What's the Difference Between Frogs and Toads?

A toad sits on a rock, looking at camera

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When it comes to pointing out the differences between frogs and toads, the amphibians' famed representation in "Sesame Street" and "Wind in the Willows" is about as far as most people's knowledge goes.

Pop culture references and fairytales about metamorphosing princes aside, there's actually no official distinction between the two—at least not on a scientific level. In fact, all toads are frogs, although not true frogs, but not all frogs are toads.

Learn how to tell a toad from any old frog by its physical characteristics and why many of these tailless, four-legged, webbed-footed amphibians are threatened.

Toad and Frog Classification

Toad with warty skin sitting in the grass
There are more than 500 species of true toad, and they're all technically frogs.

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Frogs and toads belong to Anura, an order of amphibians generally called "frogs." About 5,000 species are known to science so far, and new ones are being discovered all the time.

Toads mostly fit into the family Bufonidae, whose more than 500 species are considered "true toads." Bufonidae is the only all-toad family in the order Anura, but other toads are included in the families Bombinatoridae, Microhylidae, Myobatrachidae, Calyptocephalellidae, Discoglossidae, Pelobatidae, Rhinophrynidae, and Scaphiopodidae.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are more than 600 species of "true frog." These belong to the family Ranidae. True frogs occur on all continents except Antarctica. True toads are almost as widespread, except they aren't found in Australia. Between true toads and true frogs there are thousands of anurans.

Characteristics of Frogs vs. Toads

Two green frogs perch on a twig
Frogs are generally more colorful than toads and have slimy, not warty, skin.

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Most frogs have long legs and smooth, moist skin, adaptations that help them swim, leap, and climb in watery habitats. Toads, on the other hand, tend to walk around drier environments on stumpier legs. They're known for rougher, less colorful, and bumpier or "warty" skin. (Contrary to the old wives' tale, their warts are not contagious.)

Frogs usually lay eggs in grapelike clusters, while toads typically lay theirs in long chains—although, just to keep things interesting, a few toads are the only members of Anura that bear live young.

Sometimes a frog's or toad's face gives its classification away. Frogs are known for relatively big, bulging eyes, while toads can often be recognized by distinctive poison glands located behind their eyes. True toads also have other trademark features, including facial skin ossified to the skull, a total lack of teeth, and something called the Bidder's organ, a rudimentary ovary found in both sexes that can turn adult males into females.

Just when scientists start to unravel their taxonomic trickery, though, frogs and toads blur the lines even more. Some non-toad frog species have rough, warty skin, for example, and some toads are brightly colored, bug-eyed, or slimy. Lots of species could reasonably fit into either category.

Conservation Status

Yellow frog with black markings on wet leaf
The Panamanian golden frog is a critically endangered toad native to Central American cloud forests.

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Of all the anurans assessed by the IUCN, about 9% are critically endangered, 14% endangered, 9% vulnerable, and 5% near threatened. Altogether, that's about a third of frog species in poor shape—and that includes toads. Some leading causes of their decline are habitat destruction, climate change, overharvesting, pesticides, pollution, and invasive species, including both predators and a toxic fungus.

In fact, the fungus commonly called Chytrid has been called a silent killer of amphibians, pushing hundreds of frog species toward extinction and wreaking havoc on the whole animal kingdom. To make matters worse, frogs exposed to harmful pesticides may have weakened immune systems, making them even more vulnerable to the deadly infection.

Chytrid is now decimating frog species worldwide, likely assisted by humans' habit of moving frogs far outside their native ranges. That habit has also turned some frogs and toads into environmental scourges themselves, including invasive species like cane toads in Australia or coqui frogs in Hawaii.

Because of their rapid decline, ecologist Kerry Kriger started a nonprofit called Save the Frogs in 2008. The organization corresponds with a holiday, Save the Frogs Day, the last Saturday in April. Since its inception, Save the Frogs has "created, restored and protected habitat for threatened amphibian populations; spearheaded successful local, state and federal legislation on behalf of amphibians; and educated millions of people worldwide about amphibians," having held thousands of educational events in more than 50 countries.

Want to help save these fascinating, enchanting, wildly essential animals? Consider donating to conservation efforts, create healthy frog habitats on your property, avoid pesticides, get involved with a citizen science monitoring program, and reduce your carbon footprint all-around.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Are toads technically frogs?

    All toads are frogs. They fall under the same order, Anura, as true frogs but differ in their range and some of their physical traits.

  • What's the easiest way to tell the difference between a toad and true frog?

    The most obvious difference between toads and other frogs are the warty skin of a toad versus the smooth, slimy skin of a frog. Frogs are more likely to be brightly colored and have longer legs for hopping.

  • How do you tell a toad from a bullfrog?

    Toads and bullfrogs look alike because of their coloring and size, but toads have lumpy glands ("warts") all over their skin whereas bullfrogs are relatively smooth.

View Article Sources
  1. M.J. Ryan. "Communication in Frogs and Toads." Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. 2009.

  2. Escoriza, Daniel, and Jihène Ben Hassine. "Chapter 8 - North-western Africa amphibians." Amphibians of North Africa. 2019.

  3. "Ranidae: Ranid Frogs, Ranids, Riparian Frogs, True Frogs." Animal Diversity Web.

  4. "Anura." IUCN Red List.