What does frog eggs look like?

Frog eggs, also known as frogspawn, refer to the eggs laid by frogs and toads. They are produced by the female frog after mating and fertilization. Frog eggs have a distinctive appearance and go through several stages of development before hatching into tadpoles. In this article, we will explore what frog eggs look like, their key identifying features, and the changes they undergo during embryonic development.

Quick answers

  • Frog eggs are laid in gelatinous clumps or strings called spawn.
  • Each egg is small, black, and round, with a diameter of 1-3 mm.
  • The eggs are encased in a protective jelly-like coating.
  • The color, size, and shape of the egg mass depends on the frog species.
  • Frog eggs undergo cell division and embryo growth before hatching into tadpoles.

What does frogspawn look like?

Freshly laid frogspawn has a distinctive jelly-like appearance. Here are some key features:

  • Frog eggs are not laid individually. Instead they are deposited in large clumps or strings of jelly containing thousands of eggs.
  • The clumps are usually about the size of a grapefruit, but the mass size depends on the number of eggs.
  • The outer jelly coating is thick, clear, and sticky. It protects the eggs from drying out and provides insulation.
  • Each individual egg is small (1-3 mm), round, and black. They are embedded throughout the jelly mass.
  • The jelly globules stick to vegetation and float on the surface of the pond water.

The overall appearance of the spawn depends on factors like:

  • Frog species – The size, shape and texture of egg masses differ between frog species. For example, common frog spawn forms a grapefruit-sized clump, while common toad strings can stretch over a meter long.
  • Water depth – Spawn in deeper water often forms a round, compact clump. In shallow water, it spreads out into looser strings.
  • Number of eggs – More eggs result in larger clumps or strings of spawn.

So in summary, freshly laid frogspawn has a jelly-like globule structure with thousands of small black eggs encased within an outer protective coating. The exact appearance varies by species and environment.

Appearance of frog eggs during development

The eggs inside the frogspawn go through cell division and embryo development before hatching:

  • Early stages – The eggs appear as round, dark spheres. A lighter hemisphere starts to develop on top as cell division begins.
  • Neural folds – The neural folds become visible as darker lines, outlining the embryo inside the egg.
  • Tadpole development – The ball of cells elongates and the tadpole form becomes distinct. Eyes, gills and a tail are visible.
  • Hatching – The jelly coat thins and the egg surface develops indents as the tadpole prepares to hatch out.

During these development stages, the individual eggs gradually get harder to see through the jelly coating. The spawn mass overall darkens and may take on greenish hues due to algae growth.

Right before hatching, the tadpoles squirm vigorously inside the jelly. Their movements help rupture the egg membranes, allowing the new tadpoles to swim free.

Differences between frog and toad spawn

While frog and toad eggs appear similar, there are some visible differences between their spawn:

Frog spawn Toad spawn
Forms a compact clump or mass Arranged in long strings
Jelly coating is firmer and more opaque Jelly is more transparent and loose
Eggs are more tightly packed Eggs have more space between them
Spawn floats at the water surface Spawn often sinks to the bottom

These differences reflect the different egg-laying behaviors of the two species. Frogs deposit their eggs in shapely clumps, while toads release their eggs in long strings as they swim in pairs. However, both provide a protective environment for the developing embryos.

Can you identify the frog species from the spawn?

It is possible to identify the frog species based on features of its spawn, such as:

  • Size – Some species lay smaller or larger clumps. For example, common frog spawn is about 10-12 cm wide.
  • Shape – The mass may be round, oblong or sausage-shaped.
  • Texture – The outer jelly can be firm or loose.
  • Color – Spawn color ranges from clear to cloudy white.

However, there are overlaps between different species’ spawn characteristics. For a definitive ID, look at where and when the spawn is laid:

  • Water depth – Different frogs select specific pond depths for egg-laying.
  • Timing – Frog species breed at distinct times of year.
  • Location – Some prefer still water, others lay eggs in running water.

Combining spawn morphology and egg-laying ecology will provide the best clues to identifying the frog species.

How many eggs do frogs lay at a time?

The number of eggs laid by a female frog varies considerably between species. It ranges from just dozens to many thousands per spawn:

  • Small frogs may lay a few hundred eggs. For example, wood frogs lay 300-800 eggs.
  • Common pond frogs lay clumps of 2,000 – 4,000 eggs.
  • Bullfrogs produce a massive 10,000 – 20,000 eggs per spawn.

Frogs that live in temporary ponds tend to lay fewer, larger eggs – like the common frog. Species in permanent water can afford to lay many more smaller eggs, as there is less risk of the pond drying out.

The female’s body size also influences egg number. Larger frogs can carry more eggs, so produce more spawn.

Temperature plays a role too. Cooler conditions mean the female takes longer to ovulate each egg. So colder springs lead to smaller spawn clumps compared to warmer years.

How long until frog eggs hatch?

On average, frog eggs take 1-3 weeks to hatch after being laid, but the incubation period varies by species and temperature:

  • Wood frog eggs hatch in 3-12 days.
  • Leopard frog eggs take 5-10 days to hatch.
  • For common frogs it takes 10-21 days.
  • Bullfrog eggs can take 2-3 weeks to fully develop before hatching.

Warmer water accelerates embryo development and tadpole growth. Cooler temperatures delay hatching.

If conditions are too cold, frog egg development may be paused entirely. The embryos stop growing until temperatures rise again in spring.

Why are there no tadpoles in frogspawn?

When frog spawn is first laid, there are no visible tadpoles inside the eggs. Cell division begins after fertilization, but the eggs must undergo over a week of growth and development before the tadpole forms become apparent.

Key developmental stages within the eggs:

  1. Fertilized eggs – The eggs are fertilized as they are laid. For the first day, only a round, dark cell is visible under magnification.
  2. Cell division – Repeated cell division leads to a light-colored hemisphere forming on top of the fertilized egg.
  3. Neural folds – The neural tube and head structures start to develop.
  4. Tadpole – The body elongates, tail and gills visible. The tadpole embryo fills most of the jelly enclosure.

It takes around 5-7 days before the comma-shaped tadpole is clearly discernible inside the egg jelly. The eggs must undergo considerable growth before recognizable tadpoles develop.


Frog eggs have a distinct appearance – they are laid in large jelly-coated clumps or strings called spawn. The thousands of individual eggs are small, dark spheres, which lighten as cell division progresses. Depending on species and conditions, it takes 1-3 weeks for the developing embryos to hatch into tadpoles. While frogspawn provides a protective nursery, the wiggly tadpoles must escape the jelly coating in order to swim free as the next generation of frogs.

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