Can Frogs Change Color?

Frogs are incredibly diverse, equipped with various physical and behavioral traits necessary for their survival. Their colors have an extensive range, which frogs use as camouflage in the wild. However, some frogs are not limited to one color, and they may adapt their features for numerous reasons. 

Many frog species can change color generally according to temperature, humidity, light, seasons, or for defence purposes. Frogs may use their existing colors as camouflage to hide from predators within their environment, or may take on a bright shade to attract mates during mating season.

Although some frog species can change their color, most frogs use their existing skin colors and patterns as camouflage in the wild. Join me as I discuss how some frog species change their colors, and how most frogs use their existing colors to evade the dangers in their natural habitats.

Why Do Frogs Change Color?

A few frog species have the natural ability to change the color of their skin, depending on the species, the original color, and the motive for changing colors. Most frog species that can change their skin color can only switch between two skin colors, which are necessary for camouflage in different environmental contexts.

Frogs typically change their colors for survival purposes, depending on the state of their habitat and the surrounding wildlife. Here are some reasons frogs may change color:

  • Changes in the environment requiring a different color for camouflage
  • Changes in lighting conditions to better hide from predators
  • Changes in temperature and humidity levels requiring different camouflage
  • Changes in seasons, for example mating season to distinguish males form females
  • Frogs may change color based on their mood, notably if afraid or anxious
  • Presence of predators, in order to blend in with the environment and hide from them
  • During periods of rest or sleep, in order to blend in and hide from external threats

Some frogs change their colors during the mating season, which is a specific strategy for breeding. Since many mating seasons involve masses of eager males and females, it can become challenging to discern one frog from the rest. This is the case for a frog species in Madagascar where the males turn yellow during mating season, and back to brown after reproducing.

Male Moor frogs turn blue during mating season:

Blue Male and Russet Female Moor Frogs During Mating Season

As a result, some male frogs may turn a bright color to make them more visible within the chaotic crowd, increasing their chances of mating. Such color changes are generally temporary, and the frogs will likely return to their initial skin color once they have mated successfully or once the breeding season has ended. 

How Do Frogs Change Color?

Frogs cannot change their color as rapidly as chameleons can, and it takes time for the shift to be successful. As a result, the method’s effectiveness can often be restricted by the limitations created by the speed of change, and the color range is limited by the pigments that can be controlled and produced (Barnett et al, 2020).

Generally, their small bodies become filled with hormones, which either cluster or spread out the skin’s pigments. These special skin pigment cells are called chromatophores, which are responsible for the related changes in skin color. 

Color changes result from changes in the distribution of these pigment cells, as the grains of pigment shift around, cluster together, or disperse.

Below is a general rule of how shifts in these pigments can affect color:

Position of Pigment GrainsEffect on Skin Tone and Color
Pigment grains are clustered together within the center of each cellPale
Pigment grains spread out within cellsDarker Hue

The general rule primarily concerns frogs being able to lighten or darken their skin tone, but it may still be closely related to complete shifts in color. Since some frog species have color changes lasting for months at a time, additional pigments may even be created by the body. 

However, there is still much to discover about the color-changing methods used by certain frog species. Scientists have only found conclusive answers to their methods in a handful of cases and are still conducting investigations into how and why certain frog species change their skin color. 

Frog Camouflage Tactics

Frogs generally use camouflage to increase their survival chances in the wild, and there are quite a few ways frogs use their skin to blend in. Flaunting various colors and patterns helps prevent recognition or detection by blending in with the background or overall habitat.

But, one single color or tone cannot match every environmental feature all of the time, necessitating variations in pattern and skin colors. Frogs generally use the following camouflage tactics to evade potential threats and predators in the wild:

Skin AppearanceCamouflage Effect
Variations in PatternHaving numerous irregular patterns helps frogs match their habitat. The patterns generally depend on the habitat’s appearance, ranging from granular mottling to speckles and stripes. 
Variations in ColorNo natural object features one solid color throughout, and frogs have adapted variations in skin color to match their environments better. Color palettes typically depend on whether the frog species and habitat is aquatic, arboreal, or terrestrial, often featuring varying shades of green and brown.
Transparency Some frog species, such as Glass Frogs, use moderate transparency for camouflage. By having a somewhat see-through body, such frogs can instantly blend in with their backgrounds and habitats.

While the vast majority of frogs try to blend in for safety, quite a few frogs try to stand out. Most of these frog species are poisonous and use bright colors to warn predators of their toxicity. Frogs that are not poisonous often flaunt bright colors to mimic toxic species, hoping that predators will see them as a threat.

More About Frog Colors And Camouflage

Frogs flaunt a wide range of colors and patterns, all of which influence their survival rates in various ways. While most frogs maintain their skin colors throughout their life, some frog species can temporarily change their skin color based on their pigment limitations and overall environment.

Learn more on our blog:

Sources

B. Barnett, Constantine Michalis, Hannah M. Anderson, Brendan L.McEwen, Justin Yeager, Jonathan N. Pruitt, Nicholas E. Scott-Samuel, Innes C. Cuthill, Imperfect transparency and camouflage in glass frogsJames, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jun 2020, 117 (23) 12885-12890; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1919417117

Chemical Camouflage– A Frog’s Strategy to Co-Exist with Aggressive Ants, Rödel MO, Brede C, Hirschfeld M, Schmitt T, Favreau P, et al. (2013) Chemical Camouflage– A Frog’s Strategy to Co-Exist with Aggressive Ants. PLOS ONE 8(12): e81950. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0081950