Sticky Feet

Tree frogs. We hear them, but rarely see them up close. With over 800 species of arboreal states, they certainly are prolific and diverse. And guess what? Not all the tree frog family Hylidae even live in trees! Tree frogs are climbers however, thanks to their unique feet. The last bone is claw-like in shape, almost disc-shaped, and their suction cup-like toe pads are made for outstanding gripping action and impressive jumping. Typically, tree frogs prefer to remain above and off the ground. The exception being when it is time for mating or spawn. Even then, some of the tree frog species create unique foam nests on leaves and other vegetation. Once fully grown, trees become home for most, but not all adult tree frogs. Some species enjoy habitats in lakes, ponds, and marshes.

Speaking of mating season, that’s when you will hear the most vocalization between frogs, by way of a series of loud croak-like calls to attract potential mates. Each species of tree frog has his own special call. Females listen to determine which call matches their species. The familiar “rib-bet” call, often imitated or used in the entertainment world, originates from the Baja California tree frog.

Back to mating. Once fertilized, the eggs from the female are laid carefully on leaves above a water source. Within just a few days, little tadpoles emerge and happily dive into the water. Then the metamorphic process of losing their swimming tail and growing legs begins. This developmental phase normally takes anywhere between two weeks to several months, depending on the species. Hopefully a healthy life continues afterwards for anywhere from five to fifteen years, depending on the species and a safe habitat.

Size? Tiny, as they spend their days clinging strongly to various twigs, leaves, and branches. There are four main species of tree frogs and they certainly vary in length. You can find tree frogs on every continent, except for Antarctica. Some tree frogs (white-lipped for example) can grow up to four to five inches, but most are smaller.

In the United States, there are approximately 30 species, with the largest being the nonnative Cuban tree frog, often found in Florida, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. This little frog guy is about 1.5 to 5 inches long. He’s native to Cuba and the surrounding islands. Then the European tree frog lives in grassy meadows and wild shrubby areas throughout eastern Europe. Unfortunately, this little tree frog is on the endangered list in western Europe.

The Common tree frog found in southeast Asia is the smallest of them all, barely measuring a full inch. A popular, interesting, and often photographed species is the Red-Eyed tree frog, found native to the wild jungles of Central America. With a long narrow body and pointed hind legs, with unique, bulging red eyes make him a favorite among tree frog followers.

Mealtime for a tree frog is one of mostly bugs. The menu includes a carnivorous diet of ants, worms, crickets, flies, spiders, beetles, moths, and small invertebrates. Interestingly though, most tree frogs begin life as herbivores while young tadpoles. On the flip side, tree frogs are the main meal for many a mammal, including birds, reptiles, and large fish. Important to survival is their camouflage coloration in some species. A few tree frogs have an ability to change colors from green, grey, and brown, like the grey tree frog, and easily hide in vegetation.

Today conservationists report a worldwide decline in amphibians. Unfortunately, the tree frog is a member of the most at risk group, headed towards extinction. With sensitive, skin-breathing ability, rapid environmental changes including climate, pollution, increased human population and construction, along with new diseases threaten these tiny frogs.

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