Can Tree Frogs Swim?

Although most frogs begin their lives in water, not all frogs remain there, including tree frogs. As adults, most tree frogs live in, near, or around trees close to water, and most tree frogs reproduce in the water they live close to. With that said, you may still be wondering if tree frogs can effectively swim.

Generally, tree frogs can swim but are not very good swimmers. Unlike aquatic frogs, instead of webbed feet to propel them in water, tree frogs have padded toes to help them climb. Tree frogs reproduce in water but spend very little time there.

Tree frogs, unlike aquatic frogs, cannot swim efficiently. This is mainly because their physical traits differ greatly from aquatic frogs, as tree frogs are not made for swimming or to spend their lives in water. Aquatic frogs and tree frogs have different physical adaptations to survive in their respective environments.

Why Tree Frogs Are Not Good Swimmers

Unlike aquatic frogs that have webbed feet, are excellent swimmers, and live in water their entire lives, tree frogs have padded toes made to help them climb and cling onto trees and branches. Tree frogs reproduce in water but spend very little time there.

All frogs are amphibians and thus spend part of their lives in water and land. Tree frogs generally live near freshwater bodies such as marshes, swamps, and forest ponds. Living near water is key for the survival of their species since they reproduce in water.

As tadpoles, they live and feed in the water, breathing through gills. And so, as tadpoles, tree frogs are excellent swimmers. But once they reach the froglet stage and no longer have a tail nor need to live in water, these frogs lose much of their swimming skills. Therefore, tree frogs spend most of their adult lives outside of the water, in, near, and around trees.

Here is a look at different types of frogs, their main body features, and skills:

Type of FrogCharacteristicsSkills
Arboreal (Tree)Suction-Cup Fingers
Small Bodies
Climbing
Holding
Aquatic (Water)Webbed Feet
Long Hind Legs
Swimming
Leaping
Terrestrial (Toads)Spaded Feet
Pointy Digits
Digging
Hopping

As Einstein once said:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Einstein

The same goes for tree frogs. If you judge tree frogs by their ability to swim, dive, jump, and leap, you may think they are “stupid,” but if you judge them by their ability to climb a tree, and stick to leaves, you will think they are geniuses.

Why Can’t Tree Frogs Swim Like Aquatic Frogs?

Tree frogs are unable to swim like aquatic frogs because they do not have long, powerful hind legs or webbed feet made to propel them in water. Tree frogs have small, light bodies and toes with suction-like cups to help them climb. 

Aquatic frogs have distinct anatomical features including webbed feet, very long and strong hind legs that sit like a spring and that allow them to swim and leap with ease. These limbs are used for swimming, navigation, and balanced landings.

Tree frogs, on the other hand, have adhesive pads on their toes that aid in climbing and adhering to tree surfaces rather than swimming. Some tree frogs also have opposable thumbs making climbing, grasping, and jumping from branch to branch simpler for them. Aquatic frogs cannot climb or live outside water for long periods like tree frogs.

Tree frogs reproduce in water so they have some ability to float and swim in order to successfully lay their eggs. However, they do not remain in the water after they reproduce. Tree frogs cannot swim in the same way as aquatic frogs can due to physical limitations. They swim slowly and are much less agile in water compared to aquatic frogs. 

How do Tree Frogs Stay Hydrated?

Frogs breathe and drink through their skin and tree frogs are no exception. However, contrary to aquatic frogs that remain hydrated and oxygenated by sitting in water, tree frogs absorb the humidity emitted by trees to drink and breathe.

Aquatic frogs require direct access to H2O to drink, breathe, and survive. They spend most of their time in the water during the day, relaxing, breathing, and remaining hydrated. Although they can safely exit the water and live on land, while breathing through their lungs, they can only do this for very short periods of time.

However, tree frogs are arboreal, which means they live in trees and like climbing to avoid predators. To keep their skin hydrated, they do not generally swim or sit in water like aquatic frogs. They breathe and drink by absorbing the humidity around them emitted by the soil and trees. They are less dependent on direct access to water compared to aquatic frogs (CTNF).

Do Tree Frogs Lay Eggs in Water?

All frog species including tree frogs, toads, and aquatic frogs require access to fresh water to lay their eggs. Adult tree frogs and toads lay their eggs in water even if they are not very good swimmers compared to aquatic frogs since the larval stage of their lives is completely aquatic.

Aquatic frogs have no trouble mating or reproducing in water since this is their main habitat. Frogs reproduce by amplexus and deposit their eggs at the water’s surface, around vegetation, or underwater. Most toads and arboreal frogs do the same thing, even if they are not as good swimmers as aquatic frogs.

Some tree frogs, notably those in South America, have distinct reproductive strategies that do not involve laying eggs directly in water. For example, some Glass Frogs lay eggs on leaves above water that drop into the water below once they transform into tadpoles. This helps protect the eggs from predators on the ground below.

Tree frogs, like other frogs, live and feed in the water after transforming into tadpoles until they metamorphose into froglets with lungs allowing them to breathe and live on land.

How Do Tree Frogs Breathe Underwater?

Throughout their larval stage, tree frog tadpoles breathe through their gills. By the time the tadpoles transform into froglets, they develop lungs to breathe on land. As adults, tree frogs can breathe through their lungs or skin.

The anatomical and physiological respiratory functions of tree frogs are the same as those of other frog species. Adult tree frogs have well-developed lungs and can also breathe through their skin in aquatic settings.

Learn more about tree frogs and how they swim in the guides on our blog below:

Common Questions About Tree Frogs Swimming

Can tree frogs drown? Tree frogs, just like any other terrestrial animal, can drown. Frogs have lungs, despite being able to breathe through their skin as well. When these lungs fill up with water, they can drown. Insufficient oxygen in the water makes the frog unable to absorb enough oxygen for survival. 

Can tree frogs go in water? Tree frogs can go in the water and generally only do so to reproduce during mating season. Tree frogs live near water but do not live in water since they are not anatomically fit swimmers and prefer to dwell in or around trees.

Are tree frogs good swimmers? Generally, tree frogs can swim but are not very good swimmers. Unlike aquatic frogs, instead of webbed feet to help them swim, tree frogs have padded toes to help them climb. Tree frogs reproduce in water but spend very little time there.

Do green tree frogs like to swim? Green Tree Frogs can swim but are not very good swimmers and generally only go in the water to reproduce. Unlike aquatic frogs, instead of webbed feet to help them swim, Green Tree Frogs have padded toes to help them climb.

Daniella Master Herpetologist

Daniella is a Master Herpetologist and the founder of toadsnfrogs.com, a website dedicated to educating the general population on frogs by meeting them where they are in their online Google Search. Daniella is passionate about frogs and put her digital marketing skills and teaching experience to good use by creating these helpful resources to encourage better education, understanding, and care for frogs.