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What happens to the frogs and toads during the winter? – Ponds & Lakes Q & A

When should I remove the fountain from my pond?

What happens to the frogs and toads during the winter?
Dustin – Huntsville, UT

As the temperatures continue to drop you will begin to notice that your pond, once full of life, is now starting to look like abandoned arctic tundra. Gone are the cool summer nights spent on your patio and deck watching fireflies tastefully illuminate your lawn while being serenaded by a choir of frogs and crickets.

While you are inside cuddled under blankets for the season where do your web-footed friends spend their winter? The winter retreat of choice will depend on the type of frog you have hanging around your pond. You will commonly find either some variety of frog frequenting the shallow areas or shoreline of your pond and toads farther inland rummaging about your gardens or front lawn. Both are very similar but can usually be identified by a few visual characteristics. Frogs tend to have smooth glossy skin that feels slimy to the touch while toads have dry lumpy skin. The eyes of a frog tend to protrude further from its head than those of a toad. A toad will usually have poison sacks located behind their eyes which help prevent them from becoming a snack for larger predators.

As frogs are cold blooded they will begin to slow down as their body temperatures drop. When winter arrives they will go into a state of dormancy and wait out the cold weather. The hibernation strategy varies between species of frogs. Toads tend to bury themselves in leaves or mud while frogs can pass the winter at the bottom of your pond below the ice. Frogs produce a type of glucose in their bodies that will allow them to freeze solid and still be able to survive. As the temperatures begin to rise in the spring their hearts will begin to beat again and they will begin to thaw. When they are once again mobile they will actively search for a place to mate.

Since frogs have an arsenal of survival skills to get them through the winter there is not much you have to do to help them survive the cooler months. Instead focus on keeping yourself warm and healthy and try your best to enjoy the snow and beautiful landscapes this winter brings

POND TALK: Do frogs frequent your pond? How do they adapt to the changing season in your area?

16 Responses

  1. Thank you, Most of my questions were answered today… although a cement block, has been in my pond for protection, for several years. I
    have never seen a problem with this… maybe after all these years, the edges have smoothed out…

  2. I have a small pond that has had frogs and toads all year, but since it’s gotten colder most of the frogs have stayed underwater. About 5 days ago I see a toad (not frog) on the rock ledge, and by the next day he was underwater on the first shelf (about 12 inches down). Weird thing is, he hasn’t moved…and it’s been 4 days under water. Will he survive…and/or is there anything I should do for him? Very small pond about 200 gallons of which I keep the small water fall going as long as it doesn’t freeze. I keep a deicer in the pond, one in the header. If or when the waterfall keeps freezing, I then disconnect the waterfall, and plug in the 3rd deicer which is in the spillway pond. (I pump from the pond, to the header which overflows into the spillway which is about 10-15 gallons, whick overflows back into the pond).
    Thanks, Brenda (Northwest Indiana).

    • Hi Brenda – In most cases, its ok to let Mother Nature take course. If the toad’s tongue is hanging out or is beginning to change color, then the toad has died. In this instance, I would not move the toad.

      • I do try to let nature take it’s course, that’s why I left the toad there, but of don’t think it’s good to have a dead toad in the pond all winter long. I truly can’t tell if he’s dead, he had not moved in about a week. Hard to tell if he’s changed color, if so it’s not much. Just no movement. It’s suppose to go from 50 degrees this morning to freezing overnight, so if I need to remove him, I’d like to do it before the freeze. Would it hurt to nudge him, and if I did would that give me any indication if he’s alive or not. Also, not sure if I’m reading your response correctly, if he’s dead I should not move him?

      • You can try to nudge him. If he’s in hibernation mode already, it’s hard to say if he’ll move or not. Once it gets to this time of year, its difficult to determine whether hibernating animals are alive or not.

  3. Read the comment about the frogs. I have a net over my pond now and find frogs trying to get in. Should i put them in the pond?

    • 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 or leaves that have accumulated. This is where they’ll be safe from predators and frosty temperatures. An aeration system will add oxygen to your pond and create a welcome habitat for the frogs.

  4. my goldfish and koi seem to prefer the flakes w/an occasional worm.granlules or pellets i feed when i only have time to feed them 1 x a day. they will find it! if i dont see any in the bottom as in the fall when feeding drops drastically w/the special fall/winter food…

  5. My pond here in Atlanta is about 1/4 acre and 15-20 ft. deep. I have catfish and bream in it. Also bullfrogs as big as a dinner plate and LOUD. They go like crazy till around August. Then it’s like they disappeared. I don’t know where they go but no more noise till next spring. Have three kinds of turtles, too. Snappers, sliders, and box. I have heard you have a healthy pond if you have turtles and frogs. I hope that is true. By the way, these guys just showed up on their own. I stocked the fish.

  6. I have read that you should not feed pond fish(koi and Gold Fish) more than they can eat in 5 min.Mine don’t even look at their food in that length of time.It’s unusual for the food to be eaten in half a day. I have a 1500 gal.pond with 11 fish of assorted size.I give them less than a cup of pellets in the morning and late afternoon about 1/2 cup. They normally finish it off before dark.

    • Unless the fish you have are upwards of 12-15 inches it sounds like you are over feeding them. 1 and one hallf cups of food per day even during the hottest months does sound extreme. Next season try feeding them half that much. They should become far more active and should compete for the food. I have also found that placing food in svereal spots in the pond rather then all in one place also increases the swimming activity in a pond.

  7. Cinder blocks are a really bad thing to put in your pond. The unsealed cement will leach out and badly screw up your PH. We’ve put large clay strawberry pots in ours before (a 15K gallon 6′ deep pond) and the fish love it. You’ll want to make the holes larger so the fish can go in and out, and take off any jagged edges.

    I used to try to do things for frogs (like put a cat litter box of clay litter in), but then I realized that they weren’t going to go where I wanted them to anyway it was a pain and a mess, so I tried to figure out what the frogs wanted instead. That’s worked much better.

    I think most of our frogs go to the nearby woods but some stay behind. We keep the stream running (one of our two skimmer pumps runs on cold days) to keep the tadpoles from freezing solid since the water is only about 1′ deep there, and that’s the frog breeding ground of choice. We have a lot of tadpoles still in the pond going into winter. For the main part of the pond we run an aerator (it goes year round) and there’s always a hole.

    We’re in southern New Hampshire. Every year, we have more frogs than the last.

  8. Ah, yes, frogs! We have Sumo who has been with us through at least three winters. If it’s warm in January he may come out on the rocks for a while. I have always put a 3″ deep container of dirt on the floor of the pond, assuming that he burrowed into it. Now that I read your article I see that it may have been a waste of time. During our first winter with frogs I caught 5 of them prior to freezing weather and took them to a large pond behind our house. It wasn’t long before they were all back. Unfortunately, since our pre-formed pond is just barely 18″ deep, all of these young frogs perished. We have a cinder block in each pond which provides a place for the fish to hide and maybe Sumo stays in there for the winter. We have Kermit that also made it through his first winter last year. He’s about 1/2 of Sumo’s size. Sumo is the size of my fist. I say his but have no idea if he’s male or female. Now we have a small frog as well so I’m hoping his survival instincts are as good as the others’.

    Last year my husband left the air hose in as a bubbler for the winter and there was always an additional spot that didnt’ freeze (CT. winters). We have always used a defroster with the center hole for the escaping gasses but the bubbler added a much larger unfrozen space. There were a few winters when we used just the defroster that we would have to help it along with hot water to free it up. It tended to sink as the pond froze. We now have a thermostat on it so it comes on any time the water gets below a certain temperature and that works much better.

    I am still amazed that the fish can go 6 months without being fed. My husband claims that they eat the algae. Could be…there’s enough of that!

    • march 31, 2013…….i was told that frogs sleep in the mud at the bottom of ponds. this year i put a net over the pond to keeps leaves out… its warm today and noticed my fish swimming around and all my frogs (about 12) were all floating dead!!! the pond is about 3-4 ft deep.i am so upset. does anyone know if it was the net or the wicked (CT) winter. i never want to have this happen again……pls help if you can

      • Hi Lisa – It was likely a combination of factors. If you had any kind of thaw within the past few months, the frogs may have come out of hibernation too soon and then perished once the colder temperatures came back. Depending on how many leaves or other debris was at the bottom of the pond, oxygen levels may have been too low during the winter months.

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