Desert Frogs Come to Life When it Rains!

Weather Talk
Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 11:58am

There are a few different types of frogs & toads that magically appear across the Borderland during our monsoon

We all know frogs and toads come out to eat and breed in the rain! The desert frogs and toads are no different and some are actually awakened by and come to life when it rains!

I saw a photo taken of a frog outside the National Weather Service Office in Santa Teresa, NM last night. Here is a link to the photo of a Couch’s spadefoot frog . I started thinking about the frogs that seem to appear out of no where in the desert during our monsoon. What is the difference between Frogs and Toads?" Most are surprised to hear that all Toads actually are Frogs!

I thought I would call an expert on the subject Rick LoBello, Education Curator with the El Paso Zoo and talk frogs. Here is what he says we see the most often in our area.

Most common in El Paso

Couch’s Spadefoot – Couch’s spadefoot is a 3 inch (8 cm), smooth-skinned, greenish, yellowish, or olive spadefoot with irregular blotches or spots of black, brown, or dark green. The belly is white and without markings. At the base of each hind foot is a dark, sickle-shaped keratinous “spade,” hence the name spadefoot. The black spades on hind foot help it dig up to a foot underground where it stays until the next rain. A spadefoot can store up enough fat from the bugs it eats to stay underground for years if it does not rain enough to breed in one spot of the desert every year. (First calling toad in video and the one in the NWS photo ) The range from southeastern California through southern Arizona and southern New Mexico. They continue into all of Texas, except the extreme north and east, and northward to southwestern Oklahoma. In Mexico, this frog is found along the eastern Baja California and on the western and eastern coasts of mainland Mexico. This frog is amazing! It can stay underground for years until there is a good rain! Crazy!

Red-spotted Toad – red spots and a good climber, most often seen in El Paso (second kind of calling toad in video and the one used in the picture Rick took above). This is a small, compact toad, one and a half to three inches long. Their squat bodies are grayish to olive to brownish in color. They are covered with small, reddish or orangish warts called tubercles. Often their coloration matches the surrounding substrates. Behind their eyes are two small, rounded glandular structures called parotoid glands. On some toads, these may emit a potent toxin, though these red-spotted toads produce little or no toxins. Red-spotted toads occur from central Texas westward to southeast California and into Mexico and Baja California. A widely separated population as is found in western Oklahoma.

Woodhouse’s Toad – They grow to 2 to 5 inches long and are big and fat with warts! thick head, rounded snout and wide waist (looks like a hockey puck). Hind legs are short. Body color is grayish- or yellowish-brown with a prominent white stripe down the back.They have horizontal pupils, large neck glands lack upper row of teeth and have prominent bony ridges just behind their eyes.

They won’t give you warts but the glands and warts produce a poison that makes the toad bad to eat. According to Males have a dark throat and vocal sac that they use during the breeding season. The sac expands like a balloon and helps to produce the "sheep-like" bleat of the chorusing male. The call or chorus is 4 to 10 seconds long and is a long trill that sounds like "waa-a-a-a-a-ah." Only males call. The males gather at small pools in the Spring and during the start of our monsoon and call to attract females to mate. These toads mate in the water.”  They are found all over the Intermountain West and Central states of North America into Northern Mexico and from the Atlantic Coast westward.

Here is an 8 minute video Rick Lobello shot in west El Paso of the frogs calling or maybe singing in the rain

Video From - For the Love of Toads

Lobello saysDesert toads need our help in El Paso because they are loosing their habitats as we develop more of the desert for new roads, housing areas and shopping centers. The Zoo is sponsoring a FrogWatch chapter to help more people understand toads and how they can help.” For more information contact Rick LoBello at the Zoo.

So we know the monsoon rains bring more to life than just the desert plants and cacti! Do watch the 8 minute frog video shot and posted on when you get a chance, it is very cool. I think during the next good soaking rain I will grab my camera and go on a search for some desert frogs and toads!

Chuck DeBroder, Chief Meteorologist
KTSM, NewsChannel 9, NBC, El Paso, TX

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