The order Anura (from the Ancient Greek a(n)- meaning "without" and oura meaning "tail") comprises the frogs and toads. They usually have long hind limbs that fold underneath them, shorter forelimbs, webbed toes with no claws, no tails, large eyes and glandular moist skin. Members of this order with smooth skins are commonly referred to as frogs, while those with warty skins are known as toads. The difference is not a formal one taxonomically and there are numerous exceptions to this rule. Members of the family Bufonidae are known as the "true toads". Frogs range in size from the 30-centimetre (12 in) Goliath frog (Conraua goliath) of West Africa to the 7.7-millimetre (0.30 in) Paedophryne amauensis, first described in Papua New Guinea in 2012, which is also the smallest known vertebrate. Although most species are associated with water and damp habitats, some are specialised to live in trees or in deserts. They are found worldwide except for polar areas.
Anura is divided into three suborders that are broadly accepted by the scientific community, but the relationships between some families remain unclear. Future molecular studies should provide further insights into their evolutionary relationships. The suborder Archaeobatrachia contains four families of primitive frogs. These are Ascaphidae, Bombinatoridae, Discoglossidae and Leiopelmatidae which have few derived features and are probably paraphyletic with regard to other frog lineages. The six families in the more evolutionarily advanced suborder Mesobatrachia are the fossorial Megophryidae, Pelobatidae, Pelodytidae, Scaphiopodidae and Rhinophrynidae and the obligatorily aquatic Pipidae. These have certain characteristics that are intermediate between the two other suborders. Neobatrachia is by far the largest suborder and includes the remaining families of modern frogs, including most common species. Ninety-six percent of the over 5,000 extant species of frog are neobatrachians.
For the purpose of reproduction most amphibians require fresh water although some lay their eggs on land and have developed various means of keeping them moist. A few (e.g. Fejervarya raja) can inhabit brackish water, but there are no true marine amphibians. There are reports, however, of particular amphibian populations unexpectedly invading marine waters. Such was the case with the Black Sea invasion of the natural hybrid Pelophylax esculentus reported in 2010.
Several hundred frog species in adaptive radiations (e.g., Eleutherodactylus, the Pacific Platymantis, the Australo-Papuan microhylids, and many other tropical frogs), however, do not need any water for breeding in the wild. They reproduce via direct development, an ecological and evolutionary adaptation that has allowed them to be completely independent from free-standing water. Almost all of these frogs live in wet tropical rainforests and their eggs hatch directly into miniature versions of the adult, passing through the tadpole stage within the egg. Reproductive success of many amphibians is dependent not only on the quantity of rainfall, but the seasonal timing.
In the tropics, many amphibians breed continuously or at any time of year. In temperate regions, breeding is mostly seasonal, usually in the spring, and is triggered by increasing day length, rising temperatures or rainfall. Experiments have shown the importance of temperature, but the trigger event, especially in arid regions, is often a storm. In anurans, males usually arrive at the breeding sites before females and the vocal chorus they produce may stimulate ovulation in females and the endocrine activity of males that are not yet reproductively active.
In caecilians, fertilisation is internal, the male extruding an intromittent organ, the phallodeum, and inserting it into the female cloaca. The paired Mllerian glands inside the male cloaca secrete a fluid which resembles that produced by mammalian prostate glands and which may transport and nourish the sperm. Fertilisation probably takes place in the oviduct.
The majority of salamanders also engage in internal fertilisation. In most of these, the male deposits a spermatophore, a small packet of sperm on top of a gelatinous cone, on the substrate either on land or in the water. The female takes up the sperm packet by grasping it with the lips of the cloaca and pushing it into the vent. The spermatozoa move to the spermatheca in the roof of the cloaca where they remain until ovulation which may be many months later. Courtship rituals and methods of transfer of the spermatophore vary between species. In some, the spermatophore may be placed directly into the female cloaca while in others, the female may be guided to the spermatophore or restrained with an embrace called amplexus. Certain primitive salamanders in the families Sirenidae, Hynobiidae and Cryptobranchidae practice external fertilisation in a similar manner to frogs, with the female laying the eggs in water and the male releasing sperm onto the egg mass.
With a few exceptions, frogs use external fertilisation. The male grasps the female tightly with his forelimbs either behind the arms or in front of the back legs, or in the case of Epipedobates tricolor, around the neck. They remain in amplexus with their cloacae positioned close together while the female lays the eggs and the male covers them with sperm. Roughened nuptial pads on the male's hands aid in retaining grip. Often the male collects and retains the egg mass, forming a sort of basket with the hind feet. An exception is the granular poison frog (Oophaga granulifera) where the male and female place their cloacae in close proximity while facing in opposite directions and then release eggs and sperm simultaneously. The tailed frog (Ascaphus truei) exhibits internal fertilisation. The "tail" is only possessed by the male and is an extension of the cloaca and used to inseminate the female. This frog lives in fast-flowing streams and internal fertilisation prevents the sperm from being washed away before fertilisation occurs. The sperm may be retained in storage tubes attached to the oviduct until the following spring.
Most frogs can be classified as either prolonged or explosive breeders. Typically, prolonged breeders congregate at a breeding site, the males usually arriving first, calling and setting up territories. Other satellite males remain quietly nearby, waiting for their opportunity to take over a territory. The females arrive sporadically, mate selection takes place and eggs are laid. The females depart and territories may change hands. More females appear and in due course, the breeding season comes to an end. Explosive breeders on the other hand are found where temporary pools appear in dry regions after rainfall. These frogs are typically fossorial species that emerge after heavy rains and congregate at a breeding site. They are attracted there by the calling of the first male to find a suitable place, perhaps a pool that forms in the same place each rainy season. The assembled frogs may call in unison and frenzied activity ensues, the males scrambling to mate with the usually smaller number of females.
There is a direct competition between males to win the attention of the females in salamanders and newts, with elaborate courtship displays to keep the female's attention long enough to get her interested in choosing him to mate with. Some species store sperm through long breeding seasons, as the extra time may allow for interactions with rival sperm.