Frogs and toads: environmentally beneficial creatures

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The warm Michigan weather brings about many different types of plants an animals, including amphibians like frogs and toads.

Often after a rain or in a wet, shaded area these critters can be found hopping around.

What’s the difference?

It might be surprising that all toads are considered frogs. Frogs and toads are both amphibians but it’s easy to tell the difference between them by a few key factors. The frog has more smooth, moist skin and longer legs. Toads are more bumpy and warty-looking. Frogs prefer to be around water and moist places whereas toads don’t require wet areas as much and can withstand drier habitats. Toads prefer to crawl rather than to hop from place to place.

Amphibians are defined by a life-cycle that begins underwater. Baby frogs and toads start off as eggs in the water and develop into tadpoles that have gills and can swim. These tadpoles develop lungs and other body parts and, once they have matured, can enjoy life on land.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Toads and frogs breed during the spring and summer and find warm shelter to protect themselves during harsh winter months.

Where do they live?

Frogs and toads live in many places around the world including the rain forest. In Michigan they tend to live in wetlands, wooded areas, beaches and near streams or lakes.

What do they do?

Frogs consume thousands of bugs. This consumption is beneficial for people and the environment, protecting plants, getting rid of pests and maintaining a balance in the food chain and ecosystem. Frogs are also great indicators of changes in the environment as they are sensitive to even the slightest of changes. Their skin is thin and porous so any chemicals or other contaminants to the environment can be shown by a decrease of frogs in more frog-populated areas. Frogs also have provided scientists with compounds for different medicines.

A fowler's toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

A fowler’s toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

Threats to frogs and toads

Unfortunately there are many threats to frogs and toads throughout the world. Many of these are human-induced problems such as the use of harmful pesticides, habitat loss and pollution to name a few. These actions endanger frogs and toads and can be harmful for the environment which is why protecting them is important.

To learn more about frogs and toads click here. To learn about types of frogs and toads found in Michigan click here.

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Share Your Yard With Amphibians

We share Michigan with 13 frog and toad species, which play a beneficial role to both humans and wetland ecosystems. With their charming choruses and appetite for virtually any pest that crosses their path, frogs and toads can be a major benefit to yards and gardens. It is even estimated that one cricket frog devours 4,800 insects in one year.

Like many of Michigan’s amphibians, frogs are small and camouflage easily among grasses, trees and soil. But with the right tricks, you can encourage these sometimes small and cold-blooded critters to come out of hiding and take haven in your backyard.

Take advantage of natural resources
A well-groomed yard may be aesthetically pleasing, but it isn’t supportive to wildlife. Frogs and toads are attracted to native ground cover, like tall grass and wildflowers. To welcome amphibians, leave leaf litter, logs and rock piles under trees and shrubs that provide natural shelter.

Build a toad house
Provide a safe place for toads to take shelter by building a toad burrow or toad house. Create a depression in soil beneath shrubs or flowers. Layer stones along the side and top of the depression, about 6-8 inches high. Or, reuse an 8-inch flower pot by creating a hole big enough for a toad to fit and placing it upturned in a shady area in your garden.

Build your own backyard pond
Add diversity to your yard by creating a pond, which is an easy ways to attract frogs, toads and other forms of wildlife. Recreate their natural habitat with vegetation like water lilies, cattails, fallen logs, ferns, wildflowers and tall grasses, which attract insects and other food for frogs as well as provide cover. Native plants and rocky areas outside of the pond serve as retreat areas for toads.

When seeking the ideal spot for your pond, choose an area on low ground and away from potential threats such as raccoons or runoff from fertilizer and pesticide use.

Ponds are best supported by clay soils and should not be built in dry, sandy soil. Ponds should be at least 12 feet long and 6 feet wide, with space for amphibians to bask along the edges of the water. Make sure the water is slow moving and shallow, about 1.5 feet deep, so that it is ideal for pond-breeding amphibians to lay their eggs.

Almost all of MNA’s 170 sanctuaries support amphibians. Visit wetland and forest type habitats for a glimpse of one of 13 species of frogs and toads. For more information about MNA and sanctuaries, visit our website.