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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California







Frog and Toad Behavior and Life History - Reproductive Behavior

 









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Reproductive Behavior

Male frogs and toads typically call until a female comes into their territory and then they quickly jump onto the back of the female and hold on. The male stays on the female until she lays her eggs and he fertilizes them. This behavior is called Amplexus. Males are smaller than females and have thicker and stronger front legs to help them hold on to her back, and they even develop special grasping pads on one or more fingers of each hand to help their grasp. These are called Nuptial Pads. Males can get so excited that they will sometimes grab onto other males, other species of frogs, and even other animals, such as fish. Sometimes several males compete for the same female, forming a ball of males with a female in the middle. This can be dangerous to the female if she cannot get to the surface to breathe.

boreal toad great plains toad gulf coast toads
A nuptial pad on front foot of an adult male Boreal Toad. Great Plains Toads Gulf Coast Toads
co spotted frogs rana sierrae couch's
Columbia Spotted Frogs Sierra Yellow-legged Frogs Couch's Spadefoot
american toads american toads western spadefoots
American Toads This video shows a male and a female Western Spadefoot in amplexus underwater in a breeding area of a rocky creek bed in San Joaquin County. You can also see some eggs by the pair and floating nearby. (The first shot is of the female after the male left her.)
yosemite toad california toads red leg frog habitat
Yosemite Toads in amplexus with the female depositing her eggs Congregation of breeding adult California Toads © Joyce Gross This video shows a Northern Red-legged Frog breeding habitat with eggs.
california toads california toads california toads
These videos showbreeding behavior at the shallow outlet of a pond in Contra Costa County where at least 8 solo males and 10 pairs in amplexus were observed in the area.
Black toads Black toads Black toads
This video shows some of the sounds and activities of Black Toads on the breeding grounds. In this video, a group of male Black Toads thrash around in the water trying to wrestle away a female away from another male.
A short video of non-stop ultimate toad-fighting action with a gang of Black Toads trying to steal away females from other males, chasing them around the pond.
red-spotted toads cascades frogs california toads
Red-spotted Toads

Cascades Frogs Male California Toads searching for females will sometimes go after anything that moves. These California Toads appear to be trying to amplex a catfish.
© Andy Hatch
Tailed Frog
Tailed Frog
Tailed Frog
Adult male tailed frog* showing his tail-like copulatory organ. This organ, an extension of the cloaca, is used to transfer sperm into the female's cloaca during amplexus. She then holds the fertilized eggs for 9 or 10 months when she swims under a large stone on the bottom of a fast-moving creek and attaches the eggs to the bottom of the stone. This internal fertilization strategy lets tailed frogs breed in fast-moving water without the eggs washing away, which would happen if they were laid and fertilized on the surface of the water.
* Ascaphus montanus
 
Interspecific Amplexus

Sometimes male frogs and toads enter into amplexus with a female or even a male of the wrong species.
This is called Interspecific Amplexus.
houston toad red-legged frogs red-legged frogs
This Houston Toad is in amplexus with the wrong species - a Gulf Coast Toad.
These California Red-legged Frogs are in amplexus with California Toads that share their ponds and breed at the same time.
 
Necrogamy

Sometimes male frogs and toads amplex a dead female. This is called Necrogamy.
california toad california toad california toad
A live adult male California Toad in amplexus with a dead female California Toad (necrogamy). The third pictures shows a male's typical amplexus hold around the females chest, holding her under the arms.  © Jeff Ahrens
  california toads  
  These misguided California Toads are attempting to breed with a dead toad. It's possible they found a dead female, but its also possible they suffocated or drowned her in their agressive competition to amplex her. © Mark Gary
 
     
Eggs of Frogs and Toads

Most North American frogs and toads lay eggs in water. After the eggs develop they hatch and become tadpoles.
Sometimes you can tell what sort of frog or toad laid the eggs by the appearance of the eggs, but typically you can only identify the family of frog or toad found in a particular area: Ranid frogs lay eggs in large rounded masses, Treefrogs and Chorus Frogs lay eggs in small round sacs, Toads lay eggs in long strings, etc. These are not the eggs of all frog families, only those for which I have pictures.

Toad Eggs
california toad eggs california toad eggs california toad eggs
Western Toads lay their eggs in long strings.
Red-spotted Toad eggs Red-spotted Toad eggs Black Toad Eggs
Red-spotted Toads lay their eggs singly or in a small cluster.
Other North American toads lay their eggs in strings.
Black Toads lay their eggs in strings.
Eastern American Toad Eastern American Toad eggs Yosemite Toad eggs
Eastern American Toad egg strings Yosemite Toads lay their eggs in strings. The strings often get lumped together giving the appearance of one large mass of eggs. © Julie Nelson
 
Ranid Frog Eggs
American Bullfrog Tadpole American Bullfrog Tadpole Lowland Leopard Frog eggs
American Bullfrogs lay their eggs in large floating masses in the summer. Lowland Leopard Frog eggs
Northern Leopard Frog Eggs Northern Leopard Frog Eggs Northern Leopard Frog Eggs
Leopard frogs lay eggs in large rounded masses. These were all laid by Northern Leopard Frogs.
Northern Red-legged Frog Eggs Northern Red-legged Frog Eggs Northern Red-legged Frog Eggs
Northern Red-legged Frog egg masses.
California Red-legged Frog Eggs California Red-legged Frog Eggs California Red-legged Frog Eggs
California Red-legged Frog egg masses.
rana boylii eggs rana boylii eggs foothill yellow-legged frog eggs
Foothill Yellow-legged Frogs lay eggs in small masses.
Cascades Frog Eggs Cascades Frog Eggs Cascades Frog Eggs
Cascades Frog Eggs
Oregon Spotted Frog eggs
Oregon Spotted Frog egg mass. Columbia Spotted Frog egg masses.
Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog Eggs Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog eggs Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog
Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog egg masses
  Chiriacahua Leopard Frog  
  Chiricahua Leopard Frog egg mass  
 
Treefrog and Chorus Frog Eggs
Baja California Treefrog Eggs Baja California Treefrog Eggs Sierran Treefrog Eggs
Sierran Treefrog Eggs Northern Pacific Treefrog eggs Sierran Treefrog Eggs
The three species of "Pacific Treefrogs" lay their eggs in rounded masses, that sometimes clump together.
     
Canyon Treefrog eggs Arizona Treefrog eggs Arizona Treefrog eggs
Canyon Treefrog eggs Arizona Treefrog eggs
     
Spadefoot Eggs
Western Spadefoot Eggs Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Eggs Great Basin Spadefoot Eggs
Western Spadefoot Eggs
© Andrew Harmer
Couch's Spadefoot eggs Great Basin Spadefoot eggs,
removed from water.
     

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