The frogs of Australia
Running, jumping burrowing or even tree-climbing, frogs can be found in almost any Australian landscape – desert claypans, freezing mountains and inner-city suburbs.
This stunning selection from more than 220 named Australian species includes common frogs and others so rare you should contact wildlife authorities if you find one.
1. Dainty green tree frog
Size: To 45 mm
Where: In streamside vegetation and dense plantation crops.
Renowned for travelling south with farm produce – particularly bananas – this frog is difficult to detect in a mass of fruit or foliage because to minimise water loss it seals itself to a leaf with secretions. In some southern cities animal welfare groups have developed schemes to return these hitchhikers to their home range.
2. Green tree frog
Size: Males to 77 mm, females to 110 mm
Where: Cool, moist places including laundries, letterboxes and toilets in urban areas; around waterholes and streams from desert to coast.
A likeable frog, except among light sleepers, the green tree frog lives happily around humans. Its placid temperature and modest requirements have made it a popular pet. Some people believe the large adults control mouse and cockroach numbers.
3. Red-eyed tree frog
Size: Males to 62 mm, females to 68 mm
Where: In forest pools and streams after spring and summer rains
This much-photographed frog lives in the rainforest canopy, coming down to breed after rain. It has been known to launch itself from a high branch after insects and land safely many meters below. Extensive webbing on its feet and its adoption of a glider-like posture in midair suggest the species may be developing the ability to control such descents.
4. Blue Mountains tree frog
Size: To 60 mm
Where: By streams in thick forest.
Although one of Australia’s most beautiful frogs, this shy river-dweller is rarely seen. It shelters under rocks and is agile in and out of the water. The dark-brown tadpoles have transparent fins flecked with metallic gold spots.
5. Pouched frog
Size: To 28 mm
Where: High in rainforested areas, in moist litter leaf and beneath rocks and logs.
When the pouched frog’s eggs hatch beneath leaf litter, the blind, white tadpoles wriggle up the waiting male’s back and into slit pockets in his flanks. There they metamorphose, protected from predators and fast-flowing stream currents, emerging as tiny froglets after about 70 days.
6. Corroboree frog
Size: Males to 28 mm, females to 30 mm
Where: Above the tree line in sphagnum bogs, below the tree line under logs and debris.
Instantly recognisable, this vivid ant – and mite – eating frog is usually depicted as having broad yellow and black stripes, but these markings are found only on those living near Mr Kosciuszko. The northern form, which lives in high country extending into the ACT, has narrower stripes ranging from yellow to lime-green.
7. Great barred frog
Size: Males to 65 mm, females to 101 mm
Where: Near rainforest streams and farm dams at night.
A large, handsome frog, the great barred frog’s dark eyes distinguish it from the other Mixophyes that share its range. Similar-looking frogs with golden eyes, or blue or silver upper eyes are endangered members of the genus. The great barred frog’s readiness to breed in dams and other enclosed waterways has helped it weather impacts affecting its stream-dwelling relatives.
8. Spotted grass frog
Size: Males to 42 mm, females to 47 mm
Where: Under debris near water, particularly in marshland.
A rapid coloniser of backyard ponds and ditches, the spotted grass frog is tough and versatile. Its call has three regional dialects – each a series of clicks at a carrying rate. Like other Limnodynastes, it floats its eggs in warm surface water on a foam raft formed by the female’s paddling action during mating.
9. Goldfields bull frog
(Image Credit: Kevin Stead)
Size: Males to 61 mm, females to 63 mm
Where: Claypans after heavy summer rain.
For one or two nights after heavy rain, this species will suddenly appear in abundance, the males calling, brawling and mating with almost anything the right size and shape. Then, as rapidly as they appeared, the frogs vanish back into the earth, to wait months or years for the next breeding opportunity.
10. Green-thighed frog
Size: Males to 43 mm, females to 47 mm
Where: In flooded paddocks, woodland or rainforest after very heavy rain or in forest leaf litter.
Despite the striking colour of this frog’s belly, thighs and sides, from above it blends so well with leaf litter that it wasn’t described until 1972. Little is known about its habitats. During a wet phase it will briefly appear in large, numbers, then seem to vanish for several years.
11. Daly Waters frog
Size: Males to 43 mm, females to 47 mm to 55 mm
Where: Near grassland claypans after heavy rain.
The wide mouth of this striking frog enables it to gorge on insects and other frogs for brief periods after rain, when the claypans in its arid habitat hold water. As the claypans dry out, the frog imprisons itself in an underground chamber coated with its own slime, until the next heavy rains release it.
12. Green and golden bell frog
Size: Males to 69 mm, females to 108 mm
Where: In disused excavations or among rushes in permanent ponds.
Once common, this frog is now endangered in NSW partly because of the predation of its tadpoles by an introduced fish, the eastern gambusia, and habitat destruction. Fortunately it’s capable of living in old industrial sites, quarries and home gardens.
13. Western spotted frog
Size: Males to 77 mm, females to 85 mm
Where: Burrows under rocks and in the backs of watercourses and claypans.
The males of this stout, distinctive frog species call from the mouths of their burrows when winter rains begin falling in April or May. Eggs are laid within the burrow in a foam nest. As the rains continue, water rises through the burrow carrying the hatched tadpoles into nearby waterways.
14. Turtle frog
Size: Males to 42 mm, females to 50 mm
Where: On sandy soil after rain or beneath logs away from water.
This distinctive-looking creature, sometimes mistaken for a young turtle, feasts on termites and spends summer in sand up to 1.5 m underground. Using its stubby, powerful forelimbs, the turtle frog burrows headfirst, like only one other Australian frog – the sandhill frog, which lives on the coastal plain north of the turtle frog’s range.
15. Water-holding frog
Size: Males to 64 mm, females to 72 mm
Where: In ephemeral billabongs andgilgais (cracked clayey depressions).
One of only four aquatic frogs (those able to feed underwater) known to live in Australia, this frog inhabits the continent’s driest areas, hunting in gilgais after rain for insects, shrimps and tadpoles. It waits out dry times beneath the ground, living for up to seven years on its own fat and water trapped in its tissues and under skin.
16. Ornate burrowing frog
Size: Males to 37 mm, females to 42 mm
Where: Almost anywhere in its range after heavy rain.
Although often encountered, this frog is not always instantly identifiable because of the extreme variability of the species’ markings. After waiting out dry periods in sandy soil, the males float spread-eagled in rainwater puddles and call for mates. In warm northern waters the frog’s foam nests often collapse so the eggs appear to be floating in a film.
17. Rockhole frog
Size: To 21 mm
Where: Around rockholes by day and night.
This creature’s ability to jump across the water’s surface gave rise to its unofficial name, the Jesus Christ frog. Unlike most other frogs it’s active during the day.
18. Red-crowned toadlet
Size: To 30 mm
Where: Around moist seepages or crevices in Sydney sandstone.
Vivid colouring warns potential predators that this frog produces deadly toxins – as potent as those of South America’s infamous poison arrow frogs. If you handle the toadlest your hands should be wasted immediately afterwards – a precaution that should be taken with all frogs.
19. Southern gastric brooding frog
Size: Males to 41 mm, females to 54 mm
Where: Under boulders along fast-flowing stony creeks and in pools in Queensland’s Conondale and Blackall ranges.
This extraordinary amphibian is now feared extinct. It is believed that after mating the female swallows the fertilised eggs, stops eating and her stomach ceases digestive contractions and gastric-acid production. The eggs hatch into tadpoles and metamorphose in her stomach, emerging from her mouth after about six weeks as fully developed froglets.
20. Sunset Frog
Size: To 35 mm
Where: Thought to live in just five small peat swaps near Walpole, south-west WA.
Molecular studies suggest the gorgeously coloured sunset frog has a lineage extending back more than 30 million years, yet science only became aware of its existence in 1994. It has one of the most restricted ranges of any Australian vertebrate, with a know range of just 50 – 70 ha.
You can buy Australian Geographic’s frog poster here.
- The frog that looks like a turtle.
- GALLERY: more frogs from Down Under.
- Best foot foward: studying the feet of frogs.