CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California





Identifying California Frogs and Toads

 






California Frogs and Toads:








observation link

 


This is not a scientific key to identifying frogs and toads found in California. It is meant to be used as a basic tool for the novice who wants identify an animal primarily by appearance, location, or sound. There are three ways to use this identification section.


1. First, it might be helpful if you look first at the California Frogs and Toads Photo Index page with one general picture of all types of frogs and toads found in the state. You can access more detailed information and more pictures from the index.

It may also help to look at the Range Maps for all California Frogs and Toads, to see which ones are found in your area, and proceed from there.

If you'd like to identify a frog or toad from a call that you have heard, go to the Frog and Toad Calls Page where you can listen to calls of most frogs and toads in California, read a brief description of the call, and get information about when and where each species calls.
2. Try this IDENTIFICATION KEY which makes note of particular details and then uses a process of elimination to eventually get to the animal you want to identify. If it does not work for you, try using part 3 below.

3. Identification using location and some simple visual observations


The different species of California Frogs and Toads have been separated below into a few basic groups in order to help you identify them. (Tadpoles and Metamorphs are beyond the scope of this identification aid.)

Find the group which most resembles the animal you want to identify, and look at the thumbnail images (click on them to see a larger version) then read the brief description until you find an animal similar to the frog or toad you are trying to identify. Click on the link for further details about the group.

If you already know the type of frog and want to determine the species within that type, jump down to some more specific information using the links in the table below.

Be aware that many species of frogs and toads look alike, and that there are other factors that can help you identify them besides appearance, such as geographical location, behavior, and habitat. Also, some frogs and toads have several color and / or pattern variations and we do not show all of them on this page. Some of these variations will be shown on the main page which you can get to by clicking on a name link here. Juveniles often do not look exactly like adults, so if you are trying to identify a juvenile, look closely at the body shape, eyes, toes, and other details, and try to find a picture of an adult with a similar appearance, but not necessarily the exact same color or pattern.


If you don't find it here, it's possible that the frog or toad you found is a non-native or introduced animal, such as a released or escaped pet, especially if it is found in or near an inhabited area.

It is also possible that you did not get a good enough look at the animal to identify it. Currently there are only a few known widespread introduced frogs and toads in California, but that can change. With many types of frogs and toads common in the pet trade, some of them occasionally ecape or are released illegally by irresponsible owners. If you cannot find a frog or toad here, you can also look at our page of Escaped Pets which lists some common pet herps which have been reported to me.

If you have any problems using these keys, or suggestions on how to improve them, please send me your feedback.



Cascades Frog


Some Basic Field Marks


To help you determine if you have a frog, a treefrog, a toad, or a spadefoot, look at the following details. Later these may also help to determine the species. These are general traits, and there will be some variations; some frogs have slightly bumpy skin, etc. Also note the body shape, color, and the animal's habitat and behavior.
Skin:

Smooth, or rough and warty
toad skin
frog skin
 
Rough skin: Toads


Smooth skin: Frogs
Parotoid glands;

Raised bumpy glands behind the eyes
(Do not confuse parotoids with the tympanum, or eardrum on a frog or toad which is behind the eye, but is not raised up.)
toad
frog
 
Enlarged Parotoid Glands: Toads


No Glands: Frogs
Pupils:

Horizontal or vertical.
eye
eye
 
Horizontal Pupils:
Most CA Frogs and Toads

Vertical Pupils:
Spadefoots
, Tailed Frog
Dorsolateral Folds:

Ridges on the upper sides of the body
folds
no folds
 
Dorsolateral Folds:
Many CA Frogs


No Dorsolateral Folds:
Toads
, some Frogs
Dorsal Stripe:

Stripe down the middle of the back.
toad
toad
 
Striped Back: Some kinds of Toads


No Stripe: Some Toads, Frogs
Toe Tips:

Enlarged or not
toes
toes
 
Enlarged Toe Tips:
Treefrogs


Straight Toe Tips:
Other Frogs and Toads
Eye:

Dark patch of color or stripe through the eye, or not.
eye stripe
no eye stripe
 
Dark stripe through eye:
some Frogs


No dark stripe through eye:
Toads
, some Frogs
Spade:

A hard black growth on the bottoms of the back feet.
spade
 
Black spade on bottom of rear feet: Spadefoots



Toads



Toads are a type of frog. They can be distinguished from frogs by their rough, warty skin, fat, chunky body, short legs, and large parotoid glands found behind the eyes on the head. These glands vary in shape and size and can help you with species identification.

Toads move more by walking than by hopping long distances, which will help differentiate them from frogs.
They can be distinguished from Spadefoots by their horizontal pupils and rougher skin.

Toads are often seen in yards at night, or day, especially in wet gardens, near sprinklers, near irrigated agricultural areas, on roads at night, especially rainy nights, and around the edges of breeding ponds, lakes, rivers, and creeks, especially after transforming from tadpoles when hundreds or thousands of tiny toadlets can be seen.

If the animal you want to identify resembles one of the toads shown below, go here to continue your search to determine which species of toad it is.


toad toad toad
Sonoran Desert Toad
Bufo alvarius

(Ollotis alvaria)

Boreal Toad
Bufo boreas boreas

(Anaxyrus boreas boreas)
California Toad
Bufo boreas halophilus

(Anaxyrus boreas halophilus)
toad toad toad
Arroyo Toad
Bufo californicus

(Anaxyrus californicus)

Yosemite Toad (Female)
Bufo canorus

(Anaxyrus canorus)
Yosemite Toad (Male)
Bufo canorus

(Anaxyrus canorus )
toad toad toad
Great Plains Toad
Bufo cognatus

(Anaxyrus cognatus)

Black Toad
Bufo exsul

(Anaxyrus exsul)
Arizona Toad
Bufo microscaphus

(Anaxyrus microscaphus)
toad toad
Red-spotted Toad
Bufo punctatus

(Anaxyrus punctatus)
Rocky Mountain Toad
Bufo woodhousii woodhousii

(Anaxyrus woodhousii woodhousii)


 
Frogs


Treefrogs

If you find a frog in California clinging to branches or other vegetation, or rocks in a creek, then it is almost certainly a Treefrog.
Treefrogs in California are small, up to about 2 inches long. If you look closely you can see that the tips of their toes are enlarged into little suction cups. They vary widely in coloration, so use other details to identify them. Telling the two types of treefrogs apart should be easy - the California Treefrog only occurs in southern California, has bumpy skin, is usually found along rocky creeks, and does not have a dark stripe through the eye, while the Pacific Treefrog has a dark eye stripe and smooth skin. Also, the California Treefrog will not be bright green, and typically matches the color of rocks in its habitat.

The Baja Caifornia Treefrog, the Northern Pacific Treefrog, and the Sierran Treefrog all used to be considered the same frog: the Pacific Treefrog, but now they are considered to be three species. Together, they occur throughout almost the entire state, and are probably the most commonly seen frogs in the California, and are certainly the most commonly heard. They all look and sound the same, so you need to look at a range map to determine which species you are looking at.

Juvenile Red-legged Frogs and Yellow-legged Frogs might be confused for these Treefrogs, as they occur in the same areas, but they will not have the enlarged toe pads.

If your frog is a treefrog, click on the name links below for further pictures and information to help identify which species.


frog frog frog
Baja California Treefrog - Pseudacris hypochondriaca hypochondriaca
(two color variations)
Dark stripe through eye
frog frog frog
Northern Pacific Treefrog - Pseudacris regilla
(two color variations)


Dark stripe through eye
frog frog frog
Sierran Treefrog - Pseudacris sierra
(two color variatios)
Dark stripe through eye
frog frog frog
California Treefrog
Pseudacris cadaverina


Enlarged toe tips No stripe through eye
True Frogs


The following frogs are Ranid or "true" frogs, which are characterized by a relatively slim waist, long legs, smooth skin, webbed feet, and folds along the sides of the body. These frogs are excellent jumpers.

Here is a chart of the features of Ranid frogs found in California that can help you distinguish between similar species.



Red-legged and Yellow-legged Frogs

These frogs are similar in appearance and sometimes occur in the same area, so they are treated together here. These frogs may be difficult to distinguish from other frogs occurring in the same area. Red- and Yellow-legged Frogs will also sometimes be difficult to tell apart.

You may confuse small Red-legged or Yellow Legged Frogs with Pacific Treefrogs. Look at the toe tips to see if the frog is a treefrog.

Bullfrogs are similar, especially juveniles, but they have a fold around the eardrum and tend to be green, often with mottling, while red and yellow legged frogs are not bright green.

Tailed Frogs will have vertical pupils, a dark mask through the eye and no fold along the sides.

The Northern Red-legged Frog is very similar in appearance to the Cascades Frog, but they should not occur in the same areas in California. The Cascades Frog will have yellow underneath, while an adult Red-legged Frog will have red. (Be careful, juvenile Red-legged frogs may appear yellowish underneath.)

Foothill Yellow-legged Frogs tend to prefer to jump in water and sit on the bottom, relying on their cryptic pattern to hide them, while these other frogs tend to either hop away quickly, or dive into the water and swim away quickly.



Click here for range maps and more help in identifying Red- and Yellow-legged Frogs inhabiting California.


frog frog  
Northern Red-legged Frog
Rana aurora
California Red-legged Frog
Rana draytonii


 
frog frog frog
Foothill Yellow-legged Frog
Rana boylii


Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog
Rana sierrae


Southern Mountain Yellow-legged Frog
Rana muscosa

Cascades Frog


While common in the mountains of Oregon and Washington, in California the Cascade Frog is found only in the far north, generally at higher elevations in the mountains. It has disappeared from many of the areas it once inhabited in California. It might be confused for a Red-legged Frog, but these species should not occur together in the same part of California. The Cascades Frog will have a light or yellowish color on the underside of the legs, while adult Red-legged Frogs will have red.

Click here for more pictures and information about the Cascades Frog.


frog frog range map
Cascades Frog
Rana cascadae


Historic Range - in red

Leopard Frogs

Leopard Frogs are moderately-sized frogs, 3.5 - 4.5 inches long, with large dark spots on a green or brown back, and very distinct folds along the sides of the body. They are difficult to identify by sight alone, so knowing where a frog came from in California is the best way to identify it.

The Northern Leopard Frog has been found in isolated areas in the northeast, the central valley, around Lake Tahoe, and the northern Owens Valley region. They have been commonly used as laboratory animals, so they have occasionally escaped and formed small populations, especially in agricultural areas in the Central Valley.

So far, the Southern Leopard Frog has only been found at one location in Western Riverside Co. in the Prado flood control basin.

The Lowland Leopard Frog once occured in the Sonoran Desert east of the Peninsular Ranges, and along the Colorado River, but it appears to have dissappeared from California. If it still occurs in the state, it will be found in areas where the Rio Grande Leopard Frog also occurs, and these two frogs will be very difficult to tell apart.

The Rio Grande Leopard Frog is found in the Imperial Valley and along the southern part of the Colorado River and north of the Salton Sea in the southern part of the Coachella Valley.

Click here for range maps and more help in identifying Leopard Frogs inhabiting California.


frog frog frog
Northern Leopard Frog
Rana pipiens

(Lithobates pipiens)

Southern Leopard Frog
Rana sphenocephala

(Lithobates sphenocephala)

Lowland Leopard Frog
Rana yavapaiensis

(Lithobates yavapaiensis)
  frog
  Rio Grande Leopard Frog
Rana berlandieri

(Lithobates berlandieri )

 

Oregon Spotted Frog


The Oregon Spotted Frog is reddish brown with dark spots on the back and red underneath. The eyes are slightly turned up. This frog is either extirpated from California, though it might still occur in the extreme northeast part of the state in the Warner Mountains. Unless you are there, (or in Oregon or parts of Washington) then your frog is not an Oregon Spotted Frog. (The Columbia Spotted Frog is more commonly found in the west, east of the Cascade Mountains, but not in California. (There is a possiblility that the spotted frogs on the eastern side of the Warner Mountain are actually Columbia Spotted Frogs, but this has not been confirmed.)

Click here for more pictures and information about Oregon Spotted Frogs.


frog frog range map
Oregon Spotted Frog
Rana pretiosa


Historic Range - in red

American Bullfrog


Bullfrogs are widespread and very common. If you see a large brown and green frog (up to 8 inches long) in a permanent body of water just about anywhere in California except very high elevations, it is most likely a Bullfrog. Bullfrogs do not have a dorsolateral fold, but they do have a fold surrounding the eardrum. Juveniles are much smaller, and are more common. One good way to identify juveniles is by the loud chirping sound they make as they jump from the shore into the water when you approach. Other frogs that occur with the Bullfrog do not make this sound. This frog is rarely seen away from water, but you can sometimes find them on roads at night. Male Bullfrogs often call during the day, which may help you identify the frog.

Click here for more pictures and information about Bullfrogs.


frog frog frog
  American Bullfrog
Rana catesbeiana

(Lithobates catesbeianus )

 

Other frogs and toads



Coastal Tailed Frog


The Coastal Tailed Frog is only found in cold fast-flowing rocky creeks and streams in well-shaded humid forests along the north coast and northwest mountains. It is fairly small, 1 - 2 inches long. They are sometimes found hopping around on rocky creekbanks, or hiding under rocks or logs near streams. Red-legged Frogs, Yellow-legged Frogs, and Pacific Treefrogs are found in the same areas, but you can identify this frog by its vertical pupil, a dark stripe through the eye, and the tail-like organ of male frogs which protrudes from the rear of the frog. Adult Tailed Frogs are also larger than adult Pacific Treefrogs. Juveniles can be hard to differentiate from Red- and Yellow-legged Frog juveniles.


Click here for more pictures and information about Coastal Tailed Frogs.


frog frog
Coastal Tailed Frog
Ascaphus truei


Range - in red

African Clawed Frog


The African Clawed Frog spends almost all of its time in water hiding under leaves or other vegetation or loose soil, making it difficult to see, except if you look at night with a flashlight. They have been introduced mostly into permanent water sources in coastal Southern California, but they have also been found in the Mojave Desert, the Imperial Valley and Colorado River area, and at a pond in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Click on the link below for more pictures and information about African Clawed Frogs.


© Todd Battey frog © Dick Bartlett frog range map
African Clawed Frog
Xenopus laevis



Introduced Range - in red

Spadefoots



Spadefoots resemble small toads with their rounded bodies and somewhat bumpy skin. You can tell them apart from true toads by their vertical, cat-like pupils, smoother skin, and lack of enlarged parotoid glands behind the eyes. They also have a hardened black digging spade on the back feet. (Some toads have a hardened growth on the back feet for digging, but it is usually not black.)

Spadefoots are typically found in dry areas only during times of heavy rain when the ground is wet and temporary pools form. However, they may be out and about longer in agricultural areas where there is moisture from irrigation. There are three types of spadefoots in California which are similar in appearance, but, fortunately, they do not occur together in an area, so looking at the range maps will be the best way to identify them.

Go here if you need to identify a Spadefoot in California.


frog frog frog
Vertical Pupils Black Spade on Hind Feet Western Spadefoot
Spea hammondii
frog frog frog
Male Couch's Spadefoot
Scaphiopus couchii



Female Couch's Spadefoot
Scaphiopus couchii
Great Basin Spadefoot
Spea intermontana

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