14 COMMON Amphibians in Iowa (ID Guide)
Are you wondering what amphibians you can find in Iowa?
This is a great question! Although amphibians are widespread, they can be challenging to locate. Most amphibians, including frogs, toads, and salamanders, are secretive and shy. But in my opinion, looking for amphibians is a really fun experience!
Below you will find a list of the most COMMON and interesting amphibians that live in Iowa. In addition, you will find detailed pictures, along with range maps for each species to help with your identification!
- RELATED: 17 Common Reptiles in Iowa (W/Pics!)
14 Types of Amphibians That Live in Iowa:
#1. American Bullfrog
- Lithobates catesbeianus
- Adult body lengths range from 3.6 to 6 inches.
- Coloration is typically olive green, with some individuals having gray or brown spots.
- Fully webbed back feet.
The American Bullfrog is one of the largest amphibians in Iowa!
Believe it or not, they can grow to weigh as much as 1.5 pounds (.7 kg). Bullfrogs can be found in permanent bodies of water, including swamps, ponds, and lakes.
American Bullfrog Range Map
Green: native range. Red: introduced range.
Bullfrogs eat just about anything they can fit in their mouth and swallow! The list of prey includes other frogs, fish, turtles, small birds, bats, rodents, insects, crustaceans, and worms. I have personally witnessed one even trying to eat a baby duck!
- RELATED: The COMPLETE List of Frogs in Iowa (11 Species)
They are named for their deep call, which is thought to sound like a bull bellowing.
#2. Northern Leopard Frog
- Lithobates pipiens
- Adults range from 2 to 4.5 inches long.
- Smooth skin is green, brown, or yellow-green with large dark spots.
- Lighter-colored raised ridges extend down the length of the back.
You can spot these amphibians in Iowa near slow-moving bodies of water with lots of vegetation. Northern Leopard Frogs are easy to see in or near ponds, lakes, streams, and marshes. I love how bright green most individuals appear!
Northern Leopard Frog Range Map
Due to their fairly large size, these amphibians eat various foods, including worms, crickets, flies, small frogs, snakes, and birds. In one study, a bat was even observed being eaten!
During the spring breeding season, the males will float in shallow pools emitting a low call thought to sound like snoring. However, the Northern Leopard Frog may also make a high, loud, screaming call if captured or startled.
Northern Leopard Frog populations are declining in many areas, and the cause is not exactly known. It’s thought to be a combination of habitat loss, drought, introduced fish, environmental contaminants, and disease.
#3. Green Frog
- Lithobates clamitans
- Adult body lengths range from 2 to 4 inches, and the females are typically larger than males.
- Coloration is normally green or brown with darker mottling or spots on the back.
- Ridges run down the sides of the back, and they have webbed hind feet.
Green Frogs are among the easiest amphibians to find in Iowa.
Green Frog Range Map
Look for them in permanent bodies of water, including lakes, ponds, swamps, and streams. They spend most of their time near the shoreline but jump into deeper water when approached. They also breed and lay eggs near the shore, typically in areas with aquatic vegetation.
The Green Frog produces a single-note call that is relatively easy to identify. Listen for a noise that sounds like a plucked banjo string, often repeated.
They use a “sit and wait” approach to hunt, so they are fairly opportunistic. Green Frogs will try to eat almost anything they can fit inside their mouth. The list includes spiders, insects, fish, crayfish, snails, slugs, small snakes, and even other frogs!
#4. Spring Peeper
- Pseudacris crucifer
- Adults are small and range from 1 to 1.5 inches long.
- They’re typically tan or brown, with the females lighter in color.
- Both males and females usually feature a darker cross or ‘X’ on their back.
These tiny amphibians are found in eastern Iowa.
You’ll typically spot Spring Peepers on the forest floor among the leaves. However, they have large toe pads that they use for climbing trees.
Spring Peeper Range Map
You can find them in ponds and small bodies of water, where they breed and lay eggs in the spring. After hatching, the young frogs remain in the tadpole stage for about three months before leaving the water.
Spring Peepers get their name from their distinctive spring chorus. They’re thought to sound like baby chickens’ peeps, and they are most often heard in early spring! LISTEN BELOW!
#5. Gray Treefrog
- Dryophytes versicolor
- Adult body lengths range from 1.5 to 2 inches.
- Mottled gray, green, and brown coloring. Look for a whitish spot beneath each eye.
- Bumpy skin, short snouts, and bright orange on the undersides of their legs.
- *Gray Treefrogs are essentially identical to Cope’s Gray Treefrogs. The only way to tell the difference is to listen to their breeding calls. You can learn more by visiting this site.*
Chameleons aren’t the only animal that can change colors! This incredible amphibian can slowly change colors to camouflage itself and match what it’s sitting on. They can vary from gray to green or brown. It’s common for their back to display a mottled coloring, much like lichen.
Gray Treefrogs are ubiquitous throughout their range. You’ll spot them in various wooded habitats, from backyards to forests to swamps. Like most amphibians in Iowa, they tend to live close to a water source.
Gray Treefrog Range Map
They stick to the treetops until it’s time to breed. Gray Treefrogs prefer to mate and lay eggs in woodland ponds without fish. They’ll also use swamps and garden water features.
Gray Treefrogs are easier to hear than to see.
Listen for a high trill that lasts about 1 second, commonly heard in spring and summer.
#6. Pickerel Frog
- Lithobates palustris
- Adult body length ranges from 2 to 4 inches.
- Dark green-brown coloration with two rows of dark squarish spots running down its back. The underside of the hind legs is a bright yellow.
- Females are typically darker and larger than males.
Like many amphibians in eastern Iowa, Pickerel Frogs prefer cool, clear water. You can find them in ponds, rivers, lakes, slow-moving streams, and ditches.
Pickerel Frog Range Map
Pickerel Frogs are one of the few poisonous amphibians in Iowa!
When attacked, they produce toxic skin irritations that can be fatal to other animals and may cause skin irritation in humans if handled. So, as you can imagine, most predators leave them alone!
During the breeding season, the males attract females with a low, snore-like call. Then, the females will attach egg masses to branches in cool water, where the tadpoles will spend 87-95 days before becoming frogs.
#7. Wood Frog
- Lithobates sylvaticus
- Adult body lengths range from 1.5 to 3.25 inches.
- Coloration is various shades of brown, gray, red, or green, with females tending to be more brightly colored.
- Distinct black marking across the eyes, which resembles a mask.
As the name suggests, Wood Frogs are found in moist woodland habitats, including forested swamps, ravines, and bogs. They travel widely and visit seasonal pools to breed.
Wood Frog Range Map
This incredible little amphibian has a wide range across North America. They have adapted to cold climates by being able to freeze over the winter. Their breathing and heartbeat stop and their bodies produce a type of antifreeze that prevents their cells from bursting. In the spring, they thaw and begin feeding again.
Wood Frogs are among the first amphibians in Iowa to emerge after the snow melts. Listen for a call that sounds a bit like a clucking chicken near vernal pools and other small bodies of water!
#8. American Toad
- Anaxyrus americanus
- Adult length is 2-3 ½ inches.
- Coloring is usually brown to gray, olive, or brick red. Typically, they have patches of yellow, buff, or other light colors, with dark spots.
- The American Toad is distinctive for its many warts present over the back and legs.
These amphibians are common in Iowa.
American Toad Range Map:Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
American Toads are found in a wide variety of habitats, including forests, prairies, and suburban backyards. They are carnivorous and mainly eat insects, worms, spiders, and slugs.
American Toads have a very recognizable call. Listen for a musical trilling noise that can last for 30 seconds.
They like to breed in shallow water, and tadpoles have an amazing defense against predators. Incredibly, their skin secretes a toxic chemical so powerful that eating one tadpole can kill a fish! And like their tadpoles, adult American Toads are also toxic to other animals.
#9. Great Plains Toad
- Anaxyrus cognatus
- Adult length is 2-4 ½ inches.
- Coloring is pale white to tan or olive with large, dark-colored pairs of blotches down the back. Lighter tan or white belly.
- A crest on the head forms a “V” shape from the snout, moving outward on the head toward the back.
Great Plains Toads are found in temporary shallow pools, quiet streams, marshes, or irrigation ditches. They are most common in grasslands and can be found in desert brush and woodland areas.
Great Plains Toad Range Map:
Only a few weeks out of the year are suitable for the Great Plains Toad to feed and reproduce. Amazingly, they spend the rest of the year mostly dormant in underground burrows made by other animals.
Symmetrical dark splotches running down its back make this amphibian one of the easier toads to see, but you will probably hear one nearby long before you can spot it. Its call can last more than 50 seconds and is similar to a jackhammer!
When large groups of Great Plains Toads call, the sound can be near-deafening!
#10. Fowler’s Toad
- Anaxyrus fowleri
- Adult length is 2-3 inches.
- Coloring ranges from gray to brownish green or olive, with dark splotches on the back with three or more warts. Adults have a pale stripe down their backs.
- The belly is usually white or yellowish, sometimes with dark spots breaking into smaller flecks.
Fowler’s Toads live in a wide range of habitats, including forests, river valleys, farms, and urban and suburban gardens. Like many other amphibians in Iowa, they eat various insects and are very good at pest control!
Fowler’s Toad Range Map
The mating call of the Fowler’s Toad only lasts about 1-4 seconds. Listen for a nasal “wa-a-a-ah” sound, similar to the call of a Canada Goose.
Interestingly, the Fowler’s Toad mating call attracts both males and females.
The male occasionally tries to mate with another male, only realizing his mistake when he hears the other toad’s warning chirp.
#11. Woodhouse’s Toad
- Anaxyrus woodhousii
- Adult length is 2 ½-4 inches.
- Coloring ranges from gray to yellowish or olive green.
- The belly is light tan or buff, with very few dark spots on the chest.
Woodhouse’s Toads are adaptable to many environments, including grasslands, deserts, floodplains, and developed areas. Interestingly, individuals that live in suburban areas will wait under street lamps to catch and eat insects attracted to the light.
Woodhouse’s Toad Range Map:
The most striking feature of these amphibians is their shape – they are round and stout, with short legs that look too small to support their bodies!
Woodhouse’s Toads have a very short call that resembles a distressed sheep’s bleat.
#12. Eastern Newt
- Notophthalmus viridescens
- Larvae are aquatic and have smooth, olive green skin, narrow, fin-like tails, and feathery gills.
- Juveniles are terrestrial and have rough, orangish-red skin with darker spots outlined in black.
- Adults have slimy, dull olive-green skin, dull yellow undersides, darker black-rimmed spots, and a blade-like tail.
Eastern Newts have the most complicated life cycle of any amphibian in eastern Iowa!
When they’re first hatched, they spend all of their time in the water. This larval stage lasts for two to five months. After that, they metamorphose into juvenile Eastern Newts.
They live in terrestrial forest habitats for two to seven years during their juvenile stage. Even though they generally remain hidden under moist leaf litter and debris, you may see them moving about on rainy days and nights, foraging insects, worms, and spiders. This is the stage of life you’re most likely to see an Eastern Newt. If you spot one, be careful – they have glands that secrete a potent neurotoxin when they’re threatened.
- RELATED: The COMPLETE List of Salamanders in Iowa (5 Species)
Finally, Eastern Newts will migrate back to a water source and metamorphose into aquatic adults, where they eat small amphibians, fish, and worms. They can live up to 15 years and spend the rest of their lives in this aquatic form.
#13. Eastern Tiger Salamander
- Ambystoma tigrinum
- Adults range from 6 to 8 inches in length.
- Their coloring is dark gray, brown, or black with brownish-yellow to greenish-yellow markings, ranging from large spots and stripes to small irregular shapes on the head, back, and tail.
- This species has a thick body and neck, short snout, strong legs, and a lengthy tail.
These amphibians are one of the largest salamanders in Iowa.
Eastern Tiger Salamanders are secretive and spend much of their time underground in woods, grasslands, or marshes. You’re most likely to see them moving about and foraging on rainy nights.
Their diet is primarily made up of insects, worms, slugs, and frogs. However, if there’s a prey shortage, they become much less picky. They’ve been observed feeding on baby snakes, newborn mice, and small salamanders of other species. They will even cannibalize their own young in times of low food supply!
Although Eastern and Western Tiger Salamanders are closely related, it would be unusual to mix up these two species. First, they rarely share the same range and aren’t often seen together. Secondly, Eastern Tiger Salamanders are much larger and have a black patch on their snout.
#14. Common Mudpuppy
- Necturus maculosus
- Adults range from 8 to 19 inches in length.
- This species is rusty brown to gray or black with scattered bluish-black or black spots.
- The large, bushy, red, or maroon external gills behind the flattened head make this species easy to identify.
Common Mudpuppies are among the most well-known amphibians in eastern Iowa.
These LARGE salamanders can be found in nearly any body of water, including lakes, reservoirs, ditches, and rivers. They are secretive and require habitats with lots of cover, such as boulder piles, submerged logs, tree roots, or vegetation.
Common Mudpuppies are nocturnal and spend their days hiding under rocks. They’re active at night and hunt by walking along the lake or river bottom, but they can also swim. These opportunistic feeders eat whatever aquatic organisms they can catch, including insect larvae, small fish, fish eggs, aquatic worms, snails, and even carrion.
In the spring, when water temperatures don’t fluctuate as much, these amphibians spend time in shallow water. However, they have been reported in water as deep as 100 feet during the summer and winter!
What types of amphibians in Iowa have you seen?
Let us know in the comments!