Photos of the Week – January 27, 2023

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.

Woodhouse’s toad after emerging from its winter hidey-hole. Helzer yard. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/20, 1/100 sec.

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.

Plains leopard frog ‘hiding’ in short grass. Helzer family prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 640, f/11, 1/500 sec.

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.

A bullfrog that let me very slowly creep up on it. Helzer family prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/1000 sec.

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?

Cope’s gray tree frog with heath aster. Helzer family prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/18, 1/250 sec.
A plains spadefoot. Not really a frog or a toad, exactly, and with vertical pupils for extra flair. Niobrara Valley Preserve. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/14, 1/500 sec.
Northern leopard frog. Niobrara Valley Preserve. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/14, 1/640 sec.
Woodhouse’s toad (probably) on a river sandbar. Niobrara Valley Preserve. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 800, f/16, 1/640 sec.
Cope’s gray tree frog in my square meter plot back in 2018. Lincoln Creek Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/16, 1/80 sec.
Plains leopard frog on frozen wetland. Springer Basin Waterfowl Production Area. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/13, 1/250 sec.
Blanchard’s cricket frog. Niobrara Valley Preserve. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/18, 1/125 sec.

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.

Woodhouse’s toad in the Platte River. Platte River Prairies. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/13, 1/200 sec.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

10 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – January 27, 2023

    • 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.

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.


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