American Tree Frog

© Clinton and Charles Robsertson


It is a common misconceptions that frogs and toads are completely different species; in fact, they are related and highly similar genetically. They have developed different adaptations to suit their lifestyles and environments. In this scavenger hunt, students will focus on frog and toad adaptations and how they are shaped by their environments.


In this lesson, students will:

  • utilize and develop their power of observation discovering similarities and differences in the body structure and patterning of amphibians.
  • practice comparing and contrasting similar organisms.
  • relate the differences in frog & toad structures to environmental elements.
  • scavenger hunt
  • pencil
  • clipboard (one per student; optional)
  • colored pencils, crayons, markers (optional)
Educator Prep
  1. Consider visiting the Academy before your field trip to try out the scavenger hunt yourself. You can receive free admission when you bring a copy of your reservation to the Academy’s ticket window.

  2. After determining the number of chaperones, split your class into small groups and assign at least one chaperone per group.

    Teacher Tip: This scavenger hunt asks students to travel in between the exhibits in the Aquarium. Consider assigning each group one frog to start with to allow students space while making their observations.

  3. Make one copy of the scavenger hunt for each student. Consider printing additional copies for chaperones.

  4. Go over the scavenger hunt with your adult chaperones ahead of time and make sure they are familiar with the activity.

Scientific Terms for Students

adaptation: what a plant or animal does that helps them live

habitat: a place where plants and animals live

Before Your Visit
  1. Explain to your students that the field trip to the California Academy of Sciences will include a scavenger hunt in the Steinhardt Aquarium to learn about frog adaptations.
  2. Introduce the concepts of adaptation and its connections to habitat. Encourage your students to compare and contrast different types of organisms. You may want to use pictures, books, or videos to highlight specific features or behaviors. You can ask questions such as the following:
    • Are all frogs the same?
    • Do they look and act the same?
    • What are some ways in which all frogs are the same?
    • What are some ways in which frogs are different from one another?
    • What kinds of habitats can you name where we might find frogs living? Do all animals live in every habitat?
  3. You can explore the connection between adaptations and habitats further by having your students describe their shared environment (The Bay Area). Brainstorm some animals your students may find in that shared environment. Then list adaptations animals have developed to be comfortable in our environment.
During Your Field Trip
  1. Remind chaperones to use guiding questions rather than giving the students answers. Do not be afraid of silence; instead, urge students to spend several seconds to think things over. Everyone will try to discover together.
  2. Designate a time to meet back up, allowing at least 30 minutes to complete the activity. Encourage groups to explore the rest of the aquarium after the completion of the hunt.
Wrap Up
  1. Once the activity is complete, bring your students together either at the museum or back in the classroom. Ask the students to share a few things they discovered from their observations.
  2. Consider having your students re-visit their discussion of our Bay Area habitat and how animals are adapted to it.
    • What new ideas do they have?
  3. Conclude sharing their new perspectives by asking the following guided questions:
    • What are some adaptations that are common among animals who live in or near the water?
    • What characteristics are present in all frogs?

If you would like to continue your students’ learning in this area, the Academy of Sciences has a number of related resources. Feel free to choose one or more if these activities of you see fit.

  • Observe different Academy animals through our three live webcams. Have students observe a specific animal. Create a list of body parts and explain how that body part helps the animal survive in that environment. 
  • Practice science drawing with Introduction to Scientific Sketching lesson plan.
Teacher Background

This scavenger hunt focuses on frog adaptations and how they are shaped by their environments. We will be looking at four different members of the frog family, which contains true frogs (amphibious), tree frogs (arboreal) and toads (terrestrial). All of these types of frogs are related and highly genetically similar, but have developed different adaptations to suit their lifestyles and environments. It is a common misconception that frogs and toads are completely separate species but in fact they are highly related and differ mostly in their preferred habitat. All can be referred to under the blanket term of “frog.” In other words, not all frogs are toads but all toads are frogs.

The four frogs we are focusing on are all from very different environments. The Lake Oku Clawed Frog and the Surinam Toad, prefer to spend most of their time in the water. The Vietnamese Mossy Frog and the Green Tree Frog prefer to live on vegetation near the water’s edge. This fundamental difference in habitat creates anatomical variation between the frogs.

The Lake Oku Clawed Frog (Xenopus longpipes) is a very unique species. It is only found in one specific crater lake (Lake Oku) completely isolated from all other bodies of water in Northwestern Cameroon. These frogs have an incredibly small body size (around three centimeters) and have developed coloring precisely to match the surrounding sediments. They have four webbed feet, which are unusually narrow for a fully aquatic amphibian. Therefore, they can’t swim as fast as most water-dwelling frogs. This likely developed as a response to a lack of predation. The claws are used to fend off competitors and tear food apart.

The Green Tree Frog, sometimes called the American Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea), is a relatively common frog found across the Southeastern United States and around the gulf of Mexico. These frogs tend to live in the greenery around water as opposed to in the water directly. They are commonly found in swamps and along riverbanks. These frogs grow to an average of 6 centimeters long and range in color from yellow to deep green. Their toes are long and mostly separated, making them ideal for clinging to reeds and climbing through underbrush.

The Vietnamese Mossy Frog (Theloderma corticale), as its name suggests, is found in the northern forests of Vietnam. They typically live in damp limestone caves and along the rocky banks of creeks. These frogs greatly resemble a clump of moss thanks to their green color, black spots, and visible tubercles. Even their eyes with green and black unique coloring allows it to blend effortlessly into its surroundings. . They grow to around 8 centimeters and are able to roll themselves into a ball as a defensive mechanism, emphasizing their already stone-like appearance. Their toes are long with round suction pads at the tips, perfectly designed for sticking to the slippery banks of the stream.

The Surinam Toad (Pipa pipa), unlike most toads, spends the majority of its life in the water. It earned the moniker of ‘toad’ as a result of its rough skin and large size (10-20 centimeters on average). This toad is widely known for its unique reproductive habits; fertilized eggs actually embed in the back skin of the mother where she incubates them until they hatch. Their bodies are extremely flat and angular, which allows them to blend effortlessly with the fallen leaves along the water’s shallow edges. As a result, they can surprise and ambush their prey as it travels by. The toad does not have teeth or a tongue, so the toad’s large gaping mouth is useful for catching prey and for swallowing it in one bite.

Next Generation Science Standards

Science and Engineering Practices:

  • Obtaining, evaluation and communicating information

Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • LS4.B: Natural Selection: Sometimes the differences in characteristics between individuals of the same species provide advantages in surviving, finding mates, and reproducing. (3-LS4-2)
  • LS4.C: Adaptation: For any particular environment, some kinds of organisms survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all. (3-LS4-3)

Cross-Cutting Concepts:

  • Structure and Function

Performance Expectations
Remember, performance expectations are not a set of instructional or assessment tasks. They are statements of what students should be able to do after instruction. This activity is just one of many that could help prepare your students to perform the following hypothetical tasks that demonstrate their understanding:

  • 3-LS4-2: Use evidence to construct an explanation for how the variations in characteristics among individuals of the same species may provide advantages in surviving, finding mates, and reproducing.
  • 3-LS4-3. Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
Appropriate for: 3rd Grade - 5th Grade
Standards for: 3rd Grade
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Activity Time: 30 minutes
Subjects: Obtaining & Evaluating Information, Structure & Function
Exhibits: Animal Attraction, Swamp, Water Planet