Overview of Kentucky's Frogs and Toads

​​​​​Frog & Toad Identification Guides

Overview of Frogs and Toad Species in Kentucky

Welcome to the sounds of the frogs and toads of Kentucky. Or perhaps we should say, welcome to the sounds of the true frogs, true toads, treefrogs, narrowmouth toads, and spadefoots of Kentucky. Our 23 species of frogs and their relatives are classified into five different major groups, or families, each differing in several ways from the others.

The eight species of Kentucky’s true frogs belong to the family Ranidae. True frogs are large to moderate in size and have long hind legs with completely webbed toes and relatively pointed snouts. Males usually call while floating in the water. Bullfrogs and Green Frogs call and lay eggs mostly in summer, with the eggs forming a thin film on the surface of the water that may cover several square feet. Wood Frogs, Pickerel Frogs, Northern Crawfish Frogs, and our three kinds of Leopard Frogs lay eggs in large globular masses at or just below the water’s surface, mostly from late winter through early spring.

Our true toads, family Bufonidae, include the American Toad and Fowler’s Toad. True toads have short hind legs, squat stubby bodies, and dry warty skin. Males usually call from the edge of the water or while standing in shallow water in spring and early summer, and the eggs are deposited in long ropy strands that resemble strings of gelatinous beads.

Kentucky’s eleven treefrogs (family Hylidae) fall into three natural groups. The two Cricket Frogs are very small and warty with tiny toe pads and huge hind legs for their size - these guys are incredible leapers. Cricket Frogs breed during the summer months. Our four chorus frogs (Upland, Midland, and Mountain Chorus Frogs and the Spring Peeper) are also quite small as adults. Chorus frogs have smooth moist skin and small toe pads and are found mostly on the ground in fields and forests. These frogs breed early in the year, mostly from late winter through spring. Our other five treefrogs are much larger and have large, sticky toe pads used for climbing and clinging to vegetation. All breed from late spring through mid-summer. The two types of Gray Treefrogs and the Bird-voiced Treefrog have moist pebbled skin and are sometimes called “tree toads.” The Green Treefrog and Barking Treefrog have smoother skin. All of our larger treefrogs can change color depending on background, light level, mood, and temperature.

The final two Kentucky frogs are real oddities. The Eastern Narrowmouth Toad (family Microhylidae) is a small, stubby, short-legged, pointy-nosed creature with a skin fold behind its head - essentially a permanent turtleneck shirt. The Eastern Spadefoot (family Scaphiopodidae) is a burrowing toad-like animal with dry skin and vertically elliptical pupils (like those of a cat). Narrowmouth Toads breed during the summer months in shallow grassy pools or ditches and are most often heard calling by day in the aftermath of a thunderstorm or summer shower. Spadefoots can breed nearly any month of the year but generally do so only when heavy thunderstorms bring them to the surface. Favored egg-laying sites include temporary ponds and flooded low spots in agricultural fields or even suburban lawns. Sometimes several years may pass between Spadefoot breeding events in a given location.

The frog sounds you are about to hear are arranged according to the time of year when males of each species begin calling from breeding pools to advertise for mates. By becoming familiar with these calls, you can learn to identify the frogs that inhabit Kentucky by song. Keep in mind that each region of the state has a different assortment of frogs and toads, and only a half-dozen species occur statewide. The most widely distributed Kentucky frogs are the Spring Peeper, American Toad, Fowler’s Toad, Cope’s Gray Treefrog, Green Frog, and American Bullfrog. All of these can be found in every Kentucky county.