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Water-Holding Toads: Unveiling Amphibian Survival Skills

Water-Holding Toads

The water-holding frogs (Litoria platycephala) are known for their ability to store large amounts of water in their bodies. When near a water source, they inflate their bodies with water—an adaptation that enables them to survive in arid environments. These frogs are also known as water-holding desert frogs or water-holding frogs and are typically found in arid areas or deserts, where there’s limited access to water.

In the following article, we’ll take a deep dive into this fascinating amphibian’s survival skills. We’ll also discuss additional helpful info about the frog such as its water-holding adaptations, natural habitat, poisonous characteristics, and how long it can live for. As a bonus, we’ll also discuss some fun facts you didn’t know about this frog.

Water-Holding Toads Survival Skills Explained:

The water-holding frog is a unique species widely found in Australia. It is unique for its ability to hoard large amounts of water in its body as it usually buries itself underground during the hot and dry seasons.

This amazing adaptation enables it to hold water in its body and stay underground for long periods of time.

When it rains, this frog absorbs an amount of water equal to half of its body weight. It stores the water in its large bladder as well as pockets in its skin. It bloats with enough water to last for up to 3 years!

Water-Holding Toads Survival Skills Explained

When the ground starts drying up, it is time for the frog to aestivate. It uses its hind legs to dig deep into the ground so that it can escape the host sun and heat.

Once it burrows itself, the frog then surrounds itself with a cocoon (dead skin covering) which helps it retain the water inside its body and prevent water loss by evaporation. This cocoon covers the entire frog’s body except the nostrils.

When the rainy season comes, the water-holding frog will then break out of the cocoon and dig its way out of the ground. It starts looking for insects, small frogs, and tadpoles to eat.

The Aborigines traditionally relied on this frog for its ability to store such large amounts of water. Just a slight pressure on the frog by hand will cause it to release the water.

These people would simply dig up the frog and gently press it to enjoy the resources it has to offer. Afterward, they’d release the frog unharmed. (Source).

Water-Holding Frog Habitat

The water-holding frog habitats include grasslands, billabongs, clay pans, and temporary swamps. Its distribution is limited to Australia.

If you live in northeastern South Australia, Western Australia, southern Queensland, western New South Wales, or some select spots in the Northern Territory where this frog lives, then you’re highly likely to spot it during the wet season.

Water-Holding Frog Habitat

Water-holding frog behavioral adaptations

Water-holding frogs have several unique adaptations to enable them to survive in their habitat as outlined below:

  • Aestivation: The frog is known to undergo aestivation. This is where it buries itself in sandy grounds and remains inactive during hot and dry conditions, thus maintaining a reduced metabolic rate. This enables it to escape the sun and heat and avoid desiccation.
  • Plenty of water storage space: another key adaptation of this frog is a super-sized bladder capable of holding large amounts of water—enough to last the frog for 3 years while it stays burrowed underground. This is a great adaptation as the bladder acts as the only water source for this amphibian once it covers its body with a cocoon.
  • Skin adaptations: As you may already know, the frog features two skin layers (the outer epidermis and inner dermis layers). During aestivation, the epidermis builds to form a thick and protective cocoon that helps the toad retain waste it absorbed during the rainy season.
  • Digging adaptation: The hind feet of this frog comprise a small ridge on the sole known as the metatarsal tubercle. It uses this spade to dig its way into the soil and can go as deep as 30 cm below. This “spade” feature explains why the frog usually burrows backward.

Here’s a video showing the water-holding frog burrowing itself into the ground:


  • Ability to hunt for food underwater: Unlike most of the other frog species, the water-holding frog has a unique ability to catch food while underwater. Its webbed feet plus muscular hind legs give it excellent propulsive power for swimming and hunting.
  • Excellent vision: With its eyes positioned above its head, this frog enjoys maximum vision while inside the waters. This is important as the amphibian can easily spot its prey as well as avoid predators.
  • Cryptic coloration: The water holding frog back coloration ranges from gray to dark brown while the underbelly is whitish. This coloring provides it with effective camouflage against various predators including monitor lizards, snakes, and birds as the frog allows in streams, ponds, and clay pans.

Are water-holding frogs poisonous?

Are water-holding frogs poisonous

The water-holding frogs aren’t considered poisonous to humans or their predators. Nonetheless, we advise you to be cautious about handling this frog as you may cause stress to it or even risk transmission of salmonella bacteria.

How Long do Water-Holding Frogs Live for?

The water frog has a relatively longer lifespan of up to 20 years. This is pretty much the same longevity period for other burrowing frogs.

However, it’s important to note that these frogs spend most of their lives underground isolated as they wait for a rare opportunity to resurface during the rainy season and mate.

According to this article, such frogs can only emerge on 3-4 occasions for their entire lifespan of 20 years depending on what the rainfall cycles look like in their habitats.

Water-holding frog life cycle

The male water-holding frog looks for a female for mating when on the ground.

Water holding toads’ sound is a long and drawn out “mawww, mawww” call and helps the males attract females.

Water-holding frog life cycle

Once a mating pair meets, they get into amplexus posting where the female lays the eggs as the male simultaneously fertilizes them externally.

Females usually lay their eggs in puddles. They can lay up to 500 eggs per clutch.

When the eggs hatch, the resulting tiny tadpoles will need to undergo metamorphosis to become froglets before the ground can dry up again.

Water-holding frog fun facts:

Water-holding frog fun facts

Below are some interesting facts you didn’t know about the water-holding frogs:

  • The water-holding frog has a super-sized bladder capable of holding large enough quantities of water to enable it to survive for up to 3 years underground.
  • Due to their unique ability to store large amounts of water, the aborigines would dig it up and press it slightly to release the water, which is fresh, and they’ll enjoy drinking.
  • The water-holding frog can stay buried underground for years before it can dig its way out of the ground to feed and breed after rain. And when on the ground, it needs to build its reserves as fast as possible before water evaporates and the ground becomes dry again.
  • Water-holding frogs are portrayed in Tiddalik, one of Austria’s creation stories. It is about the frog whose greed led him to drink all the water in the rivers, lakes, and creeks being depleted and forcing all the other animals to work hard to see the water restored.

Water-holding toads for sale

Water-holding toads for sale

When looking to acquire a water-holding frog, there are a few options to consider as outlined below:

  • Pet stores
  • Reputable breeders specializing in breeding amphibians/reptiles
  • Show and expos
  • Online communities and forums where people discuss and sometimes trade pet frogs and toads.

However, you’ll need to ensure you buy a captive-bred water-holding frog and not one captured from the wild.

You should ensure you comply with local laws and regulations regarding owning and trading frogs as pets.

Above all, ensure you provide a suitable environment for your new pet.


What is special about the water-holding frog?

The water-holding frog is unique for its ability to absorb and retain large amounts of water in its balder and skin pockets. This unique adaptation enables it to survive in arid environments and even endure extended periods of drought.

Do water-holding frogs migrate or hibernate?

Water-holding frogs aren’t known to migrate or hibernate. Instead, they tend to aestivate during the hot and dry periods. They simply bury underground and stay inactive to escape the extreme conditions and only resurface after the arrival of rains.

How long can a water-holding frog go without water?

Water-holding frogs can go without water for several months or even years depending on factors such as their stored water reserves and the environmental conditions. This is made possible by their ability to store water and the aestivation process, which prevents the loss of this water via evaporation.


The water-holding frog is known for its unique ability to store large quantities of water in its super-sized bladder and skin pockets. This unique adaptation enables the frog to survive in arid environments. They’re also known to undergo aestivation, where they remain buried underground for extended periods of time to help them escape the sun and heat in arid environments.

Water-holding frogs only emerge during the rainy season when they come out to feed and look for mates. After breeding, they start building their reserves as quickly as possible before the ground can dry up. A typical frog can hold enough water to last for up to 3 years. While underground, the frog develops a cocoon around it to prevent water loss through evaporation.

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