When it comes to amphibians from fairy tales there are really only two options and whether you’re after Prince Charming or something to put in a witches cauldron we’ve got the reality check when it comes to telling the difference between frogs and toads.
Frog and toad characteristics
First, let's look at their skin. Frogs typically have very smooth skin that might look wet even when the animal is out of the water. This is because frogs partly breathe through their skin and have special glands that secrete a substance to keep their skin moist. By contrast, toads have that famously warty skin (though there is no risk of catching a wart from a toad), and unless they’ve come straight out of the pond will usually look dry.
Legs and locomotion are a great way to tell a frog from a toad. Frogs, with longer, more athletic-looking frames, are classic hoppers. Some can hop a distance 20 times their body size, while others are, well, kind of rubbish at it. Toads don’t hop at all and instead move by crawling or walking along the ground. Toads have shorter legs and are much less likely to have webbed feet.
Appearance-wise, while there are always some exceptions, toads are usually bigger and more squat and stout than frogs, which are significantly smaller and slighter in stature. Frog faces are more pointed while toads are mostly broader.
How did the toad cross the road?
If you spot an amphibian minding its own business or attempting to cross a road chances are it is probably a toad. Frogs can’t survive without water for very long so will rarely leave a pond, whereas toads will travel further to find a mate or food source.
In fact, one of the most successful invasive species in the world is the cane toad, which caused incredible environmental damage when it was introduced to Australia.
Frog vs toad tadpoles
Frog spawn typically has a bubble-like consistency, laid in large clumps that floats on the surface of the ponds. Toads by contrast lay their eggs in long continuous strings.
Frog tadpoles are similar to their parents being slimmer, with light-colored flecks, and gradually changing color as they age. Toad tadpoles are chunkier and while it varies with species, are more likely to remain black rather than change color.
A little taxonomy
Frogs and toads both belong to the order Anura, for tailless amphibians, but that’s where the taxonomy seems to stop. There is actually no taxonomic basis for the labels of frog or toad, they’ve just become lodged in people’s minds due to popular usage.
There is a family called Bufonidea that is granted the honor of being “true toads". This family contains around 600 species, according to the Australian Museum. Other species have common names that seem interchangeable. So don’t worry if you can’t tell the difference technically they’re all frogs!