to black with white or cream. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 1 - 2 months.

    Habitat: These frogs are found in forested areas and swamps in western Tennessee that have abundant vegetation surrounding the shoreline.

    Photo by John Pickering.

     

     

     

    Barking Treefrog

    Barking Tree FrogDescription: Barking treefrogs (Hyla gratiosa) are typically 2 - 2.5 inches long. They are green to brown in color with an indistinct white or yellow stripe from the mouth to the thigh.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females deposit single eggs on the bottom of ponds or pools. A single female may produce as many as 2000 eggs. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 1 - 2 months.

    Habitat: Barking treefrogs have been found in West Tennessee, the extreme north central part of the state, and near the Sequatchie Valley. They are found in wet woodlands, shallow ponds, and cypress swamps.

    Photo by John White.

     

     

     

    Gray Treefrog

    Gray Tree FrogDescription: Gray treefrogs (Hyla versicolor) are 1.25 - 2 inches long. Their coloration is highly variable but usually gray or green with irregular markings on the back. They are characterized by a white spot under the eye, warty skin, and yellow-orange on the concealed surfaces of the thigh.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay clusters of 10 to 30 eggs that are attached to vegetation near the surface of the water. The eggs hatch in 3 - 6 days. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes from 1 - 2 months and maturity is reached in 2 years.

    Habitat: They are found in varied habitats with small trees or shrubs. They are rarely found outside of the breeding season as they forage in the canopy. Their distribution in Tennessee is not well known.

    Photo by Scott Egan, University of Rhode Island Dept. of Natural Resources.

     

    Cope's Gray Treefrog

    Cope's Gray Tree FrogDescription: Cope's gray treefrogs (Hyla chrysoscelis) are 1.25 - 2 inches long. Their coloration is highly variable but usually gray or green with irregular markings on the back. They are characterized by a white spot under the eye, warty skin, and yellow-orange on the concealed surfaces of the thigh. This species is indistinguishable from the gray treefrog except by call or chromosome analysis. The gray treefrog has 48 chromosomes, while Cope's gray treefrog has 24.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay clusters of 10 - 30 eggs that are attached to vegetation near the surface of the water. Eggs hatch in 3 - 6 days. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 1 - 2 months. Sexual maturity is reached in 2 years.

    Habitat: They are found in varied habitats with small trees or shrubs throughout Tennessee.

    Photo by Terry Hibbitts.

     

     

    Bird-voiced Treefrog

    Bird-voiced Tree FrogDescription: Bird-voiced treefrogs (Hyla avivoca) are 1 - 1.75 inches long. Their coloration is highly variable but usually gray or green with irregular markings on the back. They are characterized by a white spot under the eye, warty skin, and yellow-green to pale green on the concealed surfaces of the thigh.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay small masses of 6 - 15 eggs in shallow water. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 1 month.

    Habitat: They are found in western Tennessee, in permanent backwater swamps of creeks and large rivers.

    Photo by Walter Knapp.

     

     

    Spring Peeper

    Spring PeeperDescription: Spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are 0.75 - 1.25 inches long. They are brown to gray with a dark "X" on the back.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay from 800 - 1000 eggs singly or in clusters of 2 - 3. Eggs are attached to submerged vegetation and hatch in 2 - 3 days. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes from 3 - 4 months. Sexual maturity is reached within 1 year.

    Habitat: They are found in wooded or brushy areas near temporary or semi-permanent bodies of water throughout Tennessee.

    Photo by John White.

     

     

     

    Southeastern Chorus Frog

    Southeastern Chorus FrogDescription: Southeastern chorus frogs (Pseudacris feriarum) are 0.75 - 1.5 inches long. Their coloration varies from pale gray to dark brown. They have a white line on the upper lip, and a dark line extending from the snout through the eye and ending at the groin.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay up to 100 eggs and attach them to vegetation. The eggs hatch within 18 days. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 2 - 3 months. Tadpoles become mature adults within 1 year.

    Habitat: They are found statewide, in wet meadows, moist hardwood forests, or swampy bottomlands.

    Photo by Terry Hibbitts.

     

     

     

    Mountain Chorus Frog

    Mountain Chorus FrogDescription: Mountain chorus frogs (Pseudacris brachyphona) are 1 - 1.25 inches long. They are brown, gray, or olive with a dark triangle between the eyes, a light line on the upper lip, yellow on the concealed surfaces of the hind legs, and two stripes in the form of reverse parenthesis on the back.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay eggs in groups of 10 - 50, laying as many as 400 eggs. Egg masses are attached to vegetation in ditches or pools. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 2 months.

    Habitat: They are found in the upland woods of hills and mountains of the Cumberland Plateau, Cumberland Mountains, and the extreme northeast and southeast of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

    Photo by Walter Knapp.

     

     

    Northern Cricket Frog

    Northern Cricket FrogDescription: Northern cricket frogs (Acris crepitans) are 0.5 - 1.5 inches long. Their coloration varies, but they all have a dark triangle between the eyes, the skin is warty, and there is a dark ragged stripe on the thigh.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay clusters of 10 - 15 eggs, laying up to 200 eggs on the water surface and attach them to vegetation. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes from 1 - 2 months. Northern cricket frogs become sexually mature within 1 year.

    Habitat: They are found statewide, except for the extreme northeast, near permanent bodies of shallow water and slow moving streams where cover is abundant.

    Photo by Will Cook.

     

     

    Southern Cricket Frog

    Southern Cricket FrogDescription: Southern cricket frogs (Acris gryllus) are 0.5 - 1.25 inches long. Their coloration varies, but they all have a dark triangle between the eyes, the skin is warty, and there is a dark clean-cut stripe on the thigh. The snout is pointed.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay around 150 eggs in shallow ponds with vegetation. More than 1 spawning may occur in a year. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes 2 - 3 months.

    Habitat: They are found in southwest Tennessee, near semi-permanent bodies of water such as temporary ponds or ditches surrounded by grasses.

    Photo by Walter Knapp.

     

     

     

    American Toad

    American ToadDescription: American toads (Bufo americanus) are 2 - 3.5 inches long. Their coloration varies from shades of gray or brown to brick red. They have some spotting on the chest, and only 1 - 2 warts per dark spot. The cranial crests do not lie against the parotoid glands (see Fowler's toad.)

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay spiral strands of 4000 - 8000 eggs that normally hatch within 1 week. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 2 months. The toad reaches maturity in 2 - 3 years.

    Habitat: They are found statewide, from backyard gardens to upland forests. They are active mostly at night.

    Photo by Charlie Freeman.

     

     

    Fowler's Toad

    Fowler's ToadDescription: Fowler's toads (Bufo fowleri) are 2-3 inches long. Their coloration varies from shades of gray or brown to brick red. They do not have any spotting on the chest, and have 3 or more warts per spot. The cranial crests butt up against the parotoid glands.

    Reproduction & Growth: Females lay strings of 7000 - 10,000 eggs attached to vegetation in shallow ponds . The tadpoles hatch in 5 - 7 days. They are small and dark, often attach themselves to underwater vegetation and swim in dense groups. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes about 30 - 40 days and maturity is reached by two years of age.

    Differences between American Toads and Fowler's Toads

    Habitat: They are found statewide, from backyard gardens to upland forests. They are active mostly at night.

    Photo by Dennis Desmond.

    Eastern Spadefoot

    Eastern Spade FootDescription: Eastern Footspadefoots (Scaphiopus holbrookii) are 1.75 - 3 inches long. They have a spade-like protuberance on each hind foot for digging. Their coloration varies from gray to brown. A lyre shape may be formed by two lines on the back. This is our only frog or toad with vertical pupils.

    Reproduction & Growth: Eastern spadefoots are explosive breeders and heavy summer rains initiate breeding. The eggs are laid in easily broken strands and attached to vegetation. Hatching occurs in 24 - 72 hours in hot weather and may take up to one week in cooler weather. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes less than one month.

    Habitat: They are found statewide, except in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in forested areas with loose or sandy soil. They spend most of their time underground.

    Photos by John White & Walter Knapp.

     

     

    Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad

    Eastern Narrow-mouthed ToadDescription: Eastern narrow-mouthed toads (Gastrophryne carolinensis) are 1 - 1.25 inches long. They are triangular in appearance with a fold of skin just behind the eyes. They may be gray, brown, or reddish in color with dark markings on the back.

    Reproduction & Growth: Eastern narrow-mouthed toads are explosive breeders and heavy summer rains trigger breeding. Females lay 10 - 150 eggs in masses upon the surface of the water in shallow ponds and pools. Metamorphosis of tadpoles takes 1 - 2 months.

    Habitat: They are found statewide, except in the Blue Ridge Mountains, usually under rocks and logs or underground in burrows.

    Photo by Peter May.

    Special Thanks

    Special thanks to all the photographers who gave permission for use of their beautiful photographs.