13 Amazing Frogs and Toads in the Desert (with Pictures)

Frogs love water and high moisture. Deserts seem to be the last place where they could be found.

However, frogs often live in the desert, almost exclusively in some cases.

The following guide shows the types of desert frogs of the world together with the amazing physical adaptations that allow them to live in this dry habitat.

Desert Frog Adaptations

Frogs and toads need to adapt to live in the desert. Only a few species can live here and they make the most of what they can find around them to survive.

Living close to the water

Temporary sources of water in the desert are the ideal breeding grounds for frogs and toads.

While it rarely rains in most types of deserts, the rain itself draws frogs out of the ground and into bodies of water to breed.

Frogs in the desert are often nocturnal

Only coming out at night means frogs avoid the high afternoon summer sun. They adapt to never facing the highest temperatures of the desert when they face the highest risk of desiccation.

Not all frogs in the desert are nocturnal. Some are active during the day but may spend much of the day in a shaded spot such as under the shade of a rock.

By only coming out in the rainy season, Couch’s Spadefoot is a species that only surfaces after it rains. Together with most species of the desert, frogs and toads here only breed after it rains as they need to lay eggs directly in water.

Burrowing prevents desiccation

A burrowing nature is prevalent in the species of the desert. Digging their way into the ground, frogs and toads find a cool place to live in.

They like burrowing so much that some frogs and toads are even known to lay eggs in a deep burrow instead of laying eggs in water. Other frogs and toads flee to rodent burrows to cool off.

Aestivation is common

Known as a type of dormant state similar to hibernation, aestivation is a type of state where frogs and toads remain inactive for a long time.

In some cases, this type of inactivity can last days. In the most extreme cases, aestivation lasts until the next rainfall or even years.

The capacity to reduce their activity completely allows frogs and toads to survive the difficult conditions of the desert.

Protective moisture-persistent cocoons

Some species, such as The Lowland Burrowing Tree Frog, are known for creating cocoons from the skin around them to maintain high moisture levels.

These are the types of frogs that live in the ground and that find it easier to survive even the longest periods of drought.

Some frogs and toads never leave shaded areas

Desert Tree Frogs are among the several species of desert that live in shaded places. From the shade of vegetation to the shade of rocks, these are areas that are at least a few degrees cooler than those in direct sun.

Shaded areas also attract different types of flies and larvae, which means frogs may not need to move far for their next meal.

Storing water is real

Some frogs have remarkable abilities to store water and moisture. Suddel’s Frogs are among the species mostly known for storing water even in a habitat of low humidity.

To achieve this, frogs often move into the ground with the water they’ve collected after it rains.

The result is a species that can go even a year without water.

Eating flies of the outback

The diet of most frogs and toads of the desert is variable and opportunistic. Different types of flies are a common option.

Insects of the outback serve as food for frogs and toads.

Frogs and Toads in the Desert

1. Sonoran Desert Toad

Sonoran Desert Toad

A large species of the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico, The Sonoran Desert Toad (Incilius alvarius) lives in The Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts.

This is a large toad that may reach a size of up to 7.5 inches.

It can be found along The Colorado River and especially around man-made canals in these arid habitats.

The species can breed around these canals.

Sonoran Desert Toads are highly adaptable when it comes to surviving in these arid conditions.

They achieve a long lifespan here by finding shelter and being nocturnal, avoiding daytime sunlight.

Sonoran Desert Toads know how to retreat underground to cool off.

They even use the burrows of desert rodents to stay away from the harsh sun.

A species that may spark interest through its size, The Sonoran Desert Toad should not be touched as it secretes irritating chemicals.

2. Couch’s Spadefoot

Couch’s Spadefoot

Smaller than The Sonoran Desert Toad, Couch’s Spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchii) grows to a size of up to 3.5 inches.

This is a species of toad also native to the deserts of California and Arizona but with a limited active season.

Only active during the wet seasons of spring and summer, this type of toad survives dry seasons by laying underground until the arrival of the wet season in the spring.

The first rain typically triggers the activity of these toads, which emerge and immediately seek out pools of water or temporary water accumulation in the area.

This is where they begin breeding and where males call for females.

Temporary water pools in the desert are also the places where tadpoles grow, surviving on live and dead insects as well as on algae and similar water plants and organisms.

Adult toads return underground where they become inactive and avoid the hotted and the driest periods of the year.

3. Lowland Burrowing Tree Frog

Lowland Burrowing Tree Frog

This type of desert frog (Smilisca fodiens) lives in varied habitats such as forests and deserts. It also leaves around beaches and at various elevations.

Its burrowing nature helps it in the desert, more than anything else.

The frog plucks its way into loose soils to avoid dehydration.

High humidity is needed for it to survive which means it favors rainy periods to come out.

On occasion, humidity levels can drop even in the ground. This triggers the frog to shed its skin to create an additional outer layer of protection from humidity.

The period of the summer marks the rainy season, also a time when this frog can be seen at the surface.

It features a green color with dark patterns and activity levels specific up until August.

This is also a species that remains active and breeds during this time, taking advantage of the rainy season to lay eggs.

4. Black Toad

Black Toad

A species of The Mojave Desert and Death Valley, The Black Toad (Anaxyrus exsul) has black and tan markings and lives in deserts.

It picks up areas with water in deserts. This is why it can be found on overflows, or segregated water accumulations without fish in areas of pure desert or arid wilderness.

This is a slow-moving species that walks around the vegetation of these areas but never strays away from these overflows.

Short aquatic plants, bushes, and short plants, in general, are ideal habitats for the species to escape the difficult weather conditions of the deserts.

However, too much vegetation can also be detrimental. This is a species that can move out of the area if the vegetation is too dense as well.

A typical area where vegetation is short but there are over flowers for the toads to thrive in includes The Deep Springs Valley in California.

5. Great Plains Toad

Great Plains Toad

The Sonoran Desert is also home to The Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus), a small toad that may be more common in other areas.

Mostly encountered in grassy areas, The Great Plains Toad is a species that grows to a small size, often not even larger than 2-3 inches.

It also lives in the desert where it shows specific adaptations. Being inactive for most periods of the year is among these adaptations as the toad only comes out when it rains.

Appearing next to overflow or in floodplains, The Great Plains Toad is a species that retreats underground in the dry season.

In the desert, this species survives on flies that are pollinators in flooded areas.

Most notably, it also eats ants and termites which can be found in high numbers across their range.

6. Amargosa Toad

Amargosa Toad

Amargosa Toads (Anaxyrus nelsoni) are small and endangered toads native to Nevada and the region of The Amargosa Desert.

These toads are almost extinct even in their native range.

As with many US toads, The Amargosa Toad is a species that has very specific habitat requirements.

It is only found in a small area along The Amargosa River.

All species of toads in deserts prefer to live next to a water source. This can be a permanent water source such as a spring or a river, as with The Amargosa Toad that lives next to a river.

The problem for the species, as with all toads, comes with the years with reduced rainfall.

Apart from human action, reduced rainfall also limits the habitat of the frogs in this area which feed on insects and bugs around the river.

Amargosa Toads are small and often prey for other local wildlife, including other, typically larger toads.

The American Bullfrog is one of its common predators.

7. Texas Toad

Texas Toad

A species of desert, Texas Toads (Anaxyrus speciosus) grow to a size of just over 3 inches.

They live in arid areas, commonly found around dry vegetation and emerging vegetation in rainy periods.

Much of their lives are characterized by inactivity as the frogs retreat to the ground to hide from high heat.

Texas Toads are also active soon after it rains, they gather in temporary water accumulation for breeding.

Much of the lives of these species are marked by inactive months. They can even seem inactive in the summer as they can retreat underground to hide from high heat.

Texas Toads are further known for retreating in crevices and burrows. Larger toads can end up in rodent burrows.

However, mud remains the preferred hiding option for these toads during the day.

Not all seasons are the same in the desert. Even by desert standards, some years can be drier than others.

These are also the periods when The Texas Toad can seem inactive in the area as they remain underground.

Green, brown, and gray base colors are specific to this toad. A patterned dorsum is specific to all of its morphs.

8. Desert Tree Frog

Desert Tree Frog

A resourceful species in terms of habitat options, Desert Tree Frogs (Litoria rubella) are found in the desert in regions of Australia.

This is a species that breeds with the rain, together with most types of frogs in the desert.

Unlike most, however, The Desert Tree Frog is a species that doesn’t go underground to avoid the high heat.

It prefers shaded locations to get out of the sun.

These can be all types of locations such as the shade of a tree or the shade of a rock.

Desert Tree Frogs are commonly found in man-made structures in the desert. They like dark areas and areas next to water such as wells and piping.

Frogs of this species have a pale nuance and all of its morphs are based on earthy nuances.

This is a frog also exhibiting small black dorsal dots and large black and golden eyes.

Growing up to 1.7 inches, these adaptable frogs are also found in temperate and tropical climates.

9. Desert Froglet

Desert Froglet

Also a species of desert in Australia, Desert Froglets (Crinia deserticola) inhabit vast open areas and coastal areas.

A species of black soil, Desert Froglets don’t go underground in preference for hiding in a shaded spot.

These frogs wait for the rain to begin breeding, a time when males are heard calling.

The call of males is described as melodic and loud.

Females respond to the call by vising the same ephemeral ponds the males gather around.

This habit is also under threat with low precipitation seasons when water accumulations are too far which leads to population fragmentation.

Males themselves enter these puddles or water bodies when calling. Females also lay eggs here.

The eggs are laid directly in water, either freely or on submerged vegetation.

10. Desert Rain Frog

Desert Rain Frog

Sandy areas in Southwestern Africa in Namibia and South Africa are home to The Desert Rain Frog (Breviceps macrops).

This is a species that spends half of its life hiding. During the day, Desert Rain Frogs remain in the ground.

For them to find a place to hide from the sun, these frogs dig their way into the ground. They reach depths of up to 8 inches with some of the longest burrows.

Frogs only come out for food at night and typically wander around short distances on the dunes.

Desert Rain Frogs also live in areas of the desert with plants such as cacti or succulents. These short plants are also adapted to living in low-moisture areas.

Frogs of this species also differ from other frogs of the desert through their life cycle.

They don’t lay eggs in the water but directly in their deep burrows, areas where the emerged frogs are found without a specific water-bound tadpole stage.

11. Desert Spadefoot Toad

Notaden nichollsi
Desert Spadefoot Toad. Image by Ralph Foster via inaturalist

Widespread in Australia, The Desert Spadefoot Toad (Notaden nichollsi) is among the species that live in areas with dunes or areas with dunes and short vegetation.

The toa lives in the ground where it can spend a long time in an inactive state to preserve energy during long drought periods.

The rare rainy days of the desert are the times the toad comes out looking for a breeding partner.

Outside of the rainy periods, the frog can also undergo short periods of inactivity where it only comes out every few other nights.

These are also periods when the toad can undergo hormonal changes to slow down dehydration.

12. Desert Trilling Frog

Desert Trilling Frog

Also known as Sudell’s frog, The Desert Trilling Frog (Neobatrachus sudell) is among the species that live an extraordinary life underground.

It can be years before this species comes out to the surface due to an adaptation that allows it to store water.

As with other frogs, The Desert Trilling Frogs are among the species that come out when it rains, mainly to breed.

The species shows a diverse diet without particular preferences for insects.

13. Spencer’s Burrowing Frog

Spencer’s Burrowing Frog

This dark species of frog (Platyplectrum spenceri) is found in Southwestern Australia.

It features multiple dark nuances. From dark olive to dark green and even gray, Spencer’s Burrowing Frog is a species that lives close to water.

It prefers to live close to water for moisture and for a place to lay its eggs.

This is also a species often seen in red and red-brown colors with golden eyes as a specific trait to all of its morphs.

In general, tadpoles in deserts are quick to develop but the tadpoles of Spencer’s Burrowing Frog can take more than a month to develop underwater.