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For STEM Friday we are highlighting a fantastic book for upper elementary-aged children, Amazing Amphibians: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring Frogs, Toads, Salamanders, and More by Lisa J. Amstutz (her website).

If you've never experienced one of the Young Naturalists series books from Chicago Review Press, you are in for a real treat. These books are designed not only for children who are independent researchers interested in a topic -- in this case amphibians -- but also for educators who need information and age-appropriate activity ideas for science lessons.

Lisa Amstutz's text covers everything readers will want to know:

  • What an amphibian is
  • What animals belong to the different families
  • Amphibian anatomy
  • What amphibians eat
  • Their life cycles
  • Some of the threats to amphibians
  • And much more!

It is also filled with amazing facts. Did you know that the North American wood frog can survive being frozen solid? How about that some amphibians can absorb water from moist soil by sitting on it because they have specially absorptive skin on their bellies? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to drink that way?

The activities (30 of them!) will keep young scientists engaged for hours. They range from making fake frog eggs from water beads to making your yard more toad friendly.

Some readers may initially think less of the book when they learn the illustrations are color stock photographs, with many coming from Wikimedia Commons. The quality of stock photographs, however, is determined by the person curating them and in this case the photographs are the highest standard, well-matched to the text and to each other.

The back matter is a treasure trove filled with goodies such as a table of the different amphibian orders, lists of resources, and a teacher's guide with even more ideas for activities.

Personal Note:  I absolutely love these Chicago Review Press books and I use them all the time. The activities encourage the type of hands-on learning that develops fine motor skills so useful later in life. They also reinforce learning. Let's face it, touching a fake frog egg made out of a water bead engages more senses than simply reading about eggs on the page.

The bottom line is Amazing Amphibians is an exceptionally well organized and well written introduction to a fascinating group of animals. It is perfect for young naturalists and scientists. It is also a must-have resource for educators. Investigate a copy today!

Related Activities:

Not that a book loaded with oodles of hands-on activities needs any more, but let's celebrate Amazing Amphibians by making a tiny book about frogs, toads, and salamanders to share with younger children.

1. Download the Tiny Amphibian Book Template (PDF) - (click on image that pops up to load).

2. Print out on white paper.

3. Fold using the instructions in the video below. Make the cut along the line shown in the photo.

4. Talk about the illustrations in the tiny book and research any questions that arise. Decorate and add information to your book to make it your own.

Please let me know if you have any problems folding it.

Older children can make a handmade scientific notebook as suggested on page 3 of Amazing Amphibians.

For more frog and toad science activity suggestions, see our previous posts:

  1. Summer Sounds: Frogs and Toads
  2. Frog and Toad Science Activities, includes toad anatomy and building a toad house
  3. A Frog's Life book and activities, includes link to a citizen's science project.

Age Range: 7 - 9 years
Publisher: Chicago Review Press; First edition (January 7, 2020)
ISBN-10: 1641600721
ISBN-13: 978-1641600729

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

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Toads are fascinating animals that are too often ignored. The new picture book, The Hidden Life of a Toad* by biologist and photographer Doug Wechsler, brings attention to these neglected creatures.

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The main text concentrates on toad development and life cycle, complete with photographs of toads mating. Back matter is filled with supplemental information, including a glossary, toad facts, suggestions for helping toads, and details about how the author captured the photographs.

For my full review, see Nonfiction Monday blog.

Related:

Is it a Frog or Toad?

The terms "frog" and "toad" are not scientifically-based, but are common names. According to frog scientists, all frogs and toads belong to the Order Anura and are called "frogs." Although many people call the bumpy, dry land-dwelling creatures "toads" and the smooth-skinned, pond-dwelling creatures "frogs," in reality some species are hard to separate into one or the other group.

This brown, bumpy animal is a toad.

Toad External Anatomy

Have you ever taken a close look at a toad? You may discover some interesting things.

(Illustration based on public domain photo from Visual Hunt)

Starting with the head, prominent features are the bulging eyes. Because they are nocturnal, toads have well-developed night vision. A cool fact is that frogs and toads use their eyes to push food down their throat when swallowing. If you aren't put off by seeing frogs eating bugs, there's a video of frogs swallowing from David Attenborough.

Adult toads have lungs and breathe through opening called nares.

Fun fact:  Toads don't drink water through their mouths, but absorb water through their skin by sitting in it.

Beneath the mouth, male toads have a flexible membrane called a vocal sac. The sac helps amplify the mating calls.

The circular tympanum has a dual function, serving to pass sound vibrations into the ear and also as a protective cover.

Large bumps on the back behind the head, the parotoid glands of toads produce toxic secretions. This is why you should keep pets away from toads and wash your hands after touching them.

A toad has four toes on their forelimbs (front legs) and five toes on the back. Unlike frogs, toads lack webbing between their toes. Both frog and toads are known for their ability to jump with their hind legs.

A .pdf worksheet (with blanks) to download:  toad external anatomy worksheet

Toad Life Cycle

Toads also lay their eggs in water and the eggs hatch into tadpoles.

The dark-colored dots are the frog embryos. They are protected by a gooey jelly-like substance.

The embryos grow into free-swimming tadpoles. They feed and grow, eventually developing legs. Once the tadpoles grow lungs they can move onto land and they are called "toadlets." During that time, their tail disappears.

Activity: Life Cycle Poster

Gather:

  • Pictures of frog and toad life stages from books or the internet
  • Art supplies such as markers, crayons, colored pencils, and/or paint
  • Large sheets of paper

Encourage the children to plan and decorate a poster featuring the stages of a frog or toad life cycle. Don't forget the toadlet stage.

Younger children might benefit from exploring life stage models.

Insect Lore Frog Life Cycle Stages

Where Adult Toads Live

Toads feed on insects and other small creepy crawlies. During the day they rest in moist, shady places. Growing some dense shrubby plants will provide them with cover.

Activity:  Make a Toad House

Instructions for making toad houses are all over the internet. Here are directions for a simple version.

Gather:

  • Clay flower pot at least six inches in diameter
  • Two potato-sized stones
  • Optional:  Acrylic paints and paint brushes

If you desire, have the children decorate the flower pot with acrylic paint. Acrylic markers work, too. Precautions:  Prior to painting, protect the work surface with a washable or disposable covering.

Once the paint is dry, find a moist, shady location outdoors. Overturn the pot and use the two stones to prop up one side. Leave enough room between so a toad can climb under. Make sure the toad house is stable, so it won't slip off the stones and trap the toad inside. Burying it slightly on the back side or covering the back side with a small amount of soil may help stabilize it.

Providing a small tray of water nearby will help keep the area moist. Keep curious pets away and check regularly.

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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In addition to the cicadas and tree crickets that we discussed previously, toads also sing at night in the desert.

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.

Activities:

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.

Couch's Spadefoot Toad
Public domain photograph Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, uploaded at Wikimedia.

 

Gather:

  • Boots
  • 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:

frog eggs

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.

tadpoles

tadpole

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.

frog

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:

Insect Lore Frog Life Cycle Stages

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.

Disclosure:
I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.