Today, we celebrate Anurans – amphibians with big hind jumping legs and no tails (as adults). Frogs and toads, in other words. And whatever spadefoots are.
As a photographer, I love toads and frogs (and whatever spadefoots are) as subjects for a few reasons. First, they are often relatively accommodating of me and my camera. Toads and tree frogs, especially, tend to sit pretty still when I approach. Or if they move, they don’t move very far and I can catch back up pretty easily.
There are exceptions to that. Leopard frogs can jump a country mile if they want to, so if they’re within reach of water when I approach, I usually have no chance. The best leopard frog photo subjects are the ones out foraging in or traveling through short grass. They usually know they’re unlikely to escape so they often sit still, either hoping they’re sufficiently camouflaged or hoping I’ll go away faster if they grant me a photo or two.
Bullfrogs can be tricky as well. Like leopard frogs, they can jump long distances and quickly disappear into water. Unlike leopard frogs, I almost never find bullfrogs away from the edge of water. As a result, I have to approach very slowly and photograph them before they feel enough pressure to jump or submerge themselves. Alternatively, once they submerge, I can get into position and wait for them to (hopefully) reappear within camera range. I usually don’t have the patience for that alternate strategy and the bullfrogs usually don’t fall for it anyway. That’s one reason I don’t have a lot of bullfrog photos.
Another fun thing about Anurans is their facial expressions. I love photographing them face-to-face when I can because they all share a very similar expression – anthropomorphically speaking. I’m not sure what the equivalent expression would be in humans, but the shape of their mouths is pretty distinctive.
Is it a resigned expression? That would be appropriate since I’m usually imposing (very briefly) on them for a photo before letting them get back to their lives. If you have a better suggestion, let me know, but as you look at these photos, imagine the frogs and toads (and whatever spadefoots are) feeling resigned. I think it fits pretty well?
Whatever the expression is on their face, it’s one I’m always glad to encounter. I’ll never not plop down on my belly to get face-to-face with an Anuran. Often, that means I end up with wet, muddy, or sandy clothes, but I’m not usually in company that cares much about that. Except maybe the frog, toad, or whatever a spadefoot is, and I think they probably get over it pretty quickly once I leave.
So, why is spadefoot neither frog nor toad?
It just doesn’t fit either category. It’s not a true frog or true toad. I don’t remember the exact taxonomic relationships, though I’m sure you could look them up. People tend to lump them with toads but they have smooth skin like frogs. They also have vertical pupils in their eyes which doesn’t fit with either frogs or toads.
I am going to approach their expressions more in terms of what they are saying to themselves:
Oh God. What a doof.
Tom Carpenter | Editor at Pheasants Forever
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Hard to argue that
Your post inspired my education. Here’s a good article about spadefoots and their classification. ________________________________
I love to read of your appreciation of the little creatures. Anurians are a favorite of mine too.I have a creek that is a bullfrog nursery. The juvenile chirping fills the air after the rain. Leopard frogs, gray tree frogs and Gulf Coast toads abound. They attract interesting predators!
Wow, thank you for your phenomenal photos and article! If I may anthropomorphize too, the Woodhouse looks like the grumpy old grandpa who has seen it all, while the Cope’s gray is saying, “I got your number, buddy.” Wonderful to get to appreciate Anurans through your lens.
One of my goals this year is to find either a toad or a frog other than the green tree frogs that are pretty common here. They’re out there; I hear the splashes and kerplunks all the time. I’m just blind to the creatures themselves.
So nice to learn the variety of anurans is much larger than obvious. These clear photos of different species will sure make me look more closely when they start appearing in cold days of early Spring.
They are taxonomically considered primitive frogs and are within the order Anura which includes all frogs.