Amphibians are universally infamous for their wide smiles and strikingly long tongues, leading many people to believe that frogs can feast on prey irrespective of its size. However, frogs still have limitations to what they can swallow and digest, meaning that eating certain foods can result in complications.
Frogs may struggle to swallow prey or choke on their food if it is too large for their bodies to handle, and frogs can die from choking in such cases. Other complications involve the digestive tract since frogs may not properly digest their food, even if they manage to swallow it.
While many animal lovers and amphibian enthusiasts may presume that frogs can swallow large prey with ease, various safety risks are involved. There are many risks for frogs feasting on oversized food, in addition to the possibility of passing on from choking. However, frogs that are sloughing may look like they are choking while they are actually fine.
Signs a Frog is Choking
As a general rule, a frog choking will take place while it is eating and may occur if the frog is consuming prey that is too large or too long for its body. If the frog is struggling to eat the food after a much longer period compared to usual, it may be choking.
Frogs generally vomit anything that is not ment to be consumed by ejecting their stomachs. However, they may have a harder time releasing large prey due to the way they eat (which will be covered in detail below).
The reason I specified above that choking may occur “while it is eating” (although that may seem self-evident) is because many people confuse a frog choking with moulting or sloughing.
Difference Between Choking and Sloughing
Sloughing or moulting is a process where frogs shed, remove, and eat their dead skin. This process may ressemble choking, however it is a natural occurence for frogs and toads.
It can be fairly easy to mistake a frog sloughing for choking. The frog may be rubbing its head and opening its mouth with no sounds coming out. Observing this activity for the first time can be a scary site for pet frog owners.
Frogs generally moult or slough their skin one to three times a week depending on the species. Frogs do this to eat the nutrients in their skin and cover their tracks.
However, if a frog looks like it is choking when there is no food present (and has not been food for a good while), it is probably just sloughing it’s skin. Frogs’ skin is incredibly sensitive, but it is still their first line of defense against invasive pathogens and bacteria. This usage means that they need to renew their skin often.
In some cases, frogs may eat this outer layer of skin during the process, resembling them choking on their food. However, frogs that are in the process of eating and are unable to swallow their food can suffer from various health complications. If they somehow manage to swallow the food, it may also cause troubles in the digestive tract, leading to intestinal issues.
How Big Should Frog Food Be?
As a general rule, the girth of frog food should not be wider than the distance between the frog’s eyes, and the length of the food should be no longer than ⅓ of the frog’s body length to avoid choking and digestive issues.
Frogs know what they can and cannot eat in the wild. But frogs are different when kept in captivity since they depend on their owners for their meals. Ensuring that your beloved pet frog’s food is appropriate and proportionate in size is the best way to protect them from choking.
Frogs will generally attempt to eat anything that comes by them, even if it is too large. You are responsible for ensuring that any frogs under your care (as captive pets) receive correctly sized food and nutrition.
Depending on the species, frogs can feast on a wide range of prey, including insects, bugs, and worms, or even small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. These options are generally easy to find at local pet stores, but it is important to chose the right foods of an adapted size to avoid choking, bloating, sicknesses, or death.
It can be challenging when following a carnivorous diet as opposed to an invertebrate diet, as there may not be as many options. Amphibian caregivers can choose to cut their prey into smaller pieces if it is necessary or source it themselves.
How Do Frogs Swallow Prey?
Unlike most animals, frogs do not have many helpful body features to help them break down their food. However, they are still equipped with a few functions that aid them during mealtimes.
Here is a quick overview of how frogs eat:
|Frog Body Part||Assistance in Swallowing Food|
|Tongue||Licks up the prey and pushes it into the stomach|
|Teeth||Enables grip on prey|
|Eyes||Depressing the eyes into their sockets physically forces down the prey|
|Feet||Some frogs use their hind legs to apply pressure and force down the prey|
|Head||Some frogs may tilt their head up to help swallow the prey|
Frogs initially catch their prey with their long tongue. Once the prey enters their mouth, it is held back by their teeth in the upper jaw. But, they do not use their teeth to bite or chew their prey. Instead, frogs use their teeth to maintain a grip on their food during feeding. Keep in mind, toads do not have teeth.
Frogs Use Their Eyes to Swallow
Although frogs can swallow their prey without using their eyes, this process greatly reduces the number of swallows needed to consume their food. A study found that frogs need 74% more swallows to consume the prey without the assistance of their eyes (Levine, 2004).
Blinking also helps protect the frog’s most vulnerable areas while feeding, as their prey is typically alive and fighting back during the process. This is particularly helpful for frogs that feed on other amphibians or small reptiles, which can do some serious damage. Tongue movements assist the entire process.
While frogs use their eyeballs to push down prey, they often incorporate other body movements to aid the process. It is common for frogs to use their front legs to apply pressure to the area and force down the food. They typically lift their noses and tilt their heads upwards, allowing the food to slide down their throats.
Avoid Frogs Choking
As a general rule, feeding frogs food that is the correct size is one of the best ways to prevent choking and death. Ensure frog food is no wider than the distance between the frog’s eyes and the length is no longer than ⅓ of the frog’s body length.
Frogs may close both of their eyes or blink each eye one at a time, depending on the amount of force needed. If this takes a long time, some people think they frog may be choking. This is a possibility if the prey is much too large for the frog.
The entire process of swallowing prey is incredibly creative and useful for frogs. But, it makes them more vulnerable to choking, as they cannot reduce the size of their prey by biting and chewing.
More About Feeding Frogs
Learn more about what and how frogs eat in these articles on our blog:
- What Frogs Eat: Everything There is to Know
- What Do Toads Eat?
- What Do Tree Frogs Eat?
- How Long Do Frogs Live Without Food?
- Do Frogs Eat Worms?
- Can a Frog Eat a Snake?
- How Do Frogs Eat?
- What Do Tadpoles Eat?
- What Should You Feed Tadpoles?
- 5 Types of Frogs You Can Eat
- Will Frogs Eat Dead Bugs?
Levine RP, Monroy JA, Brainerd EL. Contribution of eye retraction to swallowing performance in the northern leopard frog, Rana pipiens. J Exp Biol. 2004 Mar;207(Pt 8):1361-8. doi: 10.1242/jeb.00885. PMID: 15010487.