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Frogs are amphibians in the order Anura (meaning "tail-less", from Greek an-, without + oura, tail), formerly referred to as Salientia (Latin saltare, to jump). The name frog derives from Old English frogga, (compare Old Norse frauki, German Frosch, older Dutch spelling kikvorsch), cognate with Sanskrit plava (frog), probably deriving from Proto-Indo-European praw = "to jump".
Most frogs are characterized by long hind legs, a short body, webbed digits (fingers or toes), protruding eyes and the absence of a tail. Most frogs have a semi-aquatic lifestyle, but move easily on land by jumping or climbing. They typically lay their eggs in puddles, ponds or lakes, and their larvae, called tadpoles, have gills and develop in water. Adult frogs follow a carnivorous diet, mostly of arthropods, annelids and gastropods. Frogs are most noticeable by their call, which can be widely heard during the night or day, mainly in their mating season.
The distribution of frogs ranges from tropic to subarctic regions, but most species are found in tropical rainforests. Consisting of more than 5,000 species described, they are among the most diverse groups of vertebrates. However, populations of certain frog species are declining significantly.
A distinction is often made between frogs and toads on the basis of their appearance, caused by the convergent adaptation among so-called toads to dry environments; however, this distinction has no taxonomic basis. The only family exclusively given the common name "toad" is Bufonidae, but many species from other families are also called "toads," and the species within the toad genus Atelopus are referred to as "harlequin frogs".
Frogs are generally recognized as exceptional jumpers, and the best jumper of all vertebrates. The Australian rocket frog, Litoria nasuta, can leap over 50 times its body length (5.5 cm), resulting in jumps of over 2 meters. The acceleration of the jump may be up to twice gravity. There are tremendous differences between species in jumping capability, but within a species, jump distance increases with increasing size, but relative jumping distance (body-lengths jumped) decreases.
The structure of the feet and legs varies greatly among frog species, depending in part on whether they live primarily on the ground, in water, in trees, or in burrows. Frogs must be able to move quickly through their environment to catch prey and escape predators, and numerous adaptations help them do so.
Many frogs, especially those that live in water, have webbed toes. The degree to which the toes are webbed is directly proportional to the amount of time the species lives in the water. For example, the completely aquatic African dwarf frog (Hymenochirus sp.) has fully webbed toes, whereas the toes of White's tree frog (Litoria caerulea), an arboreal species, are only a half or a quarter webbed.
Many frogs are able to absorb water and oxygen directly through the skin, especially around the pelvic area. However, the permeability of a frog's skin can also result in water loss. Some tree frogs reduce water loss with a waterproof layer of skin. Others have adapted behaviours to conserve water, including engaging in nocturnal activity and resting in a water-conserving position. This position involves the frog lying with its toes and fingers tucked under its body and chin, respectively, with no gap between the body and substrate. Some frog species will also rest in large groups, touching the skin of the neighbouring frog. This reduces the amount of skin exposed to the air or a dry surface, and thus reduces water loss. These adaptations only reduce water loss enough for a predominantly arboreal existence, and are not suitable for arid conditions.
Many frogs contain mild toxins that make them unpalatable to potential predators. For example, all toads have large poison glands—the parotoid glands—located behind the eyes on the top of the head. Some frogs, such as some poison dart frogs, are especially toxic. The chemical makeup of toxins in frogs varies from irritants to hallucinogens, convulsants, nerve poisons, and vasoconstrictors. Many predators of frogs have adapted to tolerate high levels of these poisons. Others, including humans, may be severely affected.
The life cycle of a frog starts with an egg. A female generally lays gelatinous egg masses containing thousands of eggs, in water. Each anuran species lays eggs in a distinctive, identifiable manner. An example are the long strings of eggs laid by the common American toad. The eggs are highly vulnerable to predation, so frogs have evolved many techniques to ensure the survival of the next generation. In colder areas the embryo is black to absorb more heat from the sun, which speeds up the development. Most commonly, this involves synchronous reproduction. Many individuals will breed at the same time, overwhelming the actions of predators; the majority of the offspring will still die due to predation, but there is a greater chance some will survive. Another way in which some species avoid the predators and pathogens eggs are exposed to in ponds is to lay eggs on leaves above the pond, with a gelatinous coating designed to retain moisture. In these species the tadpoles drop into the water upon hatching. The eggs of some species laid out of water can detect vibrations of nearby predatory wasps or snakes, and will hatch early to avoid being eaten. Some species, such as the Cane Toad (Bufo marinus), lay poisonous eggs to minimise predation. While the length of the egg stage depends on the species and environmental conditions, aquatic eggs generally hatch within one week. Other species goes through their whole larval phase inside the eggs or the mother, or they have direct development. Unlike salamanders and newts, frogs and toads never become sexually mature while still in their larval stage.
Once adult frogs reach maturity, they will assemble at a water source such as a pond or stream to breed. Many frogs return to the bodies of water where they were born, often resulting in annual migrations involving thousands of frogs. In continental Europe, a large proportion of migrating frogs used to die on roads, before special fences and tunnels were built for them.
Some frog calls are so loud, they can be heard up to a mile away. The call of a frog is unique to its species. Frogs call by passing air through the larynx in the throat. In most calling frogs, the sound is amplified by one or more vocal sacs, membranes of skin under the throat or on the corner of the mouth that distend during the amplification of the call. The field of neuroethology studies the neurocircuitry that underlies frog audition.
Some frogs lack vocal sacs, such as those from the genera Heleioporus and Neobatrachus, but these species can still produce a loud call. Their buccal cavity is enlarged and dome-shaped, acting as a resonance chamber that amplifies their call. Species of frog without vocal sacs and that do not have a loud call tend to inhabit areas close to flowing water. The noise of flowing water overpowers any call, so they must communicate by other means.
Frogs feature prominently in folklore, fairy tales and popular culture. They tend to be portrayed as benign, ugly, clumsy, but with hidden talents. Examples include Michigan J. Frog, The Frog Prince, and Kermit the Frog. Michigan J. Frog, featured in the Warner Brothers cartoon One Froggy Evening, only performs his singing and dancing routine for his owner. Once another person looks at him, he will return to a frog-like pose. "The Frog Prince" is a fairy tale of a frog who turns into a handsome prince once kissed. Kermit the Frog, on the other hand, is a conscientious and disciplined character of The Muppet Show and Sesame Street; while openly friendly and greatly talented, he is often portrayed as cringing at the fanciful behaviour of more flamboyant characters.