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Dart Frog and Toad

5 Differences Between Frogs and Toads

Just when you’re on a walk, all of a sudden you encounter a small creature hopping through the woods. Curious as to what it is, you took a closer look and formed a question in mind – is it a frog or a toad?

With its almost similar greenish and brownish colors and other physical features, it is indeed difficult to classify whether it’s a toad or a frog. But don’t worry! We trimmed down several facts for you to help you on your way to amphibian identification.

But to formulate a clear understanding, we must first know about their common names and scientific classification.

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Common Names and Scientific Classification 

  • Scientific Classification (Taxonomy) – remember during biology class, taxonomy is how we organized biological organisms based on their similar characteristics. Also, we have them categorized using scientific names.
  • Common Names – these are informal names.

To give you an example, red foxes are vulpes vulpes. The word “fox” is the common name we usually call them, whereas vulpes vulpes is its scientific classification.

Taxonomic Rank Example
Taxonomic Rank Example. Illustration by Annina Breen / Wikipedia

In taxonomy, frogs are Anurans. The word “frog” is the common name we usually call them, whereas Anura is an order in the taxonomic rank (use this link if you want to learn more about scientific classification).

Toads are frogs?

So, knowing all that, is it safe to say that all toads are frogs but not all frogs are toads?

Frogs and toads are considered “frogs” because they are in the same scientific order as “Anura”. Toads, technically, are part of the “true toad” family of Bufonidae.

Hence, from a taxonomic point, it is safe to say that all toads are frogs (since toads are a type of frogs), and calling them frogs is acceptable.

What’s the difference between a frog and a toad?

Since we have clearly differentiated the words “frog” and “toad” to one another, the real question now would be knowing the differences between the two.

Though it would be a challenge, there are a few characteristics of each that may help you to distinguish which is which.

1. Skin

American Toad
An American Toad.

Frogs are often found near water and they tend to have smooth and moist skin. On the other hand, toads tend to have dry, rough, and bumpy skin texture.

Unlike frogs that need to be near water to retain moisture, toads can venture farther from water as they’re less dependent on it. The latter’s skin looks warty, but the idea of contracting warts from it is entirely false.

With that being said, the bumps on a toad’s back most probably give you a clue that you are looking at a toad instead of a frog. This isn’t always true. In fact, some toads look more like frogs and vice-versa. Still, looking for dry, bumpy skin is one of the best ways to determine if an Anura is from the Bufonidae family.

2. Teeth

Some frogs have “teeth” called “maxillary” and “vomerine teeth”. These teeth are used as a means of gripping for their prey rather than chewing.

As of writing this, there are no known species of true toads that have teeth.

Now, this can be a difficult way of classifying a toad, especially for your average person. It’s difficult enough to catch a frog and I don’t recommend trying to open its mouth to try and identify vomerine teeth. Regardless, it’s worth mentioning here.

Related: Do frogs have teeth?

3. Eggs

Toads Mating (Amplexus) Laying Eggs
Toad mating and laying a string of eggs.

Both toads and frogs lay eggs in water to reproduce. But what makes them different from each other is their way of laying eggs.

Most frogs lay eggs in clumps (aka “clutch”) whereas toads lay eggs in strings. This sometimes depends on each species, as they’re all different. Tree frogs, for example, prefer to lay clumps of eggs on the underside of leaves, above a body of water. As they hatch, the tadpoles fall into the water.

Since frog eggs have black spots in the middle of their gel-like globules, it appears that they absorb more heat from the sun. This helps them hatch faster.

As for guarding the eggs, toads are protective compared to frogs. While it is the male frog’s responsibility to protect their eggs, such is not an easy task. Some, like Darwin frogs, swallow these eggs and keep them in the vocal sacs until they hatch, to protect them from predators.

4. Stature

Since frogs live mostly in the water, it can be noticed that their hind legs are longer than their head and body. These give them the ability to leap far to the ground and swim faster through the water.

On the other hand, toads tend to be chunky, having short, squatty hind legs. In the contrast, their hind legs are shorter than their head and body. Apart from frogs, they can be distinguished by noticing their shorter legs used mainly for walking or hopping. On the opposite, frogs often have long, powerful jumping legs.

5. Movement

Glass Frog on a Leaf
Glass tree frog. Photo by: Dirk Ercken / Shutterstock

In relevance to their difference in leg length, toads and frogs clearly don’t move the same way.

Toads, having short legs, tend to perform “hops”. Since their short legs are not built for jumping, they also crawl or walk. They are terrestrial and spend their time on the ground.

On the contrary, frogs often have long jumping legs, and they are capable of jumping large distances. Also, some tree frogs “walk”.

Summary: Differences between frogs and toads

Frogs and toads are both amphibians, reproduce in water, and even look alike. They are similar in some ways and different in others.

Both frogs and toads are considered “frogs” because they are in the same scientific order as “Anura”, which means “without a tail”. Toads, technically, are part of the “true toad” family of Bufonidae. In short, all toads are classified as frogs but not all frogs are toads.

How do we differentiate toads from frogs? By their physical features. If you happen to encounter a hopping creature in the woods or near water, you must be curious to know if it is a frog or a toad.

Hence, the first thing you will notice must be their skin. We could tell it is a toad if it has a bumpy, rough skin texture. As compared to frogs with smooth, slimy skin, toads having warty skin texture are commonly mistaken to cause warts when touched.

As previously discussed, toads tend to “hop” rather than to “jump”. Given the fact that they have shorter hind legs, these give them limited mobility. Unlike frogs who could leap longer distances and swim faster in water.

Aside from their locomotion, we could tell that a toad or frog is likely nearby if you happen to see their eggs. Toads tend to lay eggs in strings and be found mostly on leaves near water. Whereas frogs lay eggs in round clusters. In addition, toad eggs do not demand that much protection as compared to frog eggs.

And how about their teeth? Frogs have teeth while toads don’t.  Mainly, the teeth that frogs have are used for gripping their prey rather than chewing. In contrast, toads swallow their food whole.

To sum it all, there is no real difference from a taxonomic standpoint. Toads are generally characterized as having dry skin, short legs, and no teeth. However, some toad species look more like frogs than toads, and vice-versa; some frogs look more like toads.

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