Scientific Name: Family Hylidae
Description: Tree frogs are a diverse family of amphibians that includes over 800 species. Not all tree frogs live in trees. Rather, the feature that unites them has to do with their feet—the last bone in their toes (called the terminal phalanx) is shaped like a claw. Tree frogs also have toe pads to help them climb and many have extra skeletal structures in their toes. Tree frogs come in a variety of colors. Most of the U.S. species are green, gray, or brown. Some of them, like the squirrel tree frog (Hyla squirella) shown here, are chameleon-like in their ability to change color.
Size: Tree frogs come in many sizes, but most arboreal species are very small, since they rely on leaves and slender branches to hold their weight. At 4 to 5.5 inches long, the white-lipped tree frog (Litoria infrafrenata) from Australia and Oceania is the largest tree frog in the world. The largest tree frog in the United States is the nonnative Cuban tree frog, which reaches 1.5 to 5 inches in length. The world’s smallest tree frogs are less than an inch long!
Diet: Adult tree frogs are insectivores that eat flies, ants, crickets, beetles, moths, and other small invertebrates. However, most of them start off their lives as herbivores in the tadpole stage.
Predation: Tree frogs are consumed by many different carnivorous animals. Mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish all eat tree frogs. Many of the frogs rely on camouflage to protect them from predators, and the more arboreal species escape ground-dwelling predators by hiding in trees.
Typical Lifespan: The lifespan of tree frogs varies among species. Some of them are long-lived. For example, the Australian green tree frog (Litoria caerulea) is often kept in captivity for upwards of 15 years. Species with lifespans of less than three years are considered short-lived. North America’s gray tree frogs (Hyla versicolor and H. chrysoscelis) are somewhere in the middle with a lifespan of five to nine years.
Habitat: Unsurprisingly, lots of tree frogs are arboreal, meaning that they live in trees. They have special adaptations like toe pads and long legs to aid them in climbing and jumping. But not all tree frogs live in trees! Others find habitat in lakes and ponds or amongst moist ground cover.
Range: Tree frogs are found on every continent excluding Antarctica, but they’re most diverse in the New World tropics. About 30 species live in the United States, and over 600 can be found in South and Central America.
Life History and Reproduction: Almost all male frogs attract mates with advertisement calls. Each frog species has its own call so that female frogs can listen for potential suitors of their own species. The frog call that most people are familiar with (“Ribbet!”) belongs to the Baja California tree frog (Pseudacris hypochondriaca) shown here. The ribbeting frog call has been incorporated into outdoor scenes of many Hollywood movies, even outside of the frog’s range!
Some frogs undergo direct development and hatch as miniature adults. More commonly, however, tadpoles emerge from frog eggs. As tadpoles mature, they lose their tail and grow legs until they eventually reach adult morphology.
Fun Fact: Not all members of the tree frog family Hylidae live in trees, and not all frogs that live in trees are in the hylid family.
Conservation Status: Amphibians are declining worldwide and are collectively one of the most at-risk groups for extinction. They breathe through their skin, which makes them especially sensitive to environmental change. Threats to amphibians include habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, and diseases like chytridiomycosis.
EDGE of Existence
Florida Wildlife Extension
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo
University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web
World Association of Zoos and Aquariums