What’s the Difference Between Frogs and Toads?
Kind of similar to the difference between moths and butterflies, we can probably pick out the difference between frogs toads by just kind of figuring out the vibes. People would probably air on the side of calling toads ugly and frogs significantly less so. But while vibes are cool and all, let’s get technical. What are the actual differences between frogs and toads?
It’s not because toads cause warts.
Rectangles and Squares
Alright you’re probably wondering why we went in and mixed geometry with your animals. That’s actually because toads are just frogs–in the same way that all squares are rectangles. But not every frog is a toad; not all rectangles are squares.
So the heck is a frog anyway?
Well they fall under the taxonomic order Anura, which is just ancient Greek for “without tail.” So uh… Fair we suppose, frogs don’t have tails as adults. Forget the whole thing about tadpoles basically being giant tails. We’re also going to forget that frogs can 100% have tails. Anyway, frogs account for the vast majority of non-extinct amphibians on Earth today, numbering above 80%.
If you were curious, the word “frog” is likely derived from very, very old English versions of the word “jump.” The word “toad,” on the other hand, formed the base of the word “tadpole,” so we suppose the adult did come before the baby in this case.
Because toads are technically just frogs, you’re going to see a lot of variance between them. Especially since our amphibious friends typically favor living in the water, ground, trees, or whatever else. Sure they can live both in and out of water, but like how we can eat both meat or vegetables, we generally prefer one. Because of this variance frog leg musculature varies greatly, as well as many other parts of their anatomy.
Frogs and toads fall under the Anura order, taxonomically diverging at the same point us humans diverge from like… Lemurs.
Typically the divergence between frogs and toads comes from the skin. While toads typically have more stout musculature, they generally share many surface level traits. The difference between the two is generally up to the toad’s chunkier appearance, as well as the presence of warts, otherwise known as parotoid glands.
Bear in mind though, warty frogs are a thing. That’s why getting into the nitty gritty between frogs and toads is hard. The Anura order is largely just attributed to frogs–toads are just a general pattern for frog appearance that we gave a name. It’s an informal distinction.
Alright, so whatever, the difference between frogs and toads actually is just a vibe like we joked about. Unsuspected but interesting.
Except no, because there exists a distinction of “true toad.” Right after the order in taxonomy comes the family, which is where we get “true toads.” That family is Bufonidae. Any species that falls under this family is considered a “true toad,” and thus gives us our distinction. Right?
Also wrong. We have the genus Atelopus, also known as harlequin frogs or toads. They really have the frog “vibe” going but are otherwise lumped with the other true toads.
So Bufonidae. They don’t encompass everything we would call a toad, but it’s the best we’ve got. So what do they have that frogs don’t?
- Parotoid glands with alkaloid poisons, aka bufotoxins
- Generally warty appearances
- Bidder’s organs (in males), which basically allow males to functionally become females
- Laying spawn in stringy egg lines (frogs like clumps)
As a final side one, true toads tend to have tadpoles. But sometimes, their eggs just hatch into miniature toads. How quaint.
Turns out sometimes other things entirely can be frogs. Look at some here.