Guide to frogs and toads: when do they spawn and how to care for them

January and February is a key time for frogs and toads as they spawn in ponds across Britain. Our expert guide to frogs and toads explains what to look out for and how to care for the amphibians in your garden.  

Frog spawning in a pond

Our expert guide to frogs and toads explains what frogspawn is, what to look out for and how to care for the amphibians in your garden.

How to tell the difference between frogs and toads

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

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How to identify a frog

  • There are two types of frog native to the UK – the common frog and the pool frog.
  • Common frog adults will grow to around 9cm long
  • Their colouring is usually green or brown
  • Most have irregular dark blotches on the back and behind the eye, known as a “mask”
  • The pool frog females can grow to around 9cm
  • Males are much smaller
  • Their colouring is usually dark brown
  • They have a yellow stripe down the middle of their backs
  • Frogspawn is always laid in clumps
Frog sitting on rock, Scotland, UK (Getty)
Frog sitting on rock, Scotland, UK (Getty)
Dor Beetle (Dung Beetle) showing off its metallic carapace

How to identify a toad

  • The common toad grows to around 8cm long
  • They are usually a shade of brown, green or grey
  • The belly is often pale with dark speckles
Common-toad-UK

How to look after spawn in your garden

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.

HOW TO IDENTIFY FROGSPAWN 

It is easy to identify frogspawn as it is always laid in clumps. 

Close-Up Of frogspawn in a pond

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.

HOW TO IDENTIFY TOADSPAWN

Unlike frogspawn, toadspawn coming in a string of spawn. When spawning does occur, female toads produce long strings of eggs, rather than the clusters of spawn laid by frogs.

Toad spawning

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.


How to care for frogs and toads in your garden

Toads and frogs play an important role as predators in the garden and might be missed in any bonfire checks. Adults and froglets spend autumn preparing for hibernation, feeding on insects, slugs and worms.

By taking the following easy steps all community bonfire organisers and family celebrations can ensure that wildlife isn’t harmed.
  • Build a bonfire as close to the night as possible
  • Before lighting, search for amphibians and hedgehogs using a torch and a rake
  • Move and any animals to somewhere dry and safe away from the fire
  • Gardeners can also help amphibians and hedgehogs in advance by piling autumn leaves or logs in undisturbed areas providing excellent winter nests

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.

Young girl looking at tadpoles outside
Sometimes a closer look is needed, especially as the growing tadpoles change and develop quickly. (Getty)

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.


How to look out for spawning toads

Across the country in January and February, our common toad population will be making its often epic and daring migrations to ponds to breed. These nocturnal wanderings can take them across busy roads where sadly many are killed. You may even spot a toad crossing road sign on your journeys.

A Toad crossing sign besides a country lane and pond.
A Toad crossing sign besides a country lane and pond.

But those who survive the journey make it to ponds where the real action begins. Male toads engage in rather grotesque wrestling bouts with rivals for access to a female – who’s usually at the bottom of every ruck.

In clear ponds, you can see several balls of toads – all limbs and eyes, like a fantasy monster. Sometimes, the males become so engrossed in battling each other that some drown, unable to reach the surface to breathe.

Common toads (Bufo bufo-Komplex), pair spawning, spawn and aquatic plants in a pond, pairing, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, Europe
Common toads (Bufo bufo-Komplex), pair spawning, spawn and aquatic plants in a pond, pairing (Getty)
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When spawning does occur, female toads produce long strings of eggs, rather than the clusters of spawn laid by frogs. The tadpoles behave differently to those of frogs too – swimming in shoals rather than individually. Toad tadpoles are also unpalatable to fish, unlike their froggy relatives.

Large number of toad tadpoles in Norfolk dyke.
Large number of toad tadpoles in Norfolk dyke.