Frogs & toads: behaviour
What should frogs/toads be doing in winter?
Most amphibians lie dormant over the winter, though they may take advantage of milder patches of weather to come out and forage.
Frogs and toads normally overwinter in places like compost heaps, amongst dead wood or under decking/your shed/other objects. Some amphibians, usually frogs and sometimes newts, will choose to overwinter at the bottom of the pond; they bury themselves down in the silt at the bottom and take in oxygen through their skin.
Amphibians may choose to come out and forage during milder periods of weather so don’t worry if you see them around quite late in the year or if you accidentally disturb them.
What should frogs/toads be doing in spring?
Spring is breeding time so expect to see large number of frogs and toads returning to ponds.
Amphibians will emerge from hibernation when the weather starts to warm up (night time temperatures over 5’C) – this can be any time from January onwards. It is very much dependent on local weather conditions so there is no set time.
They head straight towards a waterbody to breed and it’s common to see large numbers of animals congregating in and around ponds. Males often start moving before females and will either wait at the pond for a potential mate to arrive or wait near by and ‘piggy back’ on passing females.
At this time of year you may witness migrating toads being killed on roads. Please see our Toads on Roads campaign for further information.
Once spawning is over, most animals will leave the water and may not spend much more time actually in a pond at all.
What should frogs/toads be doing in summer?
During the summer adult frogs and toads will be keeping cool in damp and shady parts of the garden. Froglets/toadlets leave the water in late summer.
Adult amphibians may be found near ponds in summer, particularly frogs. Otherwise they will be found in damp, shady spots such as under dense foliage or under logs.
Depending on when the spawn was laid, froglets and toadlets will leave the pond in summer (June-September). They leave the water en masse and for a couple of days the garden will be alive with tiny amphibians! They quickly disperse into surrounding areas and may not return to the pond until they’re old enough to breed themselves (2-3 years later).
If you come across large numbers of dead frogs which were thin and/or lethargic before death you may be witnessing an outbreak of ranavirus. Summer is the prime time for this, when it is active in warm temperatures.
What should frogs/toads be doing in autumn?
Not much! Autumn is spent feeding up in time for winter.
Autumn is a fairly quiet time for amphibians. All froglets and toadlets should have left the pond by now so you may not see any around the water at all. As the weather gradually turns colder frogs and toads will be feeding up on insects, slugs and spiders in preparation for winter.
Later in the season frogs and toads will be looking for places to spend the winter, such as log piles, compost heaps and rockeries.
I have disturbed a frog/toad that was hibernating, will it be ok?
It should be fine. Return it to where you found it or a similar habitat.
Amphibians lie dormant during the coldest months but will take advantage of milder patches of weather to come out and forage. For this reason if you do disturb an animal in winter, it should be unharmed if covered up and left undisturbed.
If you are unable to put the animal back where you found it, place it somewhere that offers protection from frost and predators like cats and birds; for example log piles, under a shed or within your compost heap. It should not be somewhere ‘warm’, just a place that keeps free of frost.
I heard a frog scream, is that normal?
Yes, frogs can make a high pitched noise when attacked.
Common Frogs do not have many defence mechanisms, other than to try and hop away quickly. If they are picked up or cornered by a predator they will sometimes let out a high pitched ‘scream’ to try and scare they predator off. This does not necessarily mean the frog has been harmed.
Common Toads are slightly better protected as they produce a toxin in their skin which makes them distasteful to predators. As they do not move as quickly as frogs, if they are attacked they will puff themselves up to seem bigger and less edible!
Occasionally newts have been known to make noises but this is not common.
Why have frogs/toads arrived in my garden when there’s no pond?
Amphibians tend to return to the same pond each year – it’s likely there used to be a pond present which the animals are looking for.
Amphibians migrate to ponds in spring, often returning to areas where they spawned in previous years. If ponds have been removed it can be common for amphibians to return to the area where a pond used to be situated. In most cases they will eventually move off of their own accord.
Ideally, consider re-installing a pond. If you have concerns about safety there are solutions – including raised ponds, pond grilles and fencing. Many ponds can be installed quickly and simply.
Occasionally frogs will spawn in damp grass, small puddles of water or other unsuitable containers near where the pond used to be. If this happens carefully put the spawn in a bucket, and move it to the nearest garden pond, asking permission first. There is no organisation that will come to your garden and remove adult amphibians or spawn.
In what kinds of water body will frogs/toads lay their spawn?
They will make use of most still, freshwater from tiny garden water features to reservoirs.
Frogs and toads lay their eggs in freshwater. They prefer still water and generally don’t use streams and rivers as the eggs can wash away. They may use canals or pockets at the sides of slow-flowing streams.
Common Frogs tend to use smaller, shallower ponds and lay their spawn in the edges where they will get plenty of light and warmth. Common toads may use larger lakes, reservoirs and fisheries as their tadpoles are protected from predation by a toxin in the skin. Adults lay strings of spawn wrapped around plants slightly deeper in the water.
If a pond has been removed amphibians may lay their spawn in puddles, water features or other unsuitable areas.