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Where do frogs go in the winter? – Water Garden & Features Q & A

Nope, frogs don't turn to stone in the winter.

Water Garden & Features Q & A

Q: What happens to my frogs in the winter? – Sue in Michigan

A: They ribbit and hop in your pond all spring, summer and fall, but when the cold weather comes, your frogs seem to disappear. Don’t worry – they don’t croak! They simply take a long winter nap.

There are more than 5,000 described species of frogs living on just about every surface of the planet. From the frigid Arctic Circle to the hottest deserts and everywhere in between – including your back yard. These welcome additions to any pond have evolved a well-known strategy to survive environmental extremes: They hibernate. Frogs that live in temperate climates with cold winters, like those throughout much of the United States, enter into a dormant state of sleep while living off their body fat reserves.

Aquatic frogs, like the leopard frog and the American bull frog, typically hibernate underwater. Because their skin can absorb oxygen, they lie just below the surface among aquatic plants where they’ll be safe from predators and frosty temperatures. An aeration system will add oxygen to your pond and create a hospitable habitat for your amphibian friends – and your finned friends, too.

Terrestrial frogs, like American toads, will hibernate on land. The ones that can dig will create a comfortable burrow beneath the frost line and sleep all winter; the ones that can’t dig will find safe hiding places, like hollowed-out logs, between rocks or beneath a pile of leaves, to protect them from weather and predators. Incredibly, these frogs won’t freeze to death; though they may partially freeze in very cold climates, a high concentration of glucose in their organs prevents them from freezing completely. When spring comes, the frozen portions thaw and they’re ready to get back to eating and reproducing.

Frogs are just one of dozens of critters that are drawn to water features. By providing a habitat with food, water and shelter, you can draw wildlife to your pond – which will enhance your enjoyment of it even more.

POND TALK: Do you have frogs in your decorative pond?

33 Responses

  1. I have 2 tadpoles (michigan gray treefrog) and 1 just got both sets of legs and tail is gone.. is it too cols to let him go out by the river…

    • Hi Sara – As long as they are able to move they should be able to fend for themselves. Maybe place them in a area where they have easy access to hiding and to get in and out of the water.

  2. My pond is only 3 feet deep and we pull dead frogs out ever spring because it freezes over. The pond is in a rock garden what can I build to make them want to leave the pond and hibernate in fall? Barbara Walters. Wisconsin

    • Hi Barbara – There isn’t anything you can build that I am aware of to prevent the frogs from staying in the pond. Just be sure there are ways for them to climb out of the water.

  3. I live in Mass..so my pond freezes in the Winter. I keep the pump on all winter to keep oxygen supply for the fish and frogs. Last yr the plug unplugged and the skimmer box, pump froze. The rest of the winter the whole pond was frozen. I was worried about my pets surviving. Come Spring..the fish made it but not all the frogs. My fogs always hung in the skimmer box as the pump kept the water from freezing.
    I’m thinking maybe I should save the electricity this Winter and shut off the pump before the freeze. I’m going to make sure the skimmer is frog free then block the water entrance.
    My pond is about 10×20 by 21/2 ft deep

  4. Hi….it’s Dot with an update. Last year we had 17 new little frogs between our 2 garden ponds. Now I never saw any tadpoles and go out at least once a day to ‘talk’ to the fish and frogs …..yes, another crazy lady….so I have no idea where the eggs were or where the tadpoles hid until they became frogs. These were very small…maybe an inch long…but already frogs…no bit of tail remaining. I had raised many, many frogs from the batch of tadpoles we found on our pool cover a few years ago so I knew the growth progression and these little critters had me stumped. Fast forward to spring, 2013. There are at least 12 of the frogs that made it through the winter and I have two that let me ‘pet’ them. I am really happy about this. Now that warmer weather is here they have started piling on top of each other in one of the plant pots in the pond. They look like a jar of pickles! During the winter I did fish out one frog and was concerned for the rest. This guy’s tongue wasn’t hanging out so I wasn’t sure he was deceased but most frogs don’t do the backfloat in cold weather! I left him in a container on top of the trash barrel just in case he ‘came to’ but my husband very neatly added him to the trash. Now I’ll never know. As mentioned, I do sink a planter box about 10 – 12″ square by 2 or 3″ deep and full of dirt to the bottom of each pond in the fall. We also have a cement block in each pond which gives the fish a place to hide when the lillies aren’t yet spreading their leaves over the pond surface. I really don’t know if the frogs use the dirt or just bury themselves in the leaves that we leave in the bottom until our spring clean out. My husband also puts a length of plastic tubing into the pond and runs an air pump throughout the winter and it adds a bit of oxygen and keeps another area of the pond ‘not frozen’ along with the spot that the de-icers keep open. Without the bubbles from the air hose….those first couple of years of pond ownership…..all the frogs would die off. We relocated 7 of them one year to a pond about 1/2 mile behind our house. Within a week they were all back at our garden ponds. At a seminar the woman said that if a frog likes a pond it will travel up to a mile to get back to it. Talk about determination….that’s a lot of hops! Our two ponds are the pre-formed ones that you can get at Wal-Mart or a home improvement store. Good luck, everyone.

  5. Hi My Name is Sherry, and I have left comments before about my Garden Ponds and the Frogs we’ve grown to Love. We lost many over the winter. I had a deicer in the pond and many leaves had fallen into the bottom in the fall. I didn’t realize how much leaf debris was on the bottom until I started to clean it out last week.So I don’t know why our Frogs perished.I didn’t however put in an aireator until after we found the 4 adult ones floating in the water on one of our warmer days in Feb. There are many, many tadpoles that did survive . So I’m confused as to why the frogs died.
    Now on the lighter side, in the fall, I removed some of my potted plants that I had in the pond, and a few days later, I went into the unheated building I was keeping them in for the winter, when I spied many tadpoles swimming in the small buckets of plants and water. Feeling that that wouldn’t be a good enviorment for them for about 6 + months in N.E.Pa I netted them out and placed them in an aquarium with a filter in the house. We now have 28 dear lil frogs, eating crickets, and waiting for the weather to warm up until we can let them enjoy their natural habitat. It’s going to be very difficult to release them, but I guess it’s the right thing to do. 😦

    • Hi Sherry – It’s very tough to lose any animal you’ve become fond of but we have to remember Mother Nature keeps thing in balance for us when it comes to ponds. With the amount of debris you had in the bottom, along with the warmer February temperatures, there might have been too little oxygen in the pond. It’s really tough to say what may have happened for sure because there are so many variables.

      • Yes I thought that maybe it was due to not enough oxygen in the water, so next fall, not only will we install the deicers, but also an aerator, and maybe a net to keep out a lot of leaves, however we will allow some to fall into the bottom for shelter.

  6. I have a small pond 6′ x 4′ x 2′ deep. I’ve had a few water frogs in it for the spring summer and fall . After the Pennsylvania winter season , my fish are fine, but my frogs are dead. I have a liner pond; no dirt or rocks at bottom.Hhow can I help my frogs survive the winter ?

    • Hi Matt – To overwinter frogs in the water, you will need to give them places to burrow into. For some pond owners, that means leaving some leaves and other debris at the bottom of your pond.

  7. My Heart is broken. Today our Garden pond has NO ice on it at all ( the first in many weeks) .We have however had a heater in it since fall, so there has been a hole to release gases. The temperatures were in the 40’s today. But I found 4 of our Frogs floating on the top. Could it be they are still in their Hibernating state and will come to, when it warms up? My husband took the skimmer and removed them from the water, placed them under leaves in our compost pile. Am I just wishfull thinking that they will thaw out and be OK? Is that possible? But not probable right? The tadpoles are doing very well.They are swimming around like crazy.

    • Hi Sherry – It is unlikely they will make. For whatever reason, they were drawn out of hibernation. These fluctuating temperatures in most of the country have made it quite hard for wildlife this season.

      • Thank You for your reply. I still feel bad about loosing the Frogs. We had 3 last summer that knew my husband. As soon as he approched the pond, they would appear and he would dig up earthworms and feed them. They became our pets, so to speak. He believes that at least one of the ones we found floating, was our “NEWKIE” ( he was our NEWCOMER) yes we even named them. (weird I know) We do have an aquarium of tadpoles in the house, that we rescued from the buckets of plants, which we pulled out of the pond for the winter. They are doing great. Four have morphed into littl bitty frogs already, others have 2 legs and some have 4 legs but still have their tails. Will I be able to return these guys back out into the pond from which they came from as tadpoles in the fall? We will continue to feed them crickets as we are now, for a while, and of course, we won’t release them until the weather gets much warmer, both day and night. Someone told me that they wont have their natural instincts because of being indoors in an aquarium. What do you suggest?

      • Sherry – You can reintroduce your tadpoles into your pond. If your pond is deep enough (at least 18″), the tadpoles could have overwintered in the pond. In colder climates, tadpoles will act like fish and typically go dormant until the warmer temperatures come and they can continue morphing into frogs. When you reintroduce them to the pond, you may need to continue cricket feeding until enough insects are active enough for them to eat.

    • Hi Sherry,
      My frogs too have been dead come spring:-( I did not bury them under compost to c if they were sleeping? Hope they were not. Thy had white tongue hanging out side of mouth.

  8. thank you for awnsering my questions

  9. Area is Sedalia, Colorado

  10. Do you have a reputable company who works with your products in this area. I need to make some changes to both my yard pond and field pond. Thanks. B

  11. For the person having frogs get into her filter…is there any way she can put a large-holed screening material across the opening. It would allow the water to flow in but not frogs or fish.

  12. Instead of a purchased net/screen, my husband rigged PVC pipes and old window screens so that he has a “shelter” of screening that covers 3 sides and the top of the pond…much like a beach shelter which does an excellent job of keeping the majority of the leaves out of the pond . The one remaining end is open (and the height of the screen width) to enable me to feed the fish until the water temp. drops. It is wide and long enough that the frogs can get out anywhere around the pond and also out of the enclosure since it’s only 3-sided. We have two ponds in our front yard and “Sumo” travels back and forth between them depending on his mood. He/she has been with us 4 years (made it through 3 winters so far) but all other frogs which have been smaller and tried to winter over have perished. The ponds are just barely 18″ deep and the next one will definitely be deeper so we don’t have to worry about frogs surviving. I put a 1′ square x 4″ deep box of dirt in the bottom of the pond but I honestly don’t know if the frog uses it or just goes in one of the cement block holes. I was interested to see that they stay just below the surface. I was sure I read somewhere that they went to the bottom of a pond.

    • Hi dot hope u stil have frogs. I hv a pnd about 18 in. deep & a frog moved in. Looks alot like a marsh frog but alot more brown on top, cannot seem to find a pict. or info, hoping you can enlighten me. the info i did find on mrsh frogs is similar ,they burrow in dirt & hibernate. think a box of dirt at the bottom of pond will work? if so when, and do i leve any water in pond, do i cover the pond with plywood or screen? my frog has left 4 3 2 4 days twice now, but today he’s back.Need info. PLEASE HELP!!!!

  13. I am concerned about putting a net on the pond to catch the falling leaves which blocks the frogs from still getting out of the pond before it cold enough for them to go dormant for the winter. The water is still quite warm but the ponds needs a net to keep the leaves out. Any suggestions? ML

  14. I also loved my frogs until the morning I thought I had a frog with a bright orange tongue. Upon closed inspection, I realized that my frog was in the process of eating a koi of about 5 inches! My frogs are now relocated to a nice swamp about 2 miles away. Now I just need to figure out how to catch my garter snake!

    • Hi Martha,
      A snake can eat the fish in your pond — if the fish are small enough for the snake to handle. It may stay for awhile and decide to move on. You could try to catch the snake with a net and release in an area away from your pond and out of your yard. If it is a Garter snake, they are not harmful to people. Use of pond netting with smaller holes would be a deterrent for snakes getting into your pond.

  15. Thanks for information about frogs; have had them get into the filtration system via the skimmer, plugging the pipes going to falls, thus shutting them down, etc., I immediately shut off power and call my dandy pond guy who comes, sometimes in frigid weather, and removes the deceased. We don’t see a way to keep them from occasionally getting down under the filter, so if you have a suggestion, would be appreciated. I love my frogs!
    Thanks for addressing our smaller ponds too.

  16. Thank you for the answer to my question of where do the frogs go in the winter. I hope I didn’t squish them today while raking leaves out of the water. Very nice informative newsletter, will delve into is as soon as it is too cold to be outside. The frogs do add enjoyment to the water scene.

    • Thanks for submitting your question, Lynda! We recently received the same question from several people, so we knew it was time to post an article about it. 🙂

      • Hi pond guy….my pond is very small – about 48″ long and 24″ wide and not 3′ deep. I am most distressed to find my little green guys DEAD in the spring and I have been told it is because my pond is not deep enough. So now I am in the frog relocating business–trapping and moving to a nearby lake. They are so cute…they know my voice and when I go out to the pond and talk to them (ok—I am a bit weird) their little heads pop up and they all surface and stare at me. some even swim over and bob around real close to me. so…is relocation the correct option….the only other option seems to be certain death–esp. since I have about 3 doz frogs in this tiny little pond.

      • The issue itself may not be the water depth itself but the lack of resources to support 36 frogs. The same thing would happen to 36 koi if they were placed into too small of a pond, the ecosystem can’t support the strain and so either some of the fish die and balance is restored, or they all die and the cycle begins again. To ensure a healty & balanced population, relocation of the bulk of your frogs is ideal. There is nothing wrong with relocating a native species to another local waterway but always double check with your DNR office if you are unsure of what type of creatures you are dealing with.

      • You will think I am a very nutty lady. but frogs are very curious, and while working in my garden, I would say hello, and little green heads popped up all over to check me out. The more I would talk, the more little faces popped up–then they would swim over, lean their little froggy elbows on the edge of the pond and just stare. yes, I do have friends and a life–hahah. I invited friends out to see this funny stuff, and they were very amused to see me call my little green guys and watch them “come over.” I relocated 27 of them to a nearby small lake. —- hoping to keep them in the same environment…..and upon emptying the water—did not find any more. so….I refilled with fresh water for winter…..and wait to see who appears next spring. Thank you so much for responding to me and I hope you enjoyed my froggy tale.

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