Frogs and toads make for great – and entertaining – backyard visitors

  • A male American toad can really make a lot of noise as he sings. BILL DANIELSON

  • A spring peeper chimes in to welcome warming days. Courtesy

  • A frog pokes its head up out of a backyard water garden. EILEEN TUCKER

  • Jim Wagener, of Ashfield, spotted a pickerel frog in Apple Valley near Red Gate Farm. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/JIM WAGENER

  • A particularly colorful frog clings to a reed. Adam Frost

  • A green frog photographed by Jessica Farwell in her backyard in Greenfield, found by her 4-year-old son, Charlie, at the bottom of his playground slide. Contributed photo/Jessica Farwell

Published: 7/17/2021 11:39:14 AM

Summer is the season when we spend more time near lakes and ponds, where it’s common to hear or see some of New Hampshire’s 10 species of frogs. But not all frogs live in water. Recently I observed several of these amphibians on my property.

One such encounter was with a rotund female toad, distinguished from a male by her much larger size (males are about 2 to 3 inches, females 3 to 4 inches). New Hampshire has two species of toads but the American toad is the much more common than the Fowler’s toad, which is only found in the southern part of the state. If you want to be sure which one you are looking at, notice the black spots on its back. If there are one or two warts in each spot it’s an American. Fowler’s toads may have up to 6 or 7 warts per spot.

You won’t get warts from a toad but the bumps are one of its protective adaptations. The warts contain toxic skin secretions that can make a predator violently ill or even cause death if ingested. Other defensive strategies include inflating their bodies, which makes it harder for a snake to swallow the toad. Toads may release fluids when picked up, an act that usually allows for escape from small humans who release their grip and shriek, “the toad peed on me!” Camouflage is perhaps the best protection, which is why it’s fun when we actually see one in the garden, pretending to be a bumpy stone or clump of soil.

Toads, like nearly all members of the order Anura (without tail) that includes toads and frogs, lay their eggs in water. But as adults they live on land. Other terrestrial frogs includes the tiny spring peeper, with a black X on its tan body and measuring less than 1.5 inches. For a diminutive creature they make a lot of noise in the spring when they gather at breeding pools. The male peeps, but a chorus of them can be deafening. They have tiny discs on their toes which help them climb vertical surfaces and cling to aquatic vegetation, but when out of the water they spend most of their time in the forest floor. There they feed on spiders, mites, ticks and a variety of insects.

The gray tree frog, by contrast, spends most of its terrestrial adult life in, well, the trees, of course. The guttural trill which the male emits as an advertisement during breeding season at the pond can sometimes be heard during the summer as well. When calling from a trunk or branch high above our heads he is often misidentified as a bird. Hearing these frogs is much easier than seeing them. They are masters of camouflage and can change the color of their skin from dark gray or black to white to blend in with their surroundings. The juvenile froglets are actually bright green and easily blend in with leaves in the trees. It’s easy to see why their scientific name is Hyla versicolor.

The other primarily terrestrial species that you might see in our region are the Northern leopard frog and the pickerel frog. They are quite similar in appearance but the leopard frog has roundish spots in two or three irregular rows while the pickerel has squarish spots in two rows down its back. The pickerel also has yellow or orange on the underside of its legs which is lacking on the leopard.

It was one of these species that was in my garden the other day, but with only a quick look, I was unable to discern which one. Habitat of these species is similar. Both can be found in wet meadows or around the edges of lakes, ponds and streams. The pickerel can also be located in wet woodlands during the non-breeding seasons. But the pickerel frog is much more abundant and wide spread than the leopard which is listed as a species of special concern and in greatest need of conservation, according to the NH Wildlife Action Plan.

Whether rare or common, frogs and toads are welcome residents and can reduce insect pests in a garden so be sure to cause them no harm. If you want to learn more about New Hampshire’s frogs and participate by submitting data about your sightings visit

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