Tree frogs are found throughout most of North America. These little frogs are quite small, excellent climbers, and usually stay hidden and camouflaged. They can be quite vocal and loud during their breeding season, so even though you can’t see them you’ll know they’re around. In the state of North Carolina you’ll find 16 species of tree frogs, these frogs are all in the Family Hylidae.
Most tree frogs need wooded areas and vegetation in close proximity to smaller bodies of water. North Carolina provides many varieties of suitable tree frog habitats in the Coastal Plain region in the eastern portion of the state and the Piedmont Plateau in the central portion of the state. These habitats plush the humid subtropical climate allow for an abundance of tree frog species. In this article, we will look at the 16 species of tree frogs in North Carolina.
16 types of tree frogs in North Carolina
The 16 Species of Tree Frogs in North Carolina are:
- Common Gray Tree Frog
- Cope’s Gray Tree Frog
- Northern Cricket Frog
- Southern Cricket Frog
- Spring Peeper
- Upland Chorus Frog
- Brimley’s Tree Frog
- Pine Barrens Tree Frog
- Little Grass Frog
- Green Tree Frog
- Mountain Chorus Tree Frog
- Pine Woods Tree Frog
- Barking Tree Frog
- Southern Chorus Frog
- Squirrel Tree Frog
- Ornate Chorus Frog
1. Common Gray Tree frog
Scientific name: Hyla versicolor
The gray tree frog goes by many names including the eastern gray tree frog, northern gray tree frog and common gray tree frog. Their skin has a bumpy texture and often appears gray with bands of darker gray or brown on their back and legs. However, they are capable of quickly changing their color to a wide range of hues from nearly white to green to so dark they look black. This helps them blend in with the bark they are sitting on. Under each hind leg they have bright yellow-orange coloring that is hard to see unless their leg is extended.
The gray tree frog looks identical to the Cope’s gray tree frog, however they have twice as many chromosomes. They can also be distinguished by their call, which is slightly longer and slower than the Cope’s.
Gray tree frogs rarely come down out of the trees, except to breed. They lay 30-40 eggs in a mass attached to vegetation on the surface of water. They are only active at night and spend most of the daylight hours resting on tree branches or leaves.
According to herpsofnc.org, the common gray tree frog has only been documented in North Carolina in Warren and Caswell county.
2. Cope’s Gray Tree frog
Scientific name: Dryophytes chrysoscelis
The Cope’s gray tree frog is common throughout the whole state of North Carolina. They are also known as the southern tree frog, and in appearance they are almost identical to the eastern gray tree frog. You can begin hearing the mating calls of this species around the same time as others, in April and May.
While these frogs are called tree frogs and spend the majority of their time in trees, mating and egg fertilization occurs on the ground near water. The males climb up into the tree and make their mating calls high off the ground so the sound can travel and they have a better chance of finding a mate. They are about the same size as eastern gray tree frogs, are rarely seen on the ground. Cope’s tree frogs often live near swamps or marshes, but also in prairies, meadows, fields, and forested areas near bodies of water.
3. Northern Cricket Frog
Scientific name: Acris crepitans
North Carolina is home to both the northern and southern cricket frog. They have long back legs, a pointed snout and slightly warty skin. Their color can vary from green to brown and brownish red. They have a stripe (color varies) that extends between the tops of their eyes and a “Y” shaped stripe on their back. The northern variety has more webbing on their back toes and the dark stripe on their thigh has ragged edges.
Cricket frogs are active both day and night and like pond, marsh, stream and river habitats where they will live in the vegetation along the shore. They lay single or small groups of eggs, and the tadpoles have a black tip on their tail. Northern cricket frogs will call from April to August.
Northern cricket frogs are found mainly in the Piedmont region of North Carolina in the central portion of the state.
4. Southern Cricket Frog
Scientific name: Acris gryllus
The Southern cricket frog looks mostly identical to the northern variety, but has less webbing on their back toes, slightly longer legs and clean cut thigh stripes. They live in the same habitat as the northern cricket frogs, but call for a much longer period of the year between February and October.
Southern cricket frogs are mainly in the eastern section of the state on the coastal plain.
5. Spring Peeper
Scientific name: Pseudacris crucifer
The peeper is a tiny frog with an “X” shape on its back. They are often tan or gray in color, but can sometimes appear more yellow or pink. These tiny tree frogs only grow to about an inch in length as adults, but they make up for their size with their big voices.
If you’re close to a male spring peeper, their sound can reach about 90 decibels, which is about as loud as a lawnmower. A rock concert is about 120 decibels for comparison. If you hear a chorus of spring peepers, even from a distance it’s still going to be in the 60-70 decibel range. Adult spring peepers come out in the late afternoon and early evenings to feed on a variety of small insects and invertebrates. They begin breeding in the early spring and females will lay 750-1200 eggs submerged, attached to aquatic vegetation. The tadpoles will emerge in a week or two and turn into frogs within another 6-12 weeks.
The call of the spring peeper is most common in spring, but can be heard from November to April. They are much less likely to call during the summer, however they may if the conditions are just right.
The spring peeper can be found throughout all of North Carolina except for the Outer Banks.
6. Upland Chorus Frog
Scientific name: Pseudacris feriarum
The upland chorus frog can be found in the eastern and southern U.S. Human activity doesn’t seem to scare them much, and they will inhabit small neighborhood ponds, flooded fields or roadside ditches. They like a moist, vegetated habitat near water, but spend very little time in the water itself. You will likely only see and hear them when breeding, and their most active breeding season is November through March.
Their skin can appear various shades of brown, with a dark brown stripe running along their side. Their throat and chest are often a light cream color. The repetitive call of these frogs is sometimes described as sounding like running a finger along the teeth of a plastic comb.
In North Carolina the upland chorus frog is most frequently found in the Piedmont, but there are also some populations in the coastal plans and mountains.
7. Brimley’s chorus frog
Scientific name: Pseudacris brimleyi
This handsome little frog is named after Clement Samuel Brimley, a naturalist from the early 1900s that researched amphibians and worked for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. It has a brown body with a prominent dark brown stripe down both sides that extends all the way to the snout. There are usually three pale stripes along its back.
Brimely’s chorus frog breeds in marshes, swamps, roadside ditches and floodplains. Their call can be heard between December and April, and is a short trill.
In North Carolina, Brimely’s chorus frog is found in the eastern part of the state along the coastal plain.
8. Pine Barrens Tree frog
Scientific name: Hyla andersonii
This small sized tree frog is one of the most colorful in the United States. They have green bodies, a brownish-purple stripe with white boarder along their entire side, big amber eyes and bright orange on the underside of their legs. Spending their days in the trees and only becoming active at night, these frogs are seldom seen. Their preferred habitat is brushy areas near peat bogs, shallow ponds and thick moss. Unlike most frogs that cannot tolerate low pH, they are able to lay their eggs in shallow, acidic ponds.
Pine Barren tree frogs call from April to September. The males do all the talking, and prefer to call when on the ground or near the surface of the water. Their call sounds like a “honk”, almost like a small bicycle horn.
Named after the New Jersey Pine Barrens, these tree frogs are considered rare and declining in North Carolina. They are only found in pine forests and sandhills in the south-central portion of the state.
9. Little Grass Frog
Scientific name: Pseudacris ocularis
The little grass frog is the smallest frog in North America. It is about the size of George Washington’s head on a quarter! Tiny but mighty, they can jump 20 times their body length! They have mostly smooth skin that can be tan, reddish brown, greenish or pinkish. No matter what color, they have a dark line that passes through their eye onto their side.
The little grass frog likes moist but grassy habitats that are near ponds or wetlands. They can breed from January through September, but will call all year long. Their call is very high pitched and often sounds more like the chirping of an insect. In North Carolina you will find them in the eastern coastal plain.
For photos of the little grass frog, visit the University of Florida Department of Wildlife, Ecology & Conservation page here.
10. Green Tree frog
Scientific name: Hyla cinerea
The green tree frog has a slender, smooth body that’s bright to dark green or grayish. Their sides are usually marked with a white stripe with a crisp black border. Adults grow to a size of 1 to 2.5 inches in length. Most adults have a few orange or yellow spots on their backs.
During the day they hide in shady areas or under vegetation surrounding water. At night they come out to catch flying insects. The green tree frog call, heard from April to September, is a nasal quoonk-quoonk repeated up to 75 times per minute.
Green tree frogs are found mainly in eastern North Carolina but they have been expanding into central areas of the state.
11. Mountain Chorus Frog
Scientific name: Pseudacris brachyphona
Mountain chorus frogs are small but stocky and appear gray or brown with a dark stripe through each eye. They call between February and April with a raspy “wreenk” sound. Eggs are laid in small masses and attached to grasses, leaves and twigs in hillside streams, ditches and shallow ponds.
There are so few mountain chorus frogs in North Carolina that there were no reported sightings between 1954 and 2001. There is now a known but small population only found in the very southwestern corner of the state in Cherokee county.
12. Pine Woods Tree frog
Scientific name: Hyla femoralis
The pine woods tree frog usually has a distinctive facial mark looking like a “bandit mask.” Their body is green, gray, tan, or brown with darker blotches and bands. They are around 1.5 inches in length as adults.
Their preferred habitat is pine forests, flatwoods and cypress swamps. While they may climb all the way up the tall trees, they come down to breed in roadside ditches and small pools and ponds. They call from March to October. The call has a rapid metallic, machine-like sound and is often compared to morse code.
Pine woods tree frogs are found in the eastern half of North Carolina.
13. Barking Tree frog
Scientific name: Hyla gratiosa
The Barking Tree Frog has a plump body and uniquely granular bumpy skin that’s gray, green, or brown. Its back has dark spots that fade and sometimes yellow flecks. Adults average 2.5 inches in length and grow up to 2.75 inches. While these tree frogs like to climb high trees, they also burrow under sand or soil.
Their call is a single “toonk” that is medium to deeper pitched. From a distance a group of these frogs often sounds like barking dogs. Most tree frogs sit on vegetation or the ground when they call, but the barking tree frog calls while floating on the water.
This is the largest tree frog in North Carolina, and can be found in the southeastern tip of the state in the Coastal Plain and eastern Piedmont.
14. Southern Chorus Frog
Scientific name: Pseudacris nigrita nigrita
The southern chorus frog is small, bumpy, and grows up to 1.25 inches in length. Their color is tan, brown, or green-gray, and they have a pointed snout with a uniquely lighter bottom lip. There are three rows of dark spots on their back.
These tree frogs live in pine flatwoods, forest wetlands, wet meadows and roadside ditches. Their call is a mechanical raspy trill that can be heard between January and March.
In North Carolina the southern chorus frog can be found in the southeastern part of the state along the coastal plain.
15. Squirrel Tree frog
Scientific name: Hyla squirella
Squirrel tree frogs can change their color quickly to green, gray, tan, or brown with splotches and smooth skin. They often have a band of yellow that extends around their snout and down their sides. Adults usually grow to a length of 1 or 1.5 inches.
These tree frogs can inhabit a wide variety of settings, including urban areas and backyards. They may be found at night around windows or street lights, feasting on the insects the light attracts. They call for breeding between April and August. However they have a second call described as a “squirrel like rasp” that they perform before rain storms. This is gained them the nickname of “rain frogs”.
In North Carolina they can be found primarily in the eastern half of the state of the costal plain.
16. Ornate Chorus Frog
Scientific name: Pseudacris ornata
The adult ornate chorus frog is around 1.4 inches in length and has a more rounded snout than other chorus frogs. They always have dark spots on their sides, and a bold dark stripe that runs through each eye. They are often a reddish brown but can also be green or grayish.
The ornate chorus frog is nocturnal and seldom seen outside of the active breeding season. They call from December to March and sound similar to a spring peeper but more rapid and metallic.
Unfortunately they are declining in North Carolina due to habitat destruction of their preferred longleaf pine wetlands. They are only found in the southeastern tip of the state.