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

January and February frogs 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.  

common frog rana temporaria pair in amplexus in spawn in pond. sussex. u.k

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


How to tell the difference between a frog and a toad

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.

A common frog sits and waits for a mate to spawn with in a Somerset pond.
A frog peers over a clump of newly laid frogspawn. Getty Images/Ian Wade Photography
Common toad (Bufo bufo) in a pond, with toad spawn and frogspawn, Coldharbour, Surrey, England, UK, March. 2020VISION Book Plate.
A common toad with its string-like spawn. Note the frog spawn in the background for comparison. Linda Pitkin/Nature Picture Library
Dor Beetle (Dung Beetle) showing off its metallic carapace

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.

Frog Spawn
The tiny black dot will develop into a tadpole. Before it hatches, it is protected by a ball of jelly. Getty Images

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.

Smooth Newt or Common Newt (Triturus vulgaris), Salamandridae
Newts – here a smooth newt – will eat frog tadpoles, as will fish. However toad tadpoles are less palatable to many predators. Getty Images

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 create the right environment for frogs and toads

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 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.