Tree Frog vs Toad: What are the Differences?

Written by Kathryn Dueck
Published: September 5, 2022
© A-Z-Animals.com
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Tree frog or toad: which one is cuter? That’s not a hard question to answer, given toads’ reputation for ugliness. By contrast, tree frogs look adorable with their big eyes and vibrant skin. However, this isn’t the only difference between these two amphibians. Compare the tree frog vs toad to find out what sets these animals apart.

Comparing a Tree Frog vs Toad

Great Plains Toad
The Great Plains toad inhabits the Texas Panhandle and Trans-Pecos region.

©iStock.com/Timothy Cota

Tree FrogToad
Scientific NameHylidaeBufonidae
HabitatEvery continent except Antarctica
Trees, ponds, lakes, marshes, grasslands
Every continent except Antarctica
Damp, open habitats like grasslands
SizeVaries from less than an inch to 5.5 inches in lengthVaries from just over an inch to 9 inches in length
AppearanceColour: Green, yellow, brown, grey
General appearance: Slim profile; suction cups on toe pads; large, bright eyes; smooth skin
Colour: Shades of brown, green, or yellow with brown, yellow, red, or green spots
General appearance: Stocky bodies; tough, dry, pebbled skin; warts; crests behind the eyes
ReproductionEgg-laying, tadpoles develop into adultsEgg-laying, tadpoles develop into adults
BehaviorNocturnal, solitary, social during mating seasonNocturnal, solitary, social during mating season

The Key Differences Between a Tree Frog and a Toad

Tree frogs are a group of over 800 tree-dwelling frog species in the family Hylidae. Toads (or true toads) include more than 300 species belonging to the family Bufonidae. Below you will find the key differences between tree frogs and toads: habitat, size, appearance, reproduction, and behavior.

Tree Frog vs Toad: Habitat

European green tree frog (Hyla arborea lurking for prey in natural environment
Unlike toads, which prefer grasslands, most tree frogs are arboreal.

©Manuel Findeis/Shutterstock.com

Tree frogs exist on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica, which is too cold and barren to support them. Most live in Central and South America, and certain species also make their homes in Australia, the United States, and the tropical portions of Eurasia. Most species of tree frogs are arboreal (tree-dwelling) though some live in ponds, lakes, marshes, and grasslands.

As with tree frogs, toads live on every continent except Antarctica. The common toad (Bufo bufo) makes its home throughout much of Europe and parts of North Asia and Northwest Africa. They do not dwell in trees but rather prefer damp, open habitats like grasslands. They spend much of their time burrowing under piles of leaves and logs.

Tree Frog vs Toad: Size

Do Frogs Cause Warts
The largest toad species is the cane toad, growing up to 9 inches.

©Seregraff/Shutterstock.com

Because the family of tree frogs includes so many different species, size varies considerably. Tree frogs tend to be slimmer and lighter than terrestrial frogs or toads. The largest species of tree frog, the white-lipped tree frog, ranges between 4 and 5.5 inches in length and lives in Australia and Oceania. The smallest tree frogs may not even reach an inch in length.

Toads are generally larger than tree frogs. The largest toad in the world, the cane toad, can grow up to 9 inches in length. However, one massive specimen in Australia was the size of a small dog. One of the smallest toad species, the oak toad, grows no longer than 1.3 inches in length.

Tree Frog vs Toad: Appearance

red-eyed tree frog on stick with black background
The red-eyed tree frog is incredibly striking, with vibrant green skin and bulging red eyes.

©Dirk Ercken/Shutterstock.com

As mentioned, tree frogs have a smaller, slimmer profile than other frogs. Several adaptations aid their tree-dwelling lifestyle, including suction cups on their toe pads and claw-shaped bones in their toes (the terminal phalanx). They come in various colors: green, yellow, brown, and grey. Their colors may change according to their environment or as a defense mechanism to startle predators. Large, bright eyes and smooth skin give them an irresistibly cute appearance.

Unlike adorable tree frogs, toads are renowned for being ugly. They generally don’t invite cooing and petting with tough, dry, pebbled skin and abundant warts. Unlike frogs, toads also have prominent crests behind their eyes. Most are brown with brown, yellow, red, or green spots. Some species of toads, like the Chihuahua green toad, may be greenish or yellowish.

Tree Frog vs Toad: Reproduction

Swimming tadpoles
Both tree frogs and toads hatch as tadpoles from eggs. From there, they grow into their adult forms.

©Joshua Ouellette/Shutterstock.com

Male tree frogs attract mates by employing loud, barking calls. Each species has its unique call, allowing females to find mates within their species. Females lay eggs on leaves or other plant matter above water, after which the male fertilizes them. When the eggs hatch, the tadpoles enter the water. They grow into adults over the course of several weeks or months and move into their lifelong habitats.

Male toads also attract mates by means of unique calls. Most species lay their eggs in water, though some do so on land. Once the female has laid her eggs, the male fertilizes them. The eggs hatch after a few days, releasing tadpoles into the water. The tadpoles eventually grow into adults, losing their gills and tails and developing limbs. After reaching adulthood, most toads are terrestrial (living on land).

Tree Frog vs Toad: Behavior

Gulf Coast Toad
Both tree frogs and toads are solitary and nocturnal, only socializing during mating season.

©Vanessa Becker-Miller/Shutterstock.com

Most tree frogs are solitary, nocturnal animals and typically only gather in groups during mating season. They spend most of their time hunting insects at night, sleeping in crevices, or among foliage during the day. Like tree frogs, toads are typically solitary and nocturnal, coming together only to mate.

Tree Frog vs Toad: Diet and Predators

Red-Spotted Toad
The red-spotted toad is found everywhere in Texas except in the far East.

©iStock.com/Timothy Cota

Tree frogs are herbivores during the tadpole stage. However, as they grow, they become insectivores, meaning they rely almost exclusively on insects for their nutrition. Flies, ants, moths, and crickets are just some of the invertebrates they will eat. Potential predators include snakes, birds of prey, lizards, and large fish.

Like tree frogs, toads are herbivorous in their tadpole form. Adult toads are carnivorous, eating various foods, including insects like spiders and flies. Reptiles and amphibians occasionally make a good meal, and some toad species will even eat small mammals like mice. Common toad predators include snakes, birds of prey, and raccoons.

Tree Frog vs Toad: Lifespan

Australian Green tree frog on branch
Tree frogs make adorable pets, though they don’t do well with frequent handling.

©Kurit afshen/Shutterstock.com

Tree frogs’ lifespans vary from species to species. For example, the Australian green tree frog can live up to 15 years in captivity, while the Pacific tree frog only lives about 3 years. Smaller species may only live a couple of years, even under optimal conditions. Like most animals, captive tree frogs live much longer than wild tree frogs.

As with tree frogs, different toad species have different lifespans, most ranging between 5-10 years. The common toad can live as long as 40 years in captivity. Check out this remarkable specimen, possibly the longest-lived toad in the world.

Tree Frog vs Toad: Suitability as Pets

Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor) on a tree with a green background
Whether you prefer the cute, slippery tree frog or the tough, warty toad, there’s no denying that there’s a species for everyone.

Tree frogs make visually fascinating pets, especially the green tree frog with its vibrant green skin. They are also relatively easy to care for, making them suitable for beginners. However, tree frogs often have sensitive skin and may adversely react to frequent handling. For this reason, they are best enjoyed through observation instead of touch.

Toads also make good pets for beginners, though care is needed when handling them as they secrete toxins through their skins. Anyone handling a toad should thoroughly wash their hands before touching anything else, especially the eyes or mouth.

Whether you prefer the cute, slippery tree frog or the tough, warty toad, there’s no denying that there’s a species for everyone.


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Tree Frog vs Toad
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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with experience in both fiction and nonfiction. When not putting words on a page, I enjoy reading, hiking in the great outdoors, and playing with my dog.

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