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Treetop Hoppers

by Ellen Lambeth

Think about frogs for a minute. You know most have big eyes, wide mouths, and legs that leap. You might also know they usually have smooth, moist skin. And you probably know most start as eggs in water and then hatch out as tadpoles before changing into adults. 

But not all frogs are the same. In fact, there are around 6,200 different species of frogs in the world. Scientists divide them into separate groups. One such group is treefrogs, which has more than 1,200 species in it. Here are some of the ways to tell treefrogs from other kinds of frogs.

1. TREEFROGS HAVE STICKY TOES

As their name suggests, most treefrogs live in trees. Sticky, round pads on the tips of their toes help them get a grip on leaves, twigs, and tree bark. Check out the red-eyed treefrog in the photo above. You can see that those toepads help the frog stick tight to that stem. They can even stick to surfaces that are slippery or as smooth as glass.

2. TREEFROGS ARE TRICKSTERS

If you were a snake or other predator hungry for a froggy snack, you might not even notce the red-eyed treefrog in the small photo above. At rest, the frog lies low with eyes closed and legs tucked in. Blends in perfectly, right?

But if a predator gets too close, the frog opens its eyes and leaps away, showing off its bright colors. That sudden flash of colors (on the toes, eyes, thighs, and sides) can surprise and confuse the predator, making it pause in its tracks. And that gives the frog a chance to make a clean getaway.

3. TREEFROGS MAY CHANGE COLOR

Take a look at the two barking treefrogs (top left photo). (As you can guess, they're named for their bark-like calls.) Yep, you read correctly—those are both the same kind of frog. Why do they look so different? Because, like chameleons, certain kinds of treefrogs are able to change colors. The frogs don't make the colors change. It happens because of changes in temperature, moisture, light—even mood.

4. TREEFROGS ARE SUPER LEAPERS

Long, slender legs and toes give treefrogs a real boost. Not only are treefrogs good climbers, they're also good jumpers—some leaping up to 40 times their length. That would be like you taking a standing broad jump across a 4-lane highway with plenty of room to spare!

The rocket frog (far left photo) has incredibly long, strong legs as well as a rocket-shaped body. With webbed toes, it's a powerful mover in water as well as on land. The gliding leaf frog (middle photo) has an even better advantage. Extra webbing between spread-out toes help this frog "parasail" from tree to tree.

5. TREEFROGS ARE TINY (USUALLY) 

Being small and lightweight makes it easy to move around on leaves and twigs. The smallest treefrog could sit on one of your fingernails. Even the spring peeper (top middle photo) is quite small. Compare it to the little pussy willow flower buds above and below it.

No treefrogs get as big as land frogs can get, but some kinds grow to be about the size of your hand. The white-lipped treefrog  (far right photo) is the world's largest treefrog.

6. SOME TREEFROGS ARE ODD

Scientists use clues about treefrogs' bodies—both inside and out—to group them together. But some treefrogs can seem quite different from the rest. Meet just a few characters that would stand out in any treefrog lineup.

Dug in: Believe it or not, some treefrogs don't even live in trees. The water-holding frog lives in places that have hot, dry seasons. To keep moist, it digs deep underground and oozes mucus (MUOO-kuss) from its skin. The mucus hardens to form a water-tight cocoon around its body. When the rains return, the frog breaks through this extra "skin," and then gobbles it up before digging its way out. 

Weird and Waxy: The waxy monkey frog lives in places where the air has little moisture in it. So it oozes waxy stuff from its skin to keep from drying out. The frog uses its legs to spread the wax over its body.

Lumpy-Dumpy: The White's treefrog looks flabby but happy! It even looks as if it were wearing a helmet. But all those folds of waxy skin help hold in moisture during dry spells.

All Eyes: Finally, lots of treefrogs, such as the wide-eyed Chachi treefrog are just too cute for words!

 

"Treetop Hoppers" originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Ranger Rick magazine. Click here for a close-up view of the photos.

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