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Life cycle of a frog: how do amphibians reproduce?

Spring is the perfect time of year to start spotting some of our native amphibians. Breeding season is upon them, and they're clustering around ponds in hope of finding a mate.

In the winter months, our frogs, toads and newts were hibernating in compost heaps, piles of dead wood or at the bottom of ponds. But as temperatures warm, they wake up and re-emerge.

Around this time of year, you'll be able to see some of your local frogs, toads and newts as they congregate around ponds to mate. This process kicks off a new rotation of their lifecycle.

The breeding and egg laying process

As the amphibians gather, every male attempts to claim a female. In frogs and toads, the males will clamber on top of the female in shallow areas of water. This causes the female to lay her eggs - up to 5,000 of them! These are promptly fertilised by the male.

Listen out for loud croaks near ponds during the toad mating season. (Photo: Damian Waters/Alamy Stock Photo)
Listen out for loud croaks near ponds during the toad mating season. (Photo: Damian Waters/Alamy Stock Photo)

Newts do it differently, with the male having to prove his worth by shaking his tail. If the female is suitably impressed, he's allowed to mate with her. He presents her with a sperm-filled bubble, which she picks up to fertilise her eggs. After a few days, she starts to lay up to 12 a day. She may lay as many as 400 eggs in a season, each placed carefully under the leaves of aquatic plants.

Tadpole hatching

In all amphibians, eggs hatch after one to three weeks depending on water temperature. The resulting tadpoles initially live off the yolk that stays with them, but after a few days, they need to feed. Frog and toad tadpoles feed on plant matter, whilst newt tadpoles eat microorganisms like freshwater plankton.

Toadspawn is bigger than frogspawn. Visit ponds in spring to see if you can spot it. (Photo: Arco images / Alamy Stock Photo)
Toadspawn is bigger than frogspawn. Visit ponds in spring to see if you can spot it. (Photo: Arco images / Alamy Stock Photo)

Young amphibians change fast

Tadpoles have to undergo huge physiological changes to survive on land. This physical development process is called metamorphosis. The external gills become internalised, and their lungs develop.

Eventually, the gill structures entirely vanish. This happens much earlier in frogs and toads than in newts. Limbs also form in this stage. Hind limbs are first in frogs and toads; front limbs appear first in newts.

Frogs and toads continue to grow and change as their lifestyle completely changes, but newts stay more constant.

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Reaching adulthood is tough

Survival is tough for tadpoles. With so many fish and birds around, the predation rate is high. Few tadpoles make it to the juvenile stage. Those that survive usually leave their nursery ponds around August when they are developed enough. All the survivors leave together and disperse across the countryside, ready to hibernate over winter.

Juveniles spend the next couple of years just eating and avoiding being eaten.

Juvenile newts have many predators including some large ground beetles. (Photo: Joe Blossom/Alamy Stock Photo)
Juvenile newts have many predators including some large ground beetles. (Photo: Joe Blossom/Alamy Stock Photo)

How long do frogs, toads and newts live?

On average, frogs will live eight years, toads for 12, and newts for six.

Frogs and newts reach sexual maturity at around three years old, whereas toads only fully develop at four years of age.

Fully grown individuals only return to ponds when they are ready to mate. Toads always return to their own spawning pond after spending the rest of the year on land, while frogs and newts spend their lives in damp areas like marshes.

Amphibians will start migrating as early as September. They will all have reached the spawning ponds by February, following their hibernation. At this point, it's warm enough for them to mate successfully, and the lifecycle begins again.

Discover native amphibians

Here in the UK, we have seven species of native amphibian. You're most likely to see a common frog, common toad or smooth newt as they're all fairly widespread. If you're lucky, you'll be able to find a pool frog, a natterjack toad, a palmate newt, or even a great-crested newt.

Our native amphibians are getting busier with warmer temperatures, so why not see what you can find? Hunt out a local pond or a wood near you, keep your eyes peeled, and let us know what you can find!

What will you discover today?

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