JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Fifteen out of the 21 documented frog and toad species in the Volunteer State can be found in and around East Tennessee.
While toad and frog classifications are often used interchangeably, their different characteristics set them apart.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) stated that frogs are often found near water, have smooth skin and can jump ‘very well.’ On the other hand, toads have ‘dry, warty’ skin, make short hops and can be found far from water.
Remember, technically toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads.
Below are the ribbiting TWRA-documented frog and toad species found in East Tennessee. Many of these hopping amphibians on this list can be observed in their natural habitats throughout the Tri-Cities. It is best to let them be and enjoy the sight if spotted.
Eastern Spadefoot – Scaphiopus holbrookii
If you’ve heard a “short loud ‘BURR,’ sound, similar to a young crow,” the TWRA says chances are it was an Eastern Spadefoot.
The color of these toads varies, from yellowish-brown to dark brown and from dark gray to black. Eastern Spadefoots are found across Tennessee, except in the Blue Ridge Mountains, according to the TWRA, and they are the only spadefoot that appears east of the Mississippi River.
Fun facts: The Eastern Spadefoot is Tennessee’s only frog/toad with vertical pupils. This species isn’t seen often and only comes from its borrow after heavy rain during warmer months.
American Toad – Anaxyrus americanus
The American Toad is found in various habitats across Tennessee and is able to adapt to human encroachment, the TWRA states.
While these toads are commonly brown, they can also be red, olive or gray. The American Toad’s skin color can change depending on temperature, humidity and physical stress, according to the TWRA. Male American Toads have black or brown throats, while females are documented as having white throats.
Fun facts: Most American Toads don’t survive more than a year in the wild; however, some have reportedly lived to 10 years. Instead of drinking water, toads absorb it through their skin. The Eastern Hognose snake specializes in eating America Toads due to its immunity to ‘toad toxin.’
The American Toad’s call, used by males to attract females, is described as a ‘long trill lasting between four and 20 seconds,” the TWRA says. During mating season, their calls become loud, insistent and frequent.
Fowler’s Toad – Anaxyrus fowleri
Similar in looks to the American Toad, Fowler’s Toads have three or more warts in each of the large sports on their back, while American Toads have one or two.
This particular species of toad spend its time underground and are most active at night, according to the TWRA. Fowler’s are documented in both rural and urban habitats across Tennessee.
Fun facts: Fowler’s will sometimes appear after heavy rains in areas where they’re not suspected to live. This species call is a ‘short unmusical w-a-a-a-h’ and lasts around 1-4 seconds.
Northern Cricket Frog – Acris crepitans
The TWRA documents Northern Cricket Frogs as Tennessee’s smallest frogs. These small, ribbiting species grow to around 0.6 to 1.3 inches and are marked in a ‘wide variety of brilliant colors.’
Northern Crickets prefer ponds and stream edges with vegetation, according to the TWRA, and can be seen throughout the state except in the ‘highest’ parts of the eastern mountains. With a reported lifespan of four months, Northern Cricket population numbers have been declining in Tennessee since 1970.
Fun facts: This species is primarily diurnal and can be seen basking on sunny spots in groups. The TWRA states that although these frogs are the smallest, they can jump more than three feet and often jump in zig-zag patterns to escape predators.
“The call sounds like two small pebbles being tapped together. The tapping starts out slowly, accelerates in tempo and then slows,” said the TWRA.
Cope’s Gray Treefrog – Hyla chrysoscelis
Heard more than seen, Cope’s Gray Treefrogs spend most of their time in trees across the state.
Coloring on these frogs varies during the season and can be affected by humidity levels, according to the TWRA.
These treefrogs are documented as living in various habitats depending on the season. During the breeding season, this species can be found in small bodies of water, such as swimming pools and rain barrels.
Fun facts: Cope’s Gray Treefrogs have a high tolerance to freezing temperatures due to glycerol in their blood. While adults usually feed on moths, mites, spiders, snails, harvestmen and plant lice, they are ‘opportunistic’ and will “occasionally feed on smaller frogs, including treefrogs,” the TWRA stated.
Barking Treefrog – Hyla gratiosa
Named after its ‘doglike’ call, the Barking Treefrog is Tennessee’s largest treefrog growing to 2–2.6 inches.
Insects and crickets are a favorite in this species’ diet, and they reportedly prey on the ground and in trees.
Fun facts: This particular species of treefrog is often used in the pet trade due to being ‘good terrarium pets.’ Barking Treefrogs are solitary and nocturnal, according to the TWRA, and rest on the tops of trees during the day.
“The Barking Treefrog’s call is a short hollow-sounding aaark aaark similar to the sound of a beagle on the hunt,” the TWRA stated. These treefrogs can be heard from June through August.
Mountain Chorus Frog – Pseudacris brachyphona
Found in higher elevations up to 3,500 feet, Mountain Chorus Frogs are found far from water.
Mountain Chorus’ call is documented by the TWRA as a series of ‘fast, low-pitched clicks’ that sound like ‘REEk-raaack,’ similar to a squeaky wagon wheel.
Fun facts: Mountain Chorus Frogs hunt insects in weeds and reportedly don’t climb often. The species occurs on the Cumberland Plateau, in the Cumberland Mountains and in the ‘extreme’ northeast and southeast portions of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Spring Peeper Frog – Pseudacris crucifer
Spring Peepers are widespread throughout the Volunteer State, eastern United States and can even be found in Canada.
While this species of frog are good climbers, the TWRA states they prefer to be on the ground or in leaves.
Fun facts: Due to the dark ‘X’ marking on its back, this species’ scientific name is Pseudacris crucifer. Spring Peepers will retreat in caves during droughts and have been heard calling at a 6,300 elevation in the Smoky Mountains.
These frogs have a high-pitched whistle that sounds like a series of ‘peeps.’
Upland Chorus Frog – Pseudacris feriarum
Found in swamp areas of valleys, moist woodlands and vegetated ponds, Upland Chorus Frogs occur across the state except in the eastern mountains’ highest elevations.
If you’ve ever heard a short, raspy, varying pitch call, it was probably the one of an Upland Chorus. The TWRA states its call sounds like someone dragging their thumbnail over the teeth of a comb.
Fun fact: Upland Chorus Frogs are the earliest breeders in the state, according to the TWRA.
Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad – Gastrophryne carolinensis
‘Not really a true toad,’ the TWRA stated, Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toads are common throughout Tennessee, except in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
This ‘pot-bellied, triangular’ toad can be brown, gray or reddish with dark marks on its back and is unlikely to be confused with another frog/toad species in the state.
According to the TWRA, many think this species’ call sounds like the cry of a newborn lamb.
Fun facts: This primary nocturnal species feeds mostly on ants and termites. The fold of the skin behind the eyes of the Eastern Narrowed-mouthed Toad can fold forward to remove insects that attack their eyes.
American Bullfrog – Lithobates catesbeianus
Documented as the largest native frog in the United States, the American Bullfrog is likely to be found in any large, permanent body of water.
Ranging from 3.5 to 6 inches long, American Bullfrogs can be green to brown in color and have a curved ridge behind the eye and around its tympanum (ears). Male bullfrogs have bright yellow throats during the breeding season and females are documented as having white throats.
Fun facts: The average American Bullfrog lives seven to nine years in the wild, while a captive bullfrog lived 16 years. These bullfrogs are hunted by humans for frog legs.
American Bullfrogs will ‘eat anything they can get in their mouths’ including:
–Snakes, worms, insects and other frogs, including its own species.
–Small land mammals and songbirds have been reported as prey for these Bullfrogs
Green Frog – Lithobates catesbeianus
Green Frogs are a ‘handsome’ species that is similar in looks to the larger American Bullfrog.
This species, heard mainly from March to September, can be found in semi-permanent to permanent lakes, ponds, streams or ditches, according to the TWRA. Its call is similar to the sound of a plucked banjo string.
A Green Frog is a reported ‘sit-and-wait’ hunter and will eat whatever comes within its reach.
Fun facts: Captive Green Frogs have lived up to 10 years. This species is often used for research in biology classes.
Pickerel Frog – Lithobates palustris
Found in cooler streams, creeks, ponds and reservoirs, Pickerel Frogs are among the ‘most attractive’ frogs in Tennessee, the TWRA stated.
Heard from late March into April, the Pickerel Frogs’ call sounds like a ‘yeeeeooow’ and reportedly lasts around one to two seconds.
Fun facts: Pickerel Frogs are one of the ‘few’ poisonous frogs found in the United States. Its toxin can be irritating to humans and deadly to small animals, the TWRA advised. Snakes that eat frogs typically avoid this particular species.
Southern Leopard Frog – Lithobates sphenocephala
Named for the spots on its back, the Southern Leopard Frog can be found on the edges of farm ponds, creeks and swamps. In summer, these frogs can be found hopping through tall grass in moist areas.
Fun facts: Southern Leopards will reportedly swim to safety when threatened, but if on land, will jump in a series of three jumps at a time, according to the TWRA. It is illegal to consume this species’ legs in Tennessee.
This species’ voice is reported as a series of clucks and groans, similar to a hand rubbing over a balloon, the TWRA stated. A Southern Leopard Frog’s call can be heard from January through fall.
Wood Frog – Lithobates sylvatica
This species of frog, found as far north as Alaska, also calls East Tennessee home.
Wood Frogs are documented as one of the earliest breeders of frog and can begin their ‘harsh quacking’ call before the ice has left ponds.
Fun facts: Wood Frogs are the only species of frog found north of the Article Circle. In winter, the TWRA states that 35%-45% of their body may freeze and turn to ice. Described as ‘explosive’ breeders, female Wood Frogs can lay up to 3,000 eggs.
Wood Frogs can be found in most woodlands across the Volunteer State.
Note: All toads on this list secrete toxins from their skin that can be harmful if they come into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth. Smaller animals can also be harmed, according to the TWRA. If you happen to touch a toad, the CDC recommends washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water.