Charming Tree Frogs

These small, often colorful creatures are a musical treat in your garden.

Gardens are great for stimulating the five basic senses—except for hearing (it’s tough to hear a garden grow). While a garden’s hush can be calming, consider the fun idea of attracting tiny tree frogs. They’re a treat in any garden because they’re cute and colorful (when you can see them), and able to produce a charming chorus of amphibian anthems.

first, some frog facts
There are three types of frogs:

  • True frogs, such as bullfrogs, live in wetlands.
  • Dry-skinned toads tolerate more arid habitats.
  • Tree frogs, as the name suggests, live in vegetation, either up in branches or on plants close to the ground.

You may think that all frogs make the renowned ribbit, ribbit sound. But most don’t. They squeak, chirp, moan and croak, but only the Pacific tree frog ribbits. We incorrectly associate ribbit with all frogs because that’s how they sound on TV and in the movies.

lure them in, then watch
To attract tree frogs, simply plant your garden densely. The more vegetation you have, the more hiding-and-hunting places there are for frogs. Don’t use pesticides, which can kill tree frogs and eliminate insects that tree frogs eat. Build a backyard pond, which may be enough to attract breeding tree frogs, especially if there are no fish.

Tree frogs are masters at hiding, so spotting them can be tricky. They sit motionless and stuck to the underside of a leaf or tree branch for hours, making them difficult to see. Their size doesn’t help; spring peepers are as big as your pinkie fingernail, and even larger species, such as Pacific or barking tree frogs, are only an inch or two long.

Most species are nocturnal, and many have cryptic coloration for camouflage. Some can even change color to match their background, making species identification difficult. For example, a gray tree frog may be gray or green. So how do you distinguish between the gray and green tree frogs, which share the same range? The green has a yellow lateral stripe.

…and listen
Your best tools for finding tree frogs in your garden are your ears, a flashlight and plenty of patience. You’ll have the best luck when tree frogs are breeding, in spring and summer. Male tree frogs gather in ponds and wetlands at night to call for mates. For such tiny creatures, their choruses can be deafening. But beware: At the slightest movement or sound, tree frogs will go suddenly still and silent and become difficult to detect. Find a comfortable position and wait. Eventually, they’ll start calling again, and you can use your flashlight to spot them.

…look up
You often find these climbers high on outdoor lights, which attract night-flying moths, beetles and other insects that tree frogs eat. Check your patio or back door light after dark, and you might spot one of these little hunters on stakeout.

Tree frogs’ remarkable ability to climb and stick to vertical surfaces, including smooth glass, is all about their toe pads. These pads have microscopic pillars topped with mucous-filled dimples that create friction and allow tree frogs to adhere to almost anything. The mucous makes the pads sticky in the same way that a moistened piece of paper sticks to anything and everything.

Tree frogs are fun to listen to. But once you realize just what you’re hearing, you won’t be able to sit still until you find these sweet little critters.