All you need to know about frogs and frog spawn

January and February see frogs and toads spawning in ponds across Britain. Here's what to look out for and how to care for the amphibians in your garden.

By Jess Price, from the Sussex Wildlife Trust

1st February 2018
Spawning frogs, Getty Images/Ian West

Maybe it’s the memory of long summer days spent watching tadpoles, or the excitement of seeing perfect miniature frogs develop from a clump of jelly, but I love frog spawn and so do a lot of other people.

Running the Sussex Wildlife Trust’s wildlife information service, I know that come February the frog spawn questions come rolling in thick and fast. People worry that they’re doing the wrong thing for their spawn and I’m more than happy to help, so here’s some key points to remember.

Click here for more wildlife spectacles for February and March

Know your species

First things first, it’s important to know what you are dealing with - frogs or toads. This is actually very simple to find out. Frog spawn is always laid in clumps, whilst toad spawn comes in long chains like strings of pearls draped over pond weed and submerged plants.

Frog and frog spawn
A frog peers over a clump of newly laid frogspawn. Getty Images/Ian Wade Photography
Toads and toad spawn
A common toad with its string-like spawn. Note the frog spawn in the background for comparison. Linda Pitkin/Nature Picture Library


          Wildlife spectacle of early spring: spawning toads

Don’t fret over numbers

It is important to know that as long as you haven’t introduced additional frogs into your pond, there is no such thing as too much spawn. Unfortunately it’s a tough life for a tadpole - they have a number of natural predators and are susceptible to various amphibian diseases. Because of this, female frogs lay thousands of egg each year and only a tiny fraction of them will survive to adulthood. Your pond may contain a big black mass of writhing tadpoles, but this is how it is meant to be. Just kick back and enjoy watching these amazing amphibians.

Close up frog spawn
The tiny black dot will develop into a tadpole. Before it hatches, it is protected by a ball of jelly. Getty Images/Martin B. Withers

Leave them be

Don’t move spawn or tadpoles into a different pond, as this can spread non-native plant species and amphibian diseases. Ponds that already contain spawn may not be able to support the increased population, and ponds that don’t have any spawn are unlikely to be suitable for frogs - if they were suitable, the spawn would already be there.

There are many reasons why a pond may not contain frogs, and one of the most common explanations is newts.

Common newt
Newts – here a smooth newt – will eat frog tadpoles, as will fish. However toad tadpoles are less palatable to many predators. Getty Images/DEA / F. BERTOLA

Newts and frogs are not mutually exclusive, but they do tend to have a bit of a boom-bust relationship. Newts eat tadpoles, so ponds with lots of newts tend to have fewer frogs. This isn’t always going to be the case though. A decrease in frogs means a decrease in tadpoles and that can lead to fewer newts. Then, frog numbers will start to increase.

This doesn’t always happen, it may just be that your pond is more suitable for newts than frogs. This isn’t a bad thing, newts are awesome too and their habitat is just as important as frog habitat.

The right environment

Sometimes you get spawn, in fact you get massive clumps of it, and then nothing happens - the spawn fails and turns to mush. It is frustrating when this happens and unfortunately it can sometimes be hard to find a reason for it.

More often than not, though, it is down to the pond. The two things that all spawn desperately needs to develop properly are light and warmth. You need to let the sunshine in to your pond for tadpoles to thrive.

Girl with tadpoles
Sometimes a closer look is needed, especially as the growing tadpoles change and develop quickly. Getty Images/Biddiboo

It may be cold outside but amphibians are already on the move looking for suitable ponds to spawn in. I don’t know if I’ll be lucky enough to get any in my pond this year but I’m excited to find out, and hopefully you are too.

To see our frogspawn gallery, click here

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