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Frogs in Montana

The US state of Montana is in the western region, with a large terrain from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. It has four main ecosystems: montane forests, intermountain grasslands, plains grasslands, and shrub grasslands.

There are four (4) species of toads and six (6) species of frogs in Montana. These numbers add up to a total of ten (10) anuran species in the state. Only one species is invasive and not native to Montana.

Frogs and toads are small animals (compared to humans) that look and act somewhat alike. Some obvious differences exist between them, but they are generally more alike than they are different.

Both animals are four-legged, with four digits on their forelegs and five on their hindlegs. They have widely spaced eyes, external eardrums (tympana), and pronounced parotid glands. They are cold-blooded or ectothermic.

While their diet is almost entirely made up of insects, they are eaten by larger frogs, snakes, salamanders, otters, raccoons, fish, and birds. To avoid predators or protect themselves when attacked, frogs and toads employ some measures.

Firstly, their backs are colored to match their habitats and surroundings so that they are less noticed. Toads and some frogs secrete poisons from their skin to harm attackers. Also, they have widely spaced eyes for a wide range of vision.

Most frogs and toads show activity at night, under the cover of darkness. Another aiding factor is their ability to live both on land and in water. If threatened on land, they can enter the water and swim away, and some can climb up trees.

Toads have shorter and fatter limbs and so they hop or walk. Frogs leap or jump with their long and slender legs and bodies. While frogs generally have smooth and moist skin, toads’ skins are rougher, drier, and warty.

With a focus on the adults, this article provides information on the various species of toads and frogs in Montana. Alongside the listing, the biological family, zoological name, other common names, length and longevity are recorded.

Also found below are: the species’ geographic range, habitats of choice, physical descriptions, behavior (if they are nocturnal, diurnal, or crepuscular {most active at dusk and dawn}), mating calls, and additional anti-predator mechanisms.

Table of Contents

  1. Frogs in Montana
  2. Toads in Montana
  3. FAQ
  4. Conclusion

Species of Frogs in Montana

1. Boreal Chorus Frog

Boreal Chorus Frog (Pseudacris maculata) on marbled rock in Yellowstone County, Montana, USA
Boreal Chorus Frog (Pseudacris maculata) on marbled rock in Yellowstone County, Montana, USA. – Source
  • Family: Hylidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudacris maculata
  • Other Names: Pseudacris triseriata maculata 
  • Adult Size: 3 to 3.8 cm (1.18 to 1.5 in)
  • Lifespan: 2 to 3 years, record longevity of 6 years

Endemic to North America, the boreal chorus frog can be found in Canada and in some states of the USA. It inhabits Canadian provinces like Yukon, Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec.

This frog likes to live in open spaces, forests with open canopy, grasslands, roadside ditches, splash pools, swamps, shallow lakes, flooded fields, and around other freshwater sources without fish.

Boreal chorus frogs live comfortably in habitats containing enough vegetation for cover and protection, and food in the form of insects. They are a native species in Montana. These small frogs have smooth and moist skin.

Dorsally, they can be found in any shade of color from greenish gray to brown. They have three stripes on their backs in a darker hue or shade than their dorsal color. The stripes are usually broken.

On the boreal chorus frog, there is a dark stripe from each eye to the groin. Between the eyes of individuals, a dark triangular pattern may be seen. A white stripe, as has been noticed on most chorus frogs, runs across their upper lip.

Ventrally, they are usually colored white, yellowish, or cream, and their chests and throats may be mottled. They have small pads on their toads for climbing. They have pointed snouts.

Male boreal chorus frogs use loud, chirp-like breeding or advertisement call. It has been likened to the sound of drawing a finger down a comb’s teeth. It’s call will be repeated maybe 30 to 70 times per minute.

These frogs are diurnal, nocturnal, and crepuscular. They show more daytime activity in cooler months of the year and more activity at dusk, night, and dawn in the hotter months.

They are however active both day and night during the breeding season.

2. Sierran Tree Frog

Sierran Tree Frog (Pseudacris sierra) on someone's hand in Flathead County, Montana, USA
Sierran Tree Frog (Pseudacris sierra) on someone’s hand in Flathead County, Montana, USA. – Source
  • Family: Hylidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudacris sierra
  • Other Names: Hyliola sierra
  • Other Names: Sierran chorus frog
  • Adult Size: 1.9 to 5.1 cm (0.75 to 2 in)
  • Lifespan: N/A

The range of the Sierran tree frog is not clear or defined, but the frog has been found in Canada and the USA. Individuals of this species have been found in Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia.

These frogs inhabit a variety of habitats. These habitats include grasslands, forests, caves underground, pastures, oases, desert streams, and urban areas. Even the breeding season is over, they are usually seen far away from water.

Although Sierran tree frogs are small, they have large heads in comparison to the size of their bodies. Running through each of their large eyes is a wide and dark-colored stripe, running from their snouts to each shoulder.

They have slim waists and their legs are long and slender. Their toes are slightly webbed and they have small and sticky pads to aid climbing. There is often a Y-shaped marking between the eyes of these frogs. 

Dorsally, this frog is usually colored green or brown, but there are some in tan, gray, reddish, or cream color. Ventrally, it is colored pale white with some yellow hue under the hindlegs. It can change its dorsal color in response to its environment.

The males have darker throats that are wrinkled. Although members of the tree frog family, Sierran tree frogs are mostly terrestrial, living among grasses and shrubs near water. However, they are sometimes found living high in trees.

They are both diurnal and nocturnal, showing more nocturnal activity in dry periods and more daytime activity in wet ones. They use two different mating calls: a two-part (diphasic) “rib-it” or “krek-ek”, and another one-part (monophasic) call.

Sierran tree frogs also make use of encounter calls, release calls, and land calls. To avoid predation, they change their body color and stay still.

If threatened, they leap a long way, jumping into the water and swimming into the vegetation to hide.

3. Rocky Mountain Tailed Frog

Rocky Mountain Tailed Frog (Ascaphus montanus) on a wet, mossy rock in Sanders County, Montana, USA
Rocky Mountain Tailed Frog (Ascaphus montanus) on a wet, mossy rock in Sanders County, Montana, USA. – Source
  • Family: Ascaphidae
  • Scientific Name: Ascaphus montanus
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 3.8 to 5.7 cm (1.5 to 2.24 in)
  • Lifespan: 7 or 8 years up to 15-20 years

The rocky mountain-tailed frog is endemic to North America, found only in the United States and Canada. It is native to Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and British Columbia. It lives in the Rocky Mountains and the Columbia Mountains.

This frog likes to inhabit small and fast-flowing mountain streams with high gradients. It usually prefers permanent forested streams with clear, cold water, cobble or boulder substrate, and little silt.

Dorsally, they could be colored reddish brown, brown, or olive-gray with yellow or gray spots. Their skin is granulated in texture and they have a dark stripe on each eye. Ventrally, they are mostly colored cream, white, or a pinkish pallor.

Rocky mountain-tailed frogs lack tympana. Males have a tear-shaped organ, the “tail”, for copulation with females and internal fertilization of eggs. Only this species and coastal-tailed frogs show internal fertilization of eggs.

Frogs of this species are most active at night and in humid weather. Otherwise, they remain underwater, hiding under rocks or debris.

Because they do not have vocal sacs, they do not vocalize, and so they have no mating calls.

4. American Bullfrog

American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) in water and mud in Missoula County, Montana, USA
American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) in water and mud in Missoula County, Montana, USA. – Source
  • Family: Ranidae
  • Scientific Name: Lithobates catesbeianus
  • Other Names: Rana catesbeianus, bullfrog, North American bullfrog 
  • Adult Size: 9 to 15.2 cm (3.5 to 6 in)
  • Lifespan: 7-9 years in the wild, up to 16 years in captivity

American bullfrogs are an invasive and non-native species in Montana. They are large frogs widespread across Canada and the United States, native to the eastern part of the USA but also introduced to Asia, South America, and Europe.

They can be found in different natural and man-made habitats. They live in or around large permanent bodies of water like swamps, ponds, marshes, lakes, canals, rivers, and streams.

Dorsally, they could be colored in dark or bright shades of green or greenish brown. Their arms and legs are covered in dark spots. Their backs and sides may be solid colored or full of dark dots and patterns.

They are powerful swimmers with long legs. They have large and webbed feet, with wide and flat heads. The males and females show sexual dimorphism by differences in tympanum size and throat color.

Males’ tympana are much larger than their eyes and their throats are yellow. Females’ tympana are either smaller than or the same size as their eyes. Their throats are usually white or cream in color.

Because they are large in size, bullfrogs are able to prey on animals other than insects. They eat species of frogs that are smaller than themselves. As a result, there are several frog species endangered due to their activity.

They are both diurnal and nocturnal, but mostly active when the weather is moist and warm. They like the warm weather because they are cold-blooded.

Their call is very deep and resonant, likened to a rumbling “jug-o-rum” sound.

5. Northern Leopard Frog

Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) on concrete in Billings, Montana, USA
Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) on concrete in Billings, Montana, USA. – Source
  • Family: Ranidae
  • Scientific Name: Lithobates pipiens
  • Other Names: Rana pipiens, grass frog, meadow frog
  • Adult Size: 5 to 11.5 cm (1.97 to 4.37 in)
  • Lifespan: up to 9 years in the wild

The northern leopard frog species is native to North America and found in Canada and the USA. Individuals are also found in Idaho, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, British Columbia, Virginia, and Washington.

It is a species of concern in Montana. These frogs are found in a variety of habitats, including marshlands, brushlands, and forests. They prefer to live in or along still or slow-moving water with lots of vegetation and open space.

Northern leopard frogs are medium or average-sized. The dorsal coloration of these frogs is usually green or greenish brown. There are also brown round spots arranged on their backs, sides, and legs, resembling a leopard’s spots.

A distinct white fold runs down their backs. This dorsolateral fold extends from each eye of these frogs. From their nose to each shoulder, a white line is also seen running across their mouths.

The ventral coloration of this species is usually white or greenish white. Males are typically smaller in size than females. These males have thickened thumb pads specialized for gripping females while mating and paired vocal sacs.

Northern leopard frogs are nocturnal. Their calls sound like a low and rumbling snore with clicks and croaks occasionally heard in between the snore-like sound. When threatened, they hop away while squawking or screaming.

They also employ mimicry by occurring with pickerel frogs, mimicking them, and taking advantage of the resemblance to avoid predation. Pickerel frogs look like these frogs.

They secrete poisons that are harmful to and deter attackers.

6. Columbia Spotted Frog

Columbia Spotted Frog (Rana luteiventris) swimming in Mineral County, Montana, USA
Columbia Spotted Frog (Rana luteiventris) swimming in Mineral County, Montana, USA. – Source
  • Family: Ranidae
  • Scientific Name: Rana luteiventris
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 4.6 to 10 cm (1.81 to 3.94 in)
  • Lifespan: 3 to 13 years in the wild

Columbia spotted frogs occur in North America, in states of the US and Canadian provinces. Such places include Alaska, Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, Wyoming, Oregon, and Nevada. They are native to Montana.

Still and slow-moving sources of freshwater are ideal for frogs of this species. They are mostly found living in, around, or along the banks of ponds, streams, lakes, and slow-moving streams.

A Columbia spotted frog is medium or average-sized. Its back could be tan, brown, or olive green in color. Dark and irregularly shaped spots are scattered across its back, legs, and sides. Ventral coloration is white, off-white, or yellow.

Along its upper lip is a yellowish or white line. It has a narrow snout, shorter legs, and webbed feet. Its skin has rough dorsal folds on it.

It is diurnal, with a call low in pitch that sounds much like rapid knocking or clucking. A Columbia spotted frog is able to startle its predators by an alarm call. This alarm call is a 6-second shriek.

Species of Toads in Montana

7. Western Toad

Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas) in mud and grass in Ravalli County, Montana, USA
Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas) in mud and grass in Ravalli County, Montana, USA. – Source
  • Family: Bufonidae
  • Scientific Name: Anaxyrus boreas
  • Other Names: Bufo boreas, boreal toad, alkali toad, California toad, Southern California toad
  • Adult Size: 5.6 to 13 cm (2.2 to 5.1 in)
  • Lifespan: 9 to 11 years

The western toad is a species of concern in Montana. Toads of this species are found in other US states like Utah, Alaska, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Washington, and Wyoming. They also occur in parts of Canada and Mexico.

This species of toads prefer to live in mountainous areas but can also occupy desert streams and springs, mountain meadows, and grasslands. They are found in or near ponds, streams, lakes, and rivers.

The dorsal coloration of a western toad is usually dusky gray or greenish. A stripe runs down its back, and this line is white or cream in color. Black or dark-colored splotches can be noticed on this toad’s dorsal surface.

Ventral coloration is white and the surface is mottled. Toads of this species have oval and widely spaced parotid glands. They are larger than the toad’s upper eyelids. Cranial crests are absent in this species.

Some sexual dimorphism is evident in this toad species. Males have smoother skin, fewer blotches on their backs, and nuptial pads on their toes for gripping the females during the breeding season.

The dorsal skin of the female toads is rougher in texture than that of the males. They have many blotches on their skin and lack nuptial pads on their toes. Both male and female western toads are nocturnal.

The call of this toad species is quite peeping likened to the sound of little chicks. Like other toads, their anti-predator mechanism is the poison produced by their parotid glands and warts on their skin.

8. Great Plains Toad

Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus) on sand and pebbles in Malta, Montana, USA
Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus) on sand and pebbles in Malta, Montana, USA. – Source
  • Family: Bufonidae
  • Scientific Name: Anaxyrus cognatus
  • Other Names: Bufo cognatus
  • Adult Size: 4.8 to 11.4 cm (1.9 to 4.5 in)
  • Lifespan: up to 10 years in captivity

Toads of this species can be found from the southwest region of Manitoba, Canada to central US states like Utah and California, and down to Mexican states like Durango and Chihuahua.

Great Plains toads are a true toad species that can be found in damp sections of grasslands and arid areas. They live in temperate areas, deserts, savannas, temporary rain pools, reservoirs, and river floodplains.

These toads are of special concern in the state of Montana. They are average or medium-sized. They have small heads and well-developed cranial crests. Their snouts are blunt and rounded.

The dorsal coloration on great plains toads is usually yellowish, greenish, brown, or gray. They may have a light and narrow stripe running down their backs. Ventral coloration is cream to white without spots.

There are large dark blotches on their backs bordered in a halo-like manner, in lighter pigment. Each blotch has many warts on it. The skin is very rough because of warts on it.

They are primarily nocturnal but sometimes they can be seen acting in the daytime. Their call is a high-pitched trill like that of American toads, but it is more mechanical and compelling.

9. Woodhouse’s Toad

Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii) in the crack of concrete in Pictograph Cave State Park, Montana, USA
Woodhouse’s Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii) in the crack of concrete in Pictograph Cave State Park, Montana, USA. – Source
  • Family: Bufonidae
  • Scientific Name: Anaxyrus woodhousii
  • Other Names: Bufo woodhousii, rocky mountain toad
  • Adult Size: 4.4 to 12.7 cm (1.75 to 5 in)
  • Lifespan: maximum 13 years

Woodhouse’s toads are found in several populations in states of the US like Arizona, Louisiana, Idaho, Texas, Montana, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, California, and North Dakota. Some have also been found in Mexico.

They occur in different habitats, including temporary, semi-permanent, and permanent water bodies. They inhabit moist meadows, ponds, irrigation ditches, temporary pools, grasslands, farms, desert streams, and even golf courses.

Their dorsal skin is usually gray, brown, olive, green, yellow-green, or yellow, with dark blotches scattered on it. A dorsolateral stripe running from their snouts down their backs is present in white or whitish color.

Ventrally, Woodhouse’s toads are pale cream or beige, and individuals may have their bellies mottled. Black and yellow marks can be noticed on the ventral surfaces of the groin and thighs.

They are large toads that have warts on their skin. Their cranial crests are prominent. Sometimes, a protrusion touching the separate parotid glands can be noticed between these cranial crests.

Woodhouse’s toads are nocturnal but they can sometimes be seen moving around in the daytime when they are not underground. Not much activity is noticed from them in the winter and so it is speculated that they hibernate.

Their call sounds like the muted bleating of a sheep bleating or a muted snore. This call typically lasts 1-4 seconds.

Their defense, like other toad species, is the poisonous secretions from their skin that deter their predators.

10. Plains Spadefoot

Plains Spadefoot (Spea bombifrons) on rocky sandy ground in Montana, USA
Plains Spadefoot (Spea bombifrons) on rocky sandy ground in Montana, USA. – Source
  • Family: Scaphiopodidae
  • Scientific Name: Spea bombifrons
  • Other Names: American spadefoot, European spadefoot, Plains spadefoot Toad
  • Adult Size: 3.8 to 6.35 cm (1.5 to 2.5 in), record SVL 6.5 cm (2.56 in)
  • Lifespan: up to 13 years

Plains spadefoots range from southern Canada through the United States and into northern Mexico. These toads can be found in Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

They prefer to live in grasslands with loose soil. This is because they like to burrow into the ground, like other spadefoot toads, and areas conducive and easy enough to burrow into.

On the head of an individual of this species, a pronounced round protuberance, also called a boss, can be noticed between the eyes. Its skin could be brown or gray with a greenish tinge.

Four vague longitudinal stripes may be noticed on its back. Its warts could be yellow or orange in color. However, the skin is moist and smoother than most toads’ skins, more like a frog’s skin.

Like on other spadefoot species, there is a single tubercle on the hindleg of a plains spadefoot. The tubercle is wedge-shaped and spade-like, an adaptation for burrowing. Their toes are webbed.

They are nocturnal and are most active during the rains. This species is largely terrestrial. It is considered vulnerable, as it is quite common but individuals are rarely seen across its geographical range.

The call of a plains spadefoot is short and sounds like a duck. It has two distinct calls; one is low-pitched and raspy like a snore, lasting for approximately one second. The other call is short, resonant, and bleat-like, lasting for approximately half a second.

FAQ

Does Montana have frogs?

Yes, Montana has frogs. There are six (6) species of frogs in Montana: boreal chorus frogs, Sierran tree frogs, Rocky Mountain tailed frogs, American bullfrogs, northern leopard frogs, and Columbia spotted frogs.

Do toads live in Montana?

Yes, toads live in Montana. Four (4) different species of these animals reside in the state of Montana. They include western toads, Great Plains toads, Woodhouse’s toads, and plains spadefoot toads.

Does Montana have bullfrogs?

There are bullfrogs in Montana. However, they are a non-native and invasive species in the state.

Conclusion

The US state of Montana houses ten (10) anuran species. There are four (4) toad species and six (6) species of frogs in Montana. This beauty in diversity adds to the thrill of nighttime in nature and benefits the ecosystem.

Most adult frogs and toads are solitary except during breeding season. They are in this period found in large groups around bodies of water. This is because fertilization is external except in “tailed” frogs.

Males usually take a breeding chorus and call out to females. These females sense the vibrations and meet the males to mate. The males grasp the females from behind (amplexus) and they both release sperm and eggs, respectively, into the water.

When fertilized, the eggs go through three stages of development (metamorphosis). From eggs, they turn to larvae (tadpoles) and then grow into adults. Young adults are sometimes called toadlets. Little to no parental care is usually shown.

The breeding season is usually from spring to fall. In the winter, most frogs and toads go into hibernation.

When in hibernation, they reduce their body heat and stay in an inactive state so they don’t have to move around looking for food and warmth.

Hibernation is a coping mechanism for the winter, and aestivation is a coping mechanism for the summer. Some frogs and toads will bury themselves underground in extreme heat to avoid desiccation (drying up).

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