In early spring, many amphibians (animals that generally spend their immature phases in water and their adult phases on land) emerge from hibernation to mate and reproduce. Some, such as the spotted salamander, may even lay their eggs in ponds that are still ice-covered, others, such as the leopard frog, breed year-round as long as it is warm enough. According to the Encyclopedia of Life, there are at least 11 species of amphibians that can be found in New York City. They may not always be easy to spot, but they are here.
These large salamanders can be 6-9" long from nose to tail. Most adults have two irregular rows of yellowish spots on their dark gray, brown, or black backs, although rare individuals may lack spots; others have bright orange head markings. The small hatchlings are a dull, greenish color. Spotted salamanders have poison glands in the skin on their backs and tails that release a sticky, white, toxic liquid when the animal is threatened. Spotted salamanders live in forests, near ponds where they can lay their eggs. Since they spend most of their time hiding in dead leaves, under logs, or underground, they are seldom seen.
Dusky salamanders are small, averaging about 3.5" in length. Their hind legs are larger than their front legs and their knife-like tail is less than half the length of the body. Their color is brown, reddish-brown, gray, or olive on the back, with slightly darker markings. The base of the tail is olive, yellow, or bright chestnut, while the belly is pale with dark speckles. Dusky salamanders “breathe” by absorbing oxygen through the skin, since they don't have lungs. A groove running from the nose to the upper lip may aid their sense of smell, helping them find prey and mates.
Adult Northern Two-Lined Salamanders are about 2.5-4.5" long, with a broad yellow or tan stripe stretching from head to tail along a slender body. The stripe is bordered on both sides by narrow black lines, and may be marked with a row of dark spots. Yellow or mottled coloration extends down the sides to the yellow belly. The larvae are yellowish, spotted with gray or brown on the head and back.
These common salamanders live in small bodies of water in woods. The larvae have tails that are flat from side to side, olive-colored skin, and feathery gills. They develop into 2-4" long efts that are bright orange-red with two rows of black-bordered red spots. These can often be seen on the ground in the woods. After 2-3 years the eft matures into an adult which has a yellowish to greenish-brown back with black-bordered red spots and is up to 4.75" long. The larvae eat small invertebrates such as water fleas, snails, and beetle larvae; efts eat small invertebrates found in humus and leaf litter, including snails, spring tails, and soil mites; the adults eat aquatic insect larvae. Predators include birds, mammals, fish, and other amphibians. They can live as long as 15 years.
This stout-bodied, medium-sized salamander is 4-7"in length. Its color varies from a purplish brown to a bright crimson red, with irregular dark spots on the back. Younger animals are more brightly colored and tend to darken with age. There are five toes on the hind feet and four toes on the front feet. Red salamanders can be found in cold, clear, rocky streams and springs in wooded or open areas, in or near water in leaf-litter and under rocks, and in crevices and burrows near water.
Red-backed salamanders have long, slender bodies and long tails, with a total length of about 6-9". They occur in two color phases. In the "redback" phase they have a gray or black body with a straight-edged red/orange stripe along the back from the neck to the tail. In the "leadback" phase they have a pure black or grey back with no red stripe. In both, the belly is mottled white and gray in a salt and pepper pattern.
The Eastern Gray Treefrog is found in wooded areas, in trees along streams, and in hardwood forests along rivers and swamps. On average, they are about 1.25-2.25" long, with very warty, rough skin and large, sticky toe pads. Their color ranges from greenish or brownish to gray; adults have several large, dark blotches on their backs, and they often have a dark-edged light spot under their eyes. These elusive frogs also have a bright yellow or orange coloring on the inside of their thighs that they can flash at predators to confuse them.
Jug o'Rum or Bullfrog
Bullfrogs are the largest frogs in North America; they can weigh up to 1 pound and measure up to 18" in length, although their average size is only about 4-7" long. Their color is brownish or green, often with spots or blotches of a darker color on the back. During the breeding season, the throat of the male bullfrog is yellow and the female's is white. Bullfrogs are usually found in or near water, such as a lake, pond, river, or bog. They are becoming increasingly common in areas that have been modified by humans, because of the warmer temperatures and increased aquatic vegetation that result from pollution. They can often be located by their distinctive "jug o' rum"call.
These common toads are usually brown, gray, or olive green, with black-edged dark spots and a light central stripe on the back. Each dark spot has three or more warts. The belly is usually whitish, with a single dark spot that distinguishes them from other, similar species. Generally, males are darker than females. Its body measures 2-3.75" in length. Tadpoles have a short oval body and a long tail with an upper and lower fin, and are about half an inch to an inch long.
The Green Frog is about 4" in length. It may be many different colors, from brown, bronze, or olive to green, bicolor, or bluish. The back can be spotted, blotched, or marked with a darker color, and the outer surface of the legs is barred or mottled. The belly is white, sometimes with gray mottling on the throat and along the jaw. The side of the face is colored bright bronze or green. This common frog can be found on the edges of virtually any body of water; the young may use temporary pools. Green frogs may also be found away from water in wet weather, especially at night. They hide under objects on land, underground, or in water when inactive. The eggs and larvae develop in shallow, slow-flowing or still water.
The Southern Leopard Frog is generally green or light brown in color, with dark brown or black blotching that gives it its common name. They reach up to 5.5" in length and have a pointed snout. Southern Leopard Frogs are usually smaller than their close relative, the Northern Leopard Frog, with fewer spots. There is also a new species of Leopard frog that was discovered in New York City in 2012. Leopard frogs prefer shallow, fresh water, such as streams, ponds or lakes, with plenty of vegetation for camouflage. They are mostly nocturnal, and eat insects, earthworms, spiders, and centipedes. They are excellent jumpers that escape predators by leaping into the water and swimming to the bottom. Eggs are laid at the bottom of shallow water. Tadpoles feed on algae and rotting plant matter and remain fully aquatic for 90 days.