Because it so dry for most of the year, desert toads stay dormant in underground chambers until the summer rains come. When the rains start, the toads emerge from the ground. They hop to nearby puddles, lay eggs, and attempt to complete their entire life cycle before the puddles dry out again. They don’t have long, often only about 7 days. The adults dig underground again and go dormant until the next rainy season.
We have several common species of frogs and toads, but one of the most amazing is the Couch’s spadefoot toad. Some people say they sound like sheep baaing.
Sheep baaing? Well, maybe.
1. Get to know your local frogs and toads.
First of all, what is the difference between a frog and a toad?
As it turns out, the terms “frog” and “toad” are common names, they are not scientifically-based groups. According to frog taxonomists, all frogs and toads belong to a group called “frogs.” Although many people call the bumpy, dry land-dwelling creatures “toads” and the smooth-skinned, pond-dwelling creatures “frogs,” there are a number of species that are hard to place into one of those groups, such as the smooth-skinned spadefoot toads shown above. Check Frogs and Toads for more information.
To learn more about frogs, take a field trip to a pond or wetland.
- Pictures of frog and toad life stages
- Identification guides if available
- Camera and/or paper and pencil to record what you see
What you may see:
When I see frog eggs, I always think of punctuation. They start out a dark round periods, and then right before they hatch they turn into commas. Always leave eggs alone because handling them may damage their jelly coating.
The larvae, commonly called tadpoles, are often easy to spot along the shore. Sometimes you may see a mix of different kinds. In this case the larger light-brown tadpoles are bullfrogs.
If you are very lucky, you may discover some of the tadpoles beginning to grow legs.
Ask everyone to be quiet and stand still in order to see adult frogs. Typically the adults swim away quickly when there are rapid movements nearby.
Can you identify the adults? Are they common species?
Frog fact: Frogs regularly live 4-15 years, and sometimes much longer. Keep this in mind if you decide to raise one.
2. Frog Songs
Visit the same wetlands or pond at night to listen to frogs and toads singing. Ever hear the spring peepers? These tiny frogs can make a tremendous racket early in the spring.
If possible, make recordings of different types of frogs and toads singing. Or listen to recordings, such as at Sing to me baby! …Ribbit!
Try to mimic the calls yourself. Can you tell the different kinds apart? Before long you should be able to recognize different frogs based on their calls alone.
Older kids might want to try playing recordings of male frogs singing at ponds at night and see if they can attract female frogs.
Think of ways to design an experiment to find out if only the male frogs sing, or whether the females do too.
3. Eat or be eaten
While you are studying frogs and toads, try to figure out what they eat at each stage and what eats them.
The spadefood toads mentioned above eat insects that swarm at the same time the frogs are active. Both ants and termites tend to produce new queens and males in swarms when the summer monsoons start. At times the air will be filled with flying and mating insects. It is a great time for the toads to store up a lot of food to survive the rest of the year underground. Amazing!
Let us know what you find out.
For more information, try these resources:
Nonfiction Books for Children:
Face to Face with Frogs (Face to Face with Animals)
by Mark Moffett
Mark Moffett is one of my favorite photographers. His work is often seen in National Geographic, which published this book.
From Tadpole to Frog (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1)
by Wendy Pfeffer and illustrated by Holly Keller
Frogs by Gail Gibbons, a prolific and award-winning author
Frog (Watch Me Grow)
by DK Publishing
For the younger set.
Book for Adults:
Frog: A Photographic Portrait
by Thomas Marent and Tom Jackson
The Calls of Frogs and Toads
by Lang Elliott
Book and CD
Interested in learning more? See our growing list of children’s books about frogs and toads at Science Books for Kids.
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