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Introduction to Amphibians

Last Updated: 5/26/10

What are Amphibians?
What do Amphibians Provide for a Pond?
Fun Amphibian Facts

What are Amphibians?

Amphibians are a class of vertebrate animals. They are in the Class Amphibia. Some of their characteristics include being cold blooded, having permeable skin (often smooth but not always in the case of toads), and usually undergoing metamorphosis. Amphibians in general live part of their lives in the water and part on land. Most species come to water to lay eggs from which aquatic larvae are born. These aquatic larvae metamorphosize in to adults within a month to a few years depending on the species. There are four subclasses of amphibians - frogs, toads, salamanders (which include newts), and caecilians. Almost all amphibian larvae are omnivores with a leaning towards herbivore. Almost all adult amphibians are carnivores and eat live animals.

Frogs are normally smooth-skinned. Most species need to remain damp. Some species spend a lot of time around freshwater while others (namely tree frogs) live in damp woodlands, only coming to water to breed. Frogs are very sensitive to pollutants in the water as they go right through their skin. Frog larvae are called tadpoles. I call the newly-morphed frogs froglets.

Toads have bumpy skin and spend most of their time on land. They come to the water to breed. Think of toads as armored frogs. Toad larvae are officially called tadpoles but I like to call them toadpoles. I also call the newly-morphed toads toadlets. Both the larvae and adults of toads tend to taste bad to predators. Adults can produce a poison from glands that ranges from very mild (just an irritant) to deadly. Toads are normally brown and like to burrow in to the ground during periods of drought, heat, or cold (winter).

Salamanders and newts, for the most part, live in damp woods coming to water to lay eggs. A few species live in the water all of their life. Others go from water to land and back to water (such as the Eastern newt). Some lay eggs on land which remain damp from moisture laid with them. Unlike tadpoles, salamander larvae have visible external gills that look like feathers. The adults resemble smooth-skinned running reptiles.

Caecilians resemble earthworms or snakes. They live mostly underground in tropical parts of the world and are rarely seen.

What do Amphibians Provide for a Pond?

A pond without frogs is like a day without sunshine. Their antics bring joy to the pond. Aside from their intrinsic worth, amphibians provide many things to a well-balanced pond. The larvae of frogs and toads, called tadpoles, will eat algae, uneaten fish food, dead plants, dead animals, and other things in the pond. They are little clean up crews. Amphibians from eggs to larvae to adults are part of the pond's food chain. Many animals eat them, and in turn, the adult amphibians eat other animals as well. Adult frogs and toads can help reduce the population of pest insects in the area although they will also eat the "good" insects.

Fun Amphibian Facts

Here are some tidbits about amphibians. I did not where to put them on my web site so I made this new section. If you have an interesting fact, let me know, and I will add it.

1. A group of frogs is called an army. A group of toads is called a knot. When toads are mating, it does look like a big knot! Somehow I cannot see frogs marching like an army though!

2. Most amphibians have to close their eyes in order to swallow. They actually use muscles and the volume of the eye to push down to aid swallowing.

3. Toads cannot give you warts.

4. Salamanders were believed to have been born of fire. People used to put logs from the forest in their fireplaces. When lit, the poor salamanders would come crawling out.

5. You can really help out your local amphibian populations by setting up a pond. Providing cover and water benefits so many animals that it is well worth the effort. Remember to avoid using pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, especially near where amphibians hang out. Try going au naturelle! See my organic pond page for information on how to deal with "pests" without harming your froggie friends!

This is not a fun fact, in fact the opposite. I get a lot of e-mails wanting to know how to get rid of frogs or toads, either because they are scared of them, hate them, or cannot stand their singing. I say give the poor amphibians a break! They need all the help they can get. Try to live with them and get used to them. Think of the good they do eating pests. There really is no way to keep them away from ponds other than netting the pond. Even then, my frogs, when the ponds are netted in fall, will bounce on the nets. Situate ponds away from bedroom windows. If you cannot, then keep the windows shut or try ear plugs when they sing. At out house, a pool cover near the bedrooms gives a place for tree frogs to sing. They are very loud but we get used to it after a few days. It becomes background noise. Please do not consider killing or poisoning any amphibians (or any animal in my mind). It may also be illegal depending on the location and species in question. Please love the frogs and toads!

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