One of the main attractions that Alaska has to offer is its majestic wildlife. You can find everything from grizzly bears to giant moose, and it’s one of the last places in the world that can claim to be largely untamed.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore the smaller animals, though. Alaska’s biodiversity extends even to the tiny creatures, and that includes their frogs. The state doesn’t have that many different species, given that amphibians don’t handle the cold well, but the ones that it does have are quite varied and interesting (and almost entirely limited to the southern parts of the state).

If you see a frog up in the Last Frontier, chances are that it’s one of the species on the list here.

The 5 Frogs Found in Alaska

1. Columbia Spotted Frog

A columbia spotted frog
Image Credit: Kevin Wells Photography, Shutterstock
Species:R. luteiventris
Longevity:9 years
Good to own as a pet?:No
Legal to own?:Yes
Adult size:3–4 inches

This relatively big frog is usually fairly pale, although they can occasionally be as dark as other species. They’re only barely native to Alaska, as they live in the extreme southwest portion of the state and are more commonly found in British Columbia.

While this docile variety would otherwise make a great pet, they’ve existed on the fringes of the endangered species list for years now, so owning one is frowned upon. Climate change is the biggest threat to their continued existence, although they’ve also been vulnerable to fungal outbreaks and predation from larger, invasive species of frogs.

These frogs will eat almost anything that they can fit in their mouths, including insects, arachnids, and even some crustaceans and mollusks. They’re not just meat-eaters, though, as they’ll also snack on algae and a few plants. While they do have predators, they’re one of the few poison frogs in Alaska; the toxin isn’t that potent, but it can keep certain small species at bay.

2. Wood Frog

white's tree frog in wood_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels
Species:L. sylvaticus
Longevity:3 years
Good to own as a pet?:Yes
Legal to own?:Yes
Adult size:2–3 inches

The wood frog has a unique way to deal with the cold in Alaska: They actually freeze for 7 months out of the year, then thaw out and go about their business. Spending the better part of the year cosplaying as a block of ice doesn’t seem to harm these frogs in any way, and they aren’t even sluggish after waking up.

Small and brown in appearance, these frogs can live in a surprising variety of habitats, including farther away from water sources than other frogs. However, they’re happiest in streams and ponds tucked away inside forests, where they can feed on their preferred menu of small invertebrates. As tadpoles, though, they primarily consume algae and the eggs of other frogs.

As adults, they’re often eaten by snakes, larger frogs, birds, and various mammals; as tadpoles, fish are their biggest predators. They have an innate ability to identify their relatives, however, and they often group together in large families to provide more protection from predators.

3. Northern Red-Legged Frog

Northern Red-legged Frog (Rana aurora)
Image Credit: Lisa Pedscalny, Shutterstock
Species:R. aurora
Longevity:3 years
Good to own as a pet?:Yes
Legal to own?:Yes
Adult size:2–3 inches

Often mistaken for the wood frog, the northern red-legged frog is actually considered an invasive species in Alaska. While you might not think that such a little frog could have much of an impact on its environment, their tadpoles consume a large amount of algae, enough to alter the biological composition of any water source that they live in. That can have far-reaching effects on any number of aquatic species.

You can tell the northern red-legged frog apart from their native cousin by the fact that they have red legs. They have brown or green bodies with reddish or black spots, and they can thrive in just about any freshwater aquatic setting.

As adults, they’re primarily insectivores, and they’ll eat any bug that’s size-appropriate. They can make tasty snacks for raccoons, bass, snakes, cats, and foxes, but those predators may not exist in sufficient numbers to quell the impact that these non-native frogs are having on the Alaskan landscape.

4. Pacific Chorus Frog

Pacific Chorus Frog on a Hosta Leaf
Image Credit: Sage Black, Shutterstock
Species:P. regilla
Longevity:7 years
Good to own as a pet?:Yes
Legal to own?:Yes
Adult size:1–2 inches

Another invasive species, the Pacific chorus frog hitched a ride on a few Christmas trees to enter the state. They’re not quite as successful as the northern red-legged frog, though, and these small frogs may have been eliminated in Alaska entirely.

This is actually a tree frog, and they can be found in habitats as high as 10,000 feet above sea level. They’re often green or brown in color (so as to blend in with the trees), but they can change colors over time to keep up with the changing of the seasons. Like most tree frogs, they have long toes with sticky pads on the bottom to help them grip tree trunks.

As adults, they eat just about any bug that can be found in the forest. Their bodies can even expand to enable them to eat insects that are larger than they are, and they especially like spiders, beetles, and moths. On the other side of things, snakes, egrets, and raccoons all enjoy turning this frog into a two-bite meal.

5. Western Toad

Portrait of a western toad
Image Credit: Michael Benard, Shutterstock
Species:L. sylvaticus
Longevity:12 years
Good to own as a pet?:Yes
Legal to own?:Yes
Adult size:2–5 inches

The only toad species that’s native to Alaska, the western toad is gray or green with a white dorsal stripe. They prefer to live near a water source in forested areas, and they can find plenty of such locations all along southeastern Alaska. They do well at high elevations and can be found on mountaintops, provided that there’s plenty of tree cover for them to enjoy there.

Their tadpoles primarily munch on algae, but as adults, they eat all sorts of small creatures. That includes fish, reptiles, other frogs, birds, and even small mammals. They mainly hunt by just sitting there and hoping something edible will wander by, but they can also hide in burrows dug by other animals to ambush tasty prey.

Like the wood frog, these toads will hibernate for up to 7 months out of the year, but unlike those frogs, they don’t do it while frozen solid. Instead, they’ll find holes or chambers in the ground near streams, ensuring that their burrows will stay above freezing while they sleep.

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Frogs in Alaska Are in Trouble

While there aren’t many amphibian species in Alaska, the state has a higher rate of abnormal frogs and toads than nearly anywhere else in the United States. Many frogs are being found with shrunken legs, extra limbs, and malformed appendages, and it’s not clear why.

As a matter of fact, it’s not even clear that the problem is getting worse, as scientists didn’t pay too much attention to Alaska’s frogs in the past. New efforts are being made to study them to determine the source of the mutations, but it may take time before any definitive conclusions can be drawn.

However, the working assumption is that it’s one (or all) of the usual suspects: climate change, pollution, or some sort of microbial intruder. Regardless of what’s causing the abnormalities, it’s important that we figure out the source and determine the danger that it poses; after all, the health of frogs and other amphibians is often indicative of the health of our waterways in general.
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Alaska may not be home to that many frog species, but the ones that do live there are beautiful and interesting, just like most of the other animals that live in the state. Unfortunately, many of the frogs and toads in Alaska are under attack from all sorts of threats, ranging from invasive species to loss of habitat due to climate change.

Look for more frog reads below!

Featured Image Credit: Jay Ondreicka, Shutterstock