“..toe of frog….lizard’s leg..”*

(This post is the third of four about the numbers of legs and toes in the animal kingdom. If you missed the first one, on mammals, you might want to look at it because it explains why I have chosen this theme. It was posted on June 29th: https://wp.me/p90hhh-Dq )

Today I’ll look at lizards, frogs, and turtles. But let me dispose of the toeless snakes first: here is a harmless and burnished Eastern Corn Snake, photographed in a parking lot in Vero Beach, Florida

Eastern Corn Snake

Lizards have five toes on all their feet. This is a carnivorous monitor lizard:


And an insectivorous gecko, whose toe-pads have bristles like Velcro to help him climb walls. He can hold onto anything except Teflon!

Bibron's Gecko

Caimans and other crocodilians have five toes on their front feet and four on their back feet. There is only one way to photograph the soles of a caiman’s feet; look away now if you are squeamish. The (ex) caiman’s tail is towards the camera.


In chameleons, these five toes are reduced to two (a group of two and a group of three, each grouping swaddled in skin). This photo was taken in Rwanda, where the local people think chameleons are bad luck:

The Malagasy think chameleons are evil spirits

Turtles mostly have five toes on each foot. This is a Painted Turtle, from Maine, facing right:

Painted Turtles

Frogs have four toes on their front feet and five on their back feet. Both frog species below are tree frogs (because the feet of aquatic frogs are virtually impossible to photograph, being underwater most of the time!). Being tree frogs, they have large sticky toe pads to help them grip. Frogs have an annoying tendency to squat on their back feet in a sort of yoga “child’s pose”, so I failed to find a single photo clearly showing a hind-foot toe count!

Spring Peeper, Maine
Spring Peeper, Maine
Tree frog
Gray Tree Frog, Maine

Frogs don’t have usually have claws, but some African frogs have evolved a bizarre mechanism. When threatened, the tip of their toe bone (phalanx) breaks through the skin and acts as a vicious claw! See Blackburn et al 2008, here: https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2008.0219  who say ” these are the only vertebrate claws known to pierce their way to functionality” .

When the excellent website Amphibia Web  https://amphibiaweb.org celebrated the inclusion of their 7000th species, they celebrated with this song, and even though for some incomprehensible reason it doesn’t even mention toes, it is irresistible:

Next time is my last post on appendages, finally moving away from vertebrates to invertebrates.

* An obvious title for this post:

2nd Witch:
“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,–
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

Macbeth (IV, i, 14-15)

4 thoughts on ““..toe of frog….lizard’s leg..”*”

  1. I am wondering why all the appendages are called toes as opposed to digits? There is probably no answer except for perhaps the structure is more toe like?


  2. Good point! Digits would be more scientific, but we humans tend to use the word toes for everything except animals whose digits are very finger-like, in that they can hold things, So gorillas and raccoons have fingers.


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