It’s a good sign to have native frogs and toads in our gardens. It means we’re providing the food and habitat these environmentally-sensitive creatures need to thrive. Find out what you can do to attract them and why they are important in a healthy ecosystem.
These tips for transitioning into eco-friendly gardening also show ways to benefit native wildlife in our gardens.
Welcoming Frogs to the Garden
Here in North America we have a number of native frogs and toads that will take up residence in our gardens if conditions are right.
The number one way to attract them is to create a natural, wildlife pond—one that is not clean or chlorinated—but instead becomes its own ecosystem over time.
The other essential step is to avoid all sprays, poisons, and synthetic fertilizers that harm animals, plants, and waterways. To taint any part of the food web, potentially taints the entire food web.
These tips are intended for cold climate gardeners here in Canada and United States who want to attract native—not invasive—frog species. If you do identify an invasive frog species in your garden, it’s important to consult with local conservation authorities who monitor these issues.
Let’s go through common questions about frogs—and toads—and find out some top tips to help them thrive.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a frog and a toad?
Toads are a type of frog. By definition, frogs are tailless amphibians from the order Anura.
In English, we use the word toad for certain types of frogs that live mostly on land, are good at digging, have short legs, and dry, warty-looking skin.
Frog is used for the shiny-skinned, aquatic dwellers with long back legs good for hopping. There are also “tree frogs” who excel at climbing and live in trees.
From a scientific perspective, there is no taxonomic separation between frogs and toads—they are all frogs. If you call all of them “frogs” or “Anura,” you’ll always be right.
Are frogs good for the garden?
Yes, native frogs and toads are beneficial for gardens and nature in general.
The guiding principle is any native animal species that has co-evolved in the local ecosystem is considered an important part of that system.
In the food web, frogs eat a variety of insects and other invertebrates as well as acting as a valuable food source for other animals.
The presence of frogs in the garden is a sign of a healthy ecosystem and a thriving habitat.
From an ecological viewpoint, it’s a good sign if frogs live in your garden. It suggests you’ve put together a welcoming environment for wildlife including amphibians.
While frogs are not very picky about what they eat, they are about where they live. They would not be in your garden if they weren’t finding conditions they like. It’s their choice to be there so consider it a positive sign that you’re providing what they need to thrive year after year.
How can I attract frogs to my garden?
Like all animals, frogs need suitable food and habitat.
If frog species are native to your area and within hopping distance (which can be several miles for some species), the surest way to attract them is to install a fresh water wildlife pond.
A well-designed wildlife pond will provide habitat, places to breed, and attract food sources like insects. Even a small pond just a few feet deep and wide can suffice.
A variety of aquatic plants at varying heights and depths—below, at, and above water level—provide places to sit and shelter.
The surrounding garden is equally important as frogs move between water and land. The garden should be pesticide-free, planted with a diverse selection of plant species (trees, shrubs, grasses, flowering perennials) and have plenty of natural “mess” including leaf litter on the ground. The goal is to provide places to rest away from the hot sun and out of sight from predators while supporting other native wildlife.
If the garden is new and plants are few, some gardeners create toad huts by laying clay pots on the garden soil to form little caves.
How can I help protect frogs?
Frog Endangerment & Population Declines
The two biggest threats to frogs worldwide are:
- Loss of habitat
- Chytridiomycosis, a fungal disease that is killing amphibians around the globe
Once you’ve attracted frogs, we need to protect their environment ongoing, mainly by leaving things alone and not interfering. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
A pond provides a place to breed, lay eggs, cool off, hydrate, and, for some species, overwinter. A deep layer of mud and debris at the bottom of the pond provides a place to hibernate during the winter months. If fish are added, realize that they too will eat some frog eggs.
- Clean, standing water is best for egg-laying. If you have a recirculating pond pump, consider turning it off during mating and tadpole season or keeping it on a low setting and blocking access to the skimmer basket.
- Accessibility is important too. Create a low-incline ramp for frogs to move in and out of the pond. Alternately, you can buy a frog log. These are made for swimming pools and ponds and help prevent animals from drowning. Besides frogs, squirrels, birds, chipmunks, salamanders, ducks—especially ducklings, and turtles all make use of these.
Along with avoiding pesticides and herbicides, avoid using anything acidic like vinegar, whether household or horticultural grade. Frogs can be hiding anywhere in the garden and these sprays will burn their sensitive skin. This explains more issues with vinegar in the garden.
Keep the mess. Fallen leaves, old branches, logs, rocks, and decaying plants surrounding the pond area provide shelter and encourage insect and microbial activity. There are a lot of good reasons to leave the leaves.
Reduce light, noise, and air pollution:
- Minimize the use of artificial lights at night. Artificial lights are highly disruptive to animals active at night including frogs. Several times I’ve noticed ours will go silent for hours if a neighbor turns on a backyard light at night. This is really disruptive during mating season.
- Cut down on noise and air pollution. Power tools including mowers and weed whackers are not just disturbing but potentially lethal. Keep those blades high off the ground.
Are frogs pollinators?
No, most frogs are not pollinators although there is one recently-discovered exception. A tree frog species in Brazil, Xenohyla truncata, pollinates by distributing pollen and seeds while accessing fruit and nectar. Otherwise, as far as we know, any other pollination would be accidental—as when a tree frog might brush against pollen while a tree is in flower.
What do frogs eat?
Frogs are not picky and eat a variety of animals including ants, beetles, slugs, snails, caterpillars, grubs, flies, wasps, dragonflies, mosquitoes, moths, and other invertebrates.
It’s not as common but they may also eat pollinators like bees and butterflies.
It’s rarer still but certain frog species can also eat hummingbirds.
If you’ve ever watched frogs sitting by a pond, they basically stay still until something potentially edible flies by and—whoosh—out comes that tongue to grab it.
How many bugs can one frog eat?
One number you’ll see quoted says a single frog eats approximately 10,000 “pests” in a growing season.
However, this number originates from a back-of-the-envelope extrapolation made in 1897 from the stomach contents of one toad in Massachusetts.
While we don’t have other numbers to quote, suffice to say we know they eat a lot of bugs.
Do frogs eat plants?
In general, no, adult frogs do not eat plants, and prefer to be carnivores.
Earlier in life, during the tadpole stage, frogs do eat algae (which are sort-of plants) and nibble other soft plant tissues in the water.
There is also one frog species in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil that eats fruit.
Do mosquitoes bite frogs?
Yes, mosquitoes bite frogs the same way they bite humans. But, frogs also eat mosquitoes so there can be consequences.
Do frogs drink water?
While they may take in some water through their mouths, frogs primarily stay hydrated through their permeable skin.1.
This is why frogs don’t do well out of water in intense sun for prolonged periods of time and instead are more active at night. They cannot risk drying out. For every frog you see by day, there are likely many more around when it’s dark.
Why are frogs so loud at certain times of year?
Frogs are most vocal during mating season. While they can vocalize (croak, grunt, click, whistle, and trill) any time they are active, mating season is a whole other event. That’s when the males are vying for female attention and the calls can get incredibly loud. Depending on the species, these may be high or low-pitched, and, in some ponds (like mine) they all go at it at once.
Unfortunately, some home owner associations ban frogs (and ponds) for this reason, despite it occurring just a few days each year.
Which animals eat frogs?
Frogs have all sorts of predators at every stage of life including various birds, fish, mammals including domesticated cats and dogs, chipmunks, raccoons, squirrels, snakes, and insects.
Frog eggs and tadpoles are food for numerous animals which seriously reduces how many survive to adulthood.
Adult frogs are popular prey as well.
And, if that’s not enough, some frogs eat other frogs, both in the tadpole and adult stages.
With all that going on, it’s fair to say frogs play a key role in the food web.
How can I identify the frogs in my garden?
Frog species vary around the globe. For example, here in Canada we have some species in common with parts of the United States but none of our North American species are found in Australia.
To identify frog species in your garden, get a photo and compare it to a local resource guide for frog species in your region.
Helpful sources may include a regional amphibian field guide, a local conservation site or nature center, or a herpetology society. I’ve listed links in the Resources section below.
Are frogs poisonous for dogs?
According to animalemergencyservice.com.au, “All toads are poisonous to dogs, however the degree of toxicity varies by species.”
If you worry your dog might try to catch frogs, learn any known risks with the species in your area and take precautions as needed both in your garden and other natural areas.
Can I keep a frog as a pet?
No, frogs should not be kept as pets. It is usually illegal and considered unethical to keep any wild animals as pets. The best thing we can do for frogs is to grow a healthy ecosystem that includes a pond and protect untouched natural areas.
Do toads have warts?
No, toads do not have warts. The types of frogs we call “toads” tend to have bumps on their skin but these are not warts. The bumps behind their eyes are glands and otherwise their bumpy, multi-colored skin helps camouflage them on land.
Where do frogs go in the winter?
It depends on the species but frogs may hibernate in water or land in cold climates. Some will stay deep in the muddy bottom of a pond while others may burrow in leaf litter or deep in soil below the frost line.
How many frog species are there?
There are approximately 7600 species of frogs belonging to around 55 families worldwide on every continent except Antarctica.
Over 100 new species are discovered or reclassified as new species each year.
According to Amphibia Web, current number of species include:
- United States: 116
- Canada: 25
- United Kingdom: 11, although just four of these are natives and one was reintroduced.
- Australia: 248
- New Zealand: 7
- Brazil: 1116 | Tropical parts of South America have the most frog species.
- Canadian Herpetological Society
- Pristine Ponds Be Gone | the humane gardener
- Frog Log | Amazon.com to prevent wildlife from drowning in pools and ponds
1 ‘Deadliest disease in all time’ wipes out 90 species of frogs and toads | CBC.ca
2 Do Frogs Drink Water? | Journal of Experimental Biology
3 Fruitarian Frogs May Be Doing Flowers a Favor | Researchers may have discovered the first example of a frog that pollinates flowering plants.| New York Times
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛