7 COMMON Amphibians in California (ID Guide)
Are you wondering what amphibians you can find in California?
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 California. In addition, you will find detailed pictures, along with range maps for each species to help with your identification!
- RELATED: 9 Common Reptiles in California (W/Pics!)
7 Types of Amphibians That Live in California:
#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 California!
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 California(9 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 eastern California 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. Pacific Treefrog
- Pseudacris regilla
- Adults can reach 2 inches long, with the males typically being smaller.
- Most are green or brown with pale white undersides, but some are reddish, gray, cream, or black.
- Dark mask across the eyes to the shoulders and uniformly bumpy skin.
These amphibians can be found in a wide range of elevations in California, ranging from sea level to 10,000 feet (3,050 m)!
Pacific Treefrog Range Map
Look for Pacific Treefrogs in woodlands and meadows. Interestingly, these amphibians spend most of their time on the ground despite being a treefrog. They even hide from predators in underground burrows!
Also called the Pacific Chorus Frog, this species can be heard during the spring. Their mating call is a two-part call that sounds like “kreck-ek” or “rib-bit.“
#4. Western Toad
- Anaxyrus boreas
- Adult length is 2-5 inches.
- Coloring can range from yellowish, tan, gray, or green with a pale stripe along the back. The Western Toad also has dark blotches with rust-colored edges and warts.
- Males have smoother, less blotchy skin than females.
As its name suggests, the Western Toad lives in the western part of the continent. It has a wide range of habitats, including desert streams and springs, forests, lakes and rivers, and backyard gardens with pools nearby.
Western Toad Range Map:
Unlike most other toads, Western Toads don’t often hop!
Instead, they walk, picking up 1 or 2 legs at a time. You can see this unique movement below!
#5. 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.
#6. Colorado River Toad
- Incilius alvarius
- Adult length is 4-7 ½ inches; the Colorado River Toad is the largest toad native to North America.
- Very large glands on either side of the head produce its powerful venom.
- Coloring is dark brown or olive to gray, with smooth skin and a few warts on the hind legs.
The Colorado River Toad has a reputation as the “Psychedelic Toad”!
Its venom is illegally harvested and used as a hallucinogenic drug, and it is even classified as a controlled substance. It is also dangerous to most animals, and large dogs who accidentally eat them have been known to be paralyzed or even die from the poison.
Colorado River Toad Range Map:
Though not widespread, this amphibian has a large population in California.
The Colorado River Toad’s call lasts under a second and has been compared to the whistle of a ferryboat.
In California, laws and regulations have been put in place to prevent the use of the Colorado River Toad’s venom as a drug. For example, it can’t be moved across state lines, and if a person is found in possession of one with the intent to use its venom as a drug, they can be arrested or fined.
#7. Western Tiger Salamander
- Ambystoma mavortium
- Adults range from 3 to 6.5 inches in length.
- Their coloring is greenish-yellow with black 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 and a short snout.
Western Tiger Salamanders are secretive and spend much of their time underground. You’re most likely to see these amphibians moving about and foraging on rainy nights. Their favorite hiding spots are burrows, which they can make themselves or borrow from other animals.
Interestingly, Western Tiger Salamanders have four distinct morphs as adults. Scientists classify them by whether they are aquatic or terrestrial and what they eat. For example, a typical Western Tiger Salamander eats insects and frogs, breathes above water, and spends time on land.
However, there is a terrestrial morph that cannibalizes other Western Tiger Salamanders! In addition, there are cannibalistic and non-cannibalistic AQUATIC morphs that have gills and breathe underwater.
The aquatic individuals are called paedomorphs, and while they are mature and able to reproduce normally, they retain a lot of the features of larval Western Tiger Salamanders. The most obvious feature is their frilly, long gills!
What types of amphibians in California have you seen?
Let us know in the comments!