Frog Or Toad?

You may enlarge any image in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full screen image.

We are in the middle of a so-far highly productive monsoon season in southern Arizona.  Our desert is temporarily transformed into a sea of lush green vegetation.  Creatures that one hardly expects to see in the desert are suddenly active and that includes several species of frogs and toads.  Their presence prompts me to ask the age old question: what’s the difference between a frog and a toad?

The answer, evidently, is that it lies in the mind of the beholder or at least in the classifier.  Biologists say that toads generally have wartier skin than frogs, that frogs’ skin is smooth and moist whereas toads’ skin may not be, that frogs have longer legs in proportion to their bodies than do toads, and that frogs lay their eggs in a mass whereas toads lay strings of eggs.  Those differences, obviously, are subtle.  To make matters more complicated, there are frogs that have the characteristics of toads and toads that have the characteristics of frogs.  The bottom line is that there really may not be “hard” differences and that calling a given species “frogs” or “toads” my depend on subjective judgments that aren’t really all that precise.

Case in point is the Couch’s Spadefoot Toad, a fairly common sight (especially at night) when the summer rains occur here.

These little amphibians are unique in that they spend about 99 percent of their adult lives resting dormant in deep burrows.  They emerge after summer thunderstorms and engage in brief paroxysms of mating in temporary pools and puddles and foraging for insects, only to return to their burrows after a few hours’ activity.

They are active competitors for cutest amphibian in the desert award.  These little toads are only about three inches long.  They have compelling eyes that are huge in proportion to their heads and bodies and that come with golden or green irises.  Their body color varies from individual to individual but many come patterned in delicate shades of yellow and green or blue-green.  Their mating call sounds exactly like a sheep baa-ing.

I’ve read that some biologists believe Couch’s Spadefoot Toads have more frog than toad characteristics.  But, if there is disagreement, it doesn’t make a particle’s difference to the Couch’s Spadefoots.  They assuredly know who they are.

First image made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 mm f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, ISO 160, f14 @ 1/160.  Second image made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400 mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f6.3 @ 1/3200.

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