Fish & Reptiles: Tailed Frog

The Tailed Frog is an interesting yet common addition to the fauna here in Kootenai Country Montana. Finding and watching these unique creatures can make for a whole day of summer fun. They have several distinguishing features that set them apart from the other frogs found here.

Many of us recall those summer days of our childhood outside wading creeks, sloshing through the mud in wetlands or swamps, and exploring lakes while on fishing trips. Especially if we weren’t catching many fish. On warm days in northwest Montana, the many turnouts and fishing access sites along our...

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pristine waterways are frequented by coyote like packs of young explorers. Some ride bikes, many carry fishing poles, and most have daypacks. Camping areas fill up slowly, with every imaginable type of recreational vehicle. And yet, there’s always room for a few more folks. A bit higher in the mountain road system, serpentine gravel roads twist up the hill, gaining elevation. Spectacular snowcapped mountain peaks loom in the distance as a young family of four pitches a modern, fluorescent colored tent next to a rushing cool stream with mini-waterfalls and pools. Immediately after helping with the chores, the young brother and sister begin their journey of discovery. It’s all fair game now along the moss covered banks, fallen giants of trees, in the stream and under the rocks.

Tailed Frogs (Ascaphus truei) are found in and along swift flowing, cold mountain creeks. Locally, that is pronounced “cricks.” Adults are gray-brown with yellow blotches or more brown gray with yellow spots. One can observe a grainy texture to the skin. These frogs are about 1.5-2.5 inches long. A distinguishing feature is that the outer toe of the hind foot is broader than the other toes. Tailed frogs lack a discernible external ear drum, and the male has a bulbous “tail” that also serves in reproductive activities. About 40-60 eggs are laid in a rosary-like string attached to the underside of rocks. A unique feature of the tadpole is that it has a large mouth modified into a sucker. Tadpoles are variable in color, and generally are up to two-inches long. When identifying this species, remember that no other frog or toad has the outer toe of the hind foot broader than the other toes, and all other frogs and toads have external ear drums. In late summer, the eggs are laid and take about 3-5 weeks to hatch. Tadpoles take 1-5 years to metamorphose, with water temperature having a direct effect on timing. Sexual maturity in Montana is attained at about 6-8 years of age. It’s also interesting to note that this is the latest maturation age for any North American amphibian. Tailed frogs are generally believed to be fairly common in suitable habitats in western Montana.

To young explorers and old, part of the fun of outdoor recreation is finding, identifying, and enjoying learning about the life cycles, habitats, and species of insects that the unique tailed frog and other amphibians share their existence upon. It can be a great character building practice to find and identify the wildlife around us. Family fun is had out in the real world of nature. All of us students of living things love to roam and discover. In Kootenai Country Montana, we have plenty of room for both!

(Authors note: reference I.D. of Montana’s Amphibians and Reptiles - Reichel and Flath)