One of the things that I learned when I was young is that all frogs are cold-blooded animals, meaning that their body temperature fluctuates based on their environment. I live in Canada and temperatures can easily reach -40° during the Winter. Despite the harsh cold, frogs still come out and thrive in the Spring. So you may be wondering where Tree Frogs go in the winter and how they survive.
During winter, Tree Frogs tend to hide under leaf litter, in tree hollows, and under exposed tree roots so that they can avoid direct exposure to the freezing temperatures. In addition, they are able to survive due to how their blood-sugar level increases to prevent their vital organs from freezing.
Nature is indeed amazing when you think about how different animals are capable of adapting to the various changes in the environment to survive. The Tree Frogs are no different and are capable of adapting to severe conditions to survive.
Note: The use of the term “hibernation” to qualify prolonged, ectothermic amphibian rest is a debated topic in the biology community, as many scientists prefer the term “brumation” for frogs. Brumaiton is used to qualify prolonged periods of rest for ectothermic animals. However, due to what readers are searching online, we will use the term “hibernation” this article.
Many Tree Frogs Hibernate During Winter
Tree frogs located in the Northern Hemisphere in areas with harsh winters generally hibernate during the cold season. North American tree frogs such as Spring Peeper and Wood Frogs can survive freezing temperatures below -40°F (-40°C) when in hibernation.
Since frogs are cold-blooded, the environment makes their temperature fluctuate. Although frogs can survive the cold, they cannot survive below certain temperatures without hibernating. If a frog is not ready for the cold, they will likely die (CTNF).
This is especially true for toads who cannot survive the same temperatures as tree frogs without burrowing below the frostline during Winter. This is why most frog species thrive all year round in the rainforest that always has a warm, humid, wet climate.
Tree Frogs hibernate as Winter approaches because they cannot remain active during the colder months. Direct exposure to freezing temperatures can easily kill them. Tree Frogs look for shelter and enter a state I will explain below in order to survive the cold. This is why you do not see tree frogs during winter.
1. Tree Frogs Spend Winter Under Leaf Litter
Many Tree Frog species hibernate, find shelter and warmth under leaf litter during Winter. Leaf litter consists of fallen leaves, pine needles, and soil and are the ideal place for tree frogs to hibernate during the harsh winter months.
During Autumn, falling leaves tend to be signs for tree frogs to prepare for the upcoming Winter. And the good news is that these falling leaves provide a natural shelter they need during winter. Leaves are a natural part of the tree frog habitat since they are tree and forest dwellers.
As leaves fall during Autumn, they tend to stay on the ground throughout the rest of the Winter, unless someone intentionally removes them. Therefore, if tree frogs are common in your backyard, it is best to leave leaf litter alone to allow them to find shelter during Winter.
2. Tree Frogs Spend Winter in Tree Hollows
Even though tree frogs generally like to stay on land during Winter because they can find adequate shelter on the ground, there are still some tree frog species that like to find shelter in tree hollows. These areas consist in holes or hollow parts of trees and can be found near the base, as well as higher up in trees.
It is not uncommon for some trees to have hollow areas or holes near the ground that tree frogs can easily access. In fact, some tree frogs commonly use tree hollows as their usual dwelling place regardless of whether or not it is winter. So, if a Tree Frog is lucky enough to already live in a tree hollow, it might not even move out of its home when the outside temperatures get a bit too cold.
Tree frogs may avoid hollows located in higher areas of trees since they are also used by other tree-dwelling animals that may eat them, like squirrels or birds. A tree frog is completely defenceless when it is hibernating during winter, so hiding on the ground below leaf-litter and under exposed tree roots covered in snow tends to be more safe.
3. Tree Frogs Spend Winter Under Exposed Tree Roots
Tree frogs may also spend winter under exposed tree roots. Some trees grow big enough to have exposed roots that shoot out and back below ground. What Tree Frogs may do is simply hide under the larger roots during Winter because of how they provide protection from the elements.
Some Tree Frogs also stay remain under exposed tree roots during the rest of the year regardless of whether or not it is winter. They mostly stay hidden in these tree roots during the day and will go out at night to hunt and eat bugs. If a tree frog already has a reliable tree root to shelter underneath, in it may not have to look far for a suitable place to hibernate during Winter (CTNF).
How Do Tree Frogs Survive During Winter?
In order to survive, tree frogs generally freeze 40% to 65% of their body water content to hibernate during Winter in order to survive. During Winter, level of glucose rises in their body, they stop breathing, and their heart stops, yet they come back to life once temperatures rise above freezing.
During winter, tree frogs are actually frozen. That is because they are still completely exposed to the cold. They naturally produce large amounts of glucose in order to protect their internal organs and avoid damage from freezing. The glucose produces a spike in blood sugar levels, naturally minimizing the formation of ice crystals in the body.
During winter, as much as 65% of a tree frog’s entire body can stay frozen, but the vital organs are unaffected. Some tree frogs do not make it through the Winter, and multiple days of thaw and freezes can sometimes lead to death. However, those that manage to survive naturally thaw out when Spring comes along, and the temperature rises. Their heart and lungs start working again and they hop out of their place of hiding like nothing happened, generally ready to reproduce.
More About Tree Frogs And Winter
Learn more about how tree frogs and how they survive winter in our guides below: