Frog Miracles

It’s that incredible time of year when our local frogs are mating. The adult frog is about the size of your thumb, but they are singing with voices so big I can hear them a half-mile away at the neighbor’s pond. Hundreds of them.

Pacific Treefrogs live primarily in the western U.S. The species we see in Northern California is called Pseudacris sierrae or Sierran Treefrog. This lovely little creature has been classified and re-classified so many times, its name is confusing. For simplicity here, we’ll use its more common over-arching name: the Pacific Treefrog (they don’t live in trees).

They require water for mating, so around January or February, depending on how much the earth has warmed, the mature adults journey on their padded toes to ponds or ditches.

The males use their “advertisement calls” to announce their fitness to competing males and to attract females. The male’s throat sack balloons up when it makes this call.

Poor little treefrogs have a lot of predators.

Snakes, raccoons, herons, egrets, and other small mammals and reptiles eat them.

The frogs breed in shallow water sources that usually dry up after winter; taking their chances to reproduce by not being in a predictable, predatory drinking source.

Pacific Treefrog Wikipedia

Although their body color is variable (green, tan, brown, gray, reddish or cream), they’re usually just green or brown, like in these photos. Typically they are the color of their environment; but they do also have the ability to quickly change colors to avoid predation.

It is difficult to get any photo of this frog for many reasons: they are more active at night (dark); usually hidden in leaves or half submerged in water; and they stop ribbiting when they feel the vibration of your footsteps.

In addition, they’re super tiny.

Now it’s past mid-March and the males and females are no doubt beginning to pair up. The female will lay her eggs as the male fertilizes them externally.

She will lay an average of 400-750 eggs, in small clusters of 10-80 at a time.

The eggs are visible in daylight, but you have to almost have your face in the water to see them. Binoculars or a powerful camera lens help.

The eggs are gelatinous tiny balls in a cluster, usually clinging to a twig or plant stem. Here are some clinging to the orange weed as noted.

After mating season, the adults leave and the eggs hatch into tadpoles about two weeks later. Left on their own, the teensy tadpoles aggregate for thermoregulation and to avoid predation. They eat algae and bacteria. This stage lasts 2-2.5 months.

In this stage they undergo an incredible metamorphosis eventually growing four legs, and simultaneously losing their tails. The tail gets absorbed into the froglet body. Because there are hundreds of thousands of tadpoles in the neighbor’s pond, we see the tadpoles in various stages of metamorphosis.

Here you see a tadpole with both legs and its tail. The tail has not yet been absorbed. The sun shadows amplify its features.

This photo reflects two tadpole stages on one leaf.

Here is an older froglet swimming, still with its tail; it has more distinctive adult markings. There is also a younger tadpole, tail only, on the left.

Frogs, tadpoles, froglets — they are a yet another reminder of the miracles of life and all its stages.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

98 thoughts on “Frog Miracles

  1. Amazing photos, I remember these little critters as a boy, swarming as tadpoles in Michigan. I didn’t know the tail is absorbed though. 😍

  2. A wonderful post on the stages of these frogs, aiding by Athena’s great photos. I know how hard it is to find one when searching… they are very good at hiding in plain sight.
    Ours (Pseudacris crucifer) are called ‘Spring Peepers’ because of their high-pitched call. https://youtu.be/MAWe7T5Y3j4 Your post makes me want to go out and find a vernal pond! The conditions the past two nights have been perfect for them and Spotted Salamander crossings as well.

    • Thanks so much for the link to your spring peeper, Eliza, I enjoyed the song and view of the frog’s expanded throat sac. I enjoyed your comment so much, and am absolutely delighted the post inspired you to visit a vernal pond. Many thanks.

  3. What fabulous little creatures Jet. I love them at that stage where that have both legs and tail. It’s amazing they can make so much noise, but then again they have to make themselves heard over each other as best they can.

    • The sounds that emanate from the neighbor’s pond from these little creatures is amazing, Alastair, and every year at frog time I think of you and your sound recording. This week Athena and I went down to the pond at night to record them, and we got really great recordings on our phones. My intention was to include the audio clip for this post, but WP required I upgrade, so I didn’t. Fortunately you are familiar with this incredible phenomenon. My warmest thanks.

  4. This is their full grown size, simply amazing! Love the sound of frogs especially during the evening
    hours, so melodic! Wonderful photos once again so much so they capture the mind as well as the eye!
    Thank you dear Jet, hugs Eddie
    p.s. been missing them here, oh yes we hear briefly, then they sadly seem to be gone!

    • We are both reveling in the joy of frogs today, Eddie. And yes, sadly the populations can diminish, as frogs have permeable skin and are espec. sensitive to environmental troubles. But I’m glad you are enjoying their evening serenades, and this post today. Thank you, my friend, for your lovely visit and comment today.

  5. Living in Florida we often had tadpoles in our pool and eventually we had frogs. They often jumped in and out of the pool in the evening hours, taking advantage of the time when no people were nearby

    • I really liked hearing about the tadpoles in your FL swimming pool, Maggie. And then they developed into frogs, too — how very cool. And they enjoyed the times when there were no people in it. What a fun memory that is! Thank you.

      • We often sat outside on the patio at night and could hear them splashing into the pool. If the pool light was on, they put on quite a show.

  6. Lovely post, Jet. I had an email from my friend, Pete, who lives in York, England, on the 19th March. He said his garden pond was full of frogs. Apparently the “love in” lasts about 3 days. His pond is now full of spawn. I still wonder where they all come from or go once it’s all over.

    • I loved hearing about your friend Pete’s report on his frogs in York, Mike. And I hope we will always have a world full of reproducing frogs. Thanks so much for sharing this fun story. Sending smiles your way….

  7. I haven’t heard any frogs yet. It may be a little early around here and I haven’t been to where I usually hear them. Another something to look forward to! Such a wonderful post about life.

    • I am glad to hear you have a place where you usually hear the frogs, Kristie, and you’re right: something to look forward to. My warmest wishes for fun frog frolicking ahead.

  8. Such strong voices from those so tiny. I can imagine they are incredibly challenging to find, given their size, not the volume of their mating calls. When I was a kid on our farm in Saskatchewan, each year I would spend hours watching tadpoles in the nearby creek. I can still recall the feeling of wonder at how one day their tails would see so long and then quite soon thereafter almost have disappeared. Thanks for bringing back those fond memories.

    • Great fun to hear about your tadpole times in Saskatchewan, Sue. You did a good job of describing the wonder that they brought you. I hope you might find more in the spring days ahead, and until then, I send you a warm ribbit!

  9. “Wait, young lady,” says the Pacific tree frog to his would-be mate. “Will you marry me?”
    “Get lost,” she says.
    “But I’m really a prince. All you have to do is kiss me.”
    “I bet you say that to all the girls…. Oh, … all right.”

  10. March, many years back, I was walking with a friend up at Inspiration Point (Tilden Park Berkeley) and we heard this loud croaking coming a clump of reeds – turns out there was a hidden pond in the reeds. It was quite a sound. Made the walk very magical indeed!

    • The loud croaking is the sound of the bullfrog, and I know they are present in Tilden, so I’m pretty sure that’s what you heard, Jan. Their sound is really deep and even a little startling. And I’m really glad it made the walk magical. Many years later and you still remember it, that’s nice. Thanks so much for your visit and story today.

  11. Frogs are the noisiest animals whether they are looking for mate or not only followed by the cicadas. You’ve been to the Amazon Rainforest, you must remember every night, the noise is deafening! They are funny creatures, I used to draw cartoons of them in High School. Thank for the post, Jet. πŸ™‚

    • Yes, it is absolutely astonishing how loud frogs can be, HJ. And yes, I do remember every night in the Amazon and the deafening noise, and so many sounds that, as I’m sure you also experienced, you don’t even know what kind of animal the sound is coming from. I liked that you drew cartoons of frogs in h.s., HJ. My warmest thanks for your visit and words, much enjoyed today.

  12. I enjoyed reading this post very much! It taught me many things about frogs and tadpoles that I was only vaguely aware of. Since the tadpoles eat algae and bacteria, I wonder whether they benefit the environment they find themselves in.

    • The world of frogs and tadpoles is an interesting one, and I’m really glad I could share some of the details with you here, Hien. And you are right in thinking that tadpoles are benefitting the environment by eating algae and bacteria. Their diet helps to regulate algal blooms and reduce the chances of algal contamination. Thanks so very much, Hien, always a pleasure.

    • I so enjoyed sharing a few interesting aspects of frogs with you today, Janet, and I’m glad you learned from it. Ahhh, it’s so great to be enjoying the spring again. And also so great to hear from you, my friend…thank you and best wishes for a happy weekend to you, too.

  13. The miracle of frogs! What a wonderful post about an amazing little creature. The noise, their habits, habitats, and the power of metamorphosis – magical beings. Surely if you’re a frog, you wouldn’t want to turn into a mere prince. Not cool enough!
    Thanks, Jet!

    • I enjoyed your comment, as always, pc. I like the thought of a frog being more cool than a prince. And I’m on board with you on that one, my friend. My warmest thanks and smiles to you….

  14. Frogs are amazing. I collect little statues of them. They are so sensitive to pollution and holes in the ozone layer don’t help either. I would love to book a weekend out of the city to hear the spring peepers. Thanks for the memories Jet.

    • I’m with you in revering frogs, Sherry. There was a year when Athena and I had to live elsewhere while our home was being reconstructed post-fire, and when spring came we missed hearing the frogs SO MUCH. We ran into one of our neighbors in the grocery store, asked him if the frogs were ribbiting every night, and he didn’t even have to think or pause but right away replied, “Oh yes, it’s been great.” So I do hope you get a chance to book a weekend out to commune with the spring peepers. My best and warmest wishes to you, Sherry, many thanks.

  15. Wow! I’m amazed you two were able to spot and photograph the frogs. Like you say, it is a difficult thing to do. We have western chorus frogs here and though I hear them all the time, I never, ever see them.

    • Thanks for your appreciation of the frog spotting and photographing, Eilene. We’ve been working for 20 years on it, that’s the secret. We love the frogs so much and hear them year after year, but we have made many fruitless visits to the pond and ditches, and only rarely get a good sighting. The only real way to see them is to walk to the water’s edge and not move for a long time, so long that they don’t know you’re there. This makes me laugh. Cheers to you and your western chorus frogs, Eilene, and thanks.

  16. The frog in the third picture is well camouflaged as a dry leaf. What accounts for the name “treefrog” if these critters don’t live in trees? In browsing your linked Wikipedia article I didn’t find an explanation.

    • Great question, Steve. You might remember I mentioned the frogs have been re-classified many times. The naming and classification is convoluted and some of the frogs that fall under that name of treefrogs do actually live in trees, but many, like the Sierran Treefrog, do not. It confuses even the professional herpetologists. Go figure. Cheers and thanks!

  17. Thanks Jet and Athena! Great nature study, and lovely pics.
    I’ve been into frogs lately, for some reason. Of course I never see any in Toronto, so maybe that’s why.
    A lovely spring post that’s of hope and ribbits!

    • Yes those frogs are so little! And yet they can belt out the songs as if they’re six feet tall. Great to share the frogs with you, Kirt, thanks so much for your visit.

  18. fascinating and delightful read about frogs, Jet. and the stages of their life is truly a miracle. thank you as always and i wish you and Athena a wonderful weekend! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  19. Wow, just the size of your thumb. I can imagine how challenging it is to capture them in photos. These tinny frog images are incredibly clear. I love the last one especially. Thank you, Jet for another wonderful lesson about nature.

  20. Until I read your post, and pondered all this froggie magic, I hadn’t realized that I haven’t heard a frog yet this year. I rarely am quick enough to see them at the ponds — I mostly get a kerplunk when they hit the water — but I always hear them. I wonder if our freeze affected them? I’ll have to do some searching and see if I can find an answer. In the meantime, I’m going to wait for it to warm a bit more, and then take all my new knowledge to the ponds and see what I can see!

    • Yes, I agree, Andrea, these tiny frogs might have some precarious times. They sound big and bold every single night, though, so hopefully they’ve worked it out.

    • The wonders of frogs never ceases to amaze me, Jane, so I am delighted to have had the chance to share it with you. They are indeed challenging to find, and you’re right, you listen and then look. They are super sensitive to your vibrations, however, so you have to get close and then stay still until they start up again. It’s fun. Many thanks for your lovely visits today, Jane.

  21. Wow! I really enjoyed reading about these frogs! Nature is so amazing! I am in awe of how tiny the tadpoles are and how many eggs the female lays… the photos are fantastic too! πŸ˜ƒ

    • I have a smile on my face, Jill. Thanks for your lovely comment, it makes me happy that you enjoyed the frogs and tadpoles. I enjoyed your shoebill drawing today, too. BTW finding a shoebill is nearly impossible, I have only talked to birders who went way out into the wilderness to find one, where they were said to be, but came back without a siting and really worn out, too. I’m happy I could just enjoy yours today.

  22. What a great post, Jet! The images catching the different stages of their lives are amazing!

    I remember watching tadpoles and frogs in the pond at the end of our street when I was a kid. My brother used to chase us with them. Some of the frogs that came out of that pond were HUGE! Good times! 🀣

  23. There’s a stretch of our salt marshes lined by a ditch, with bamboo reaching to the heavens the full length of it. Seems to be a favourite spot for mating. Those croaks really are noisy πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Happy Easter, Jet!

  24. It is, indeed, miraculous that any of these sweet creatures survive! Kudos to Athena for her patience in getting so many difficult photos!

    • Thank you, Nan, for your visit and comment about the frogs. It reminded me of that time Athena captured that photo of a frog in your yard on the hydrangea leaf. Cheers!

  25. Frogs are magic and I miss them all winter. Ours are still hibernating for the most part but the other day while walking our rail trail I did hear some relatives of your tree frog, the Spring Peppers Eliza mentioned earlier. We often have them chorusing in the backyard but not quite yet. They are most often found on the ground but do occasionally frequently a tree or shrub like one I found in our Weigela a few years ago.
    You put together a fine natural history and as always Athena’s images are great.

    • Thanks very much, Steve, for your kind words on the frog post. I also enjoyed hearing about your Spring Peepers, and am thrilled for you that you heard a few the other day. Many thanks.

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