Frog Teeth: Everything There is to Know

I loved watching my frog eat potato bugs when I was a kid, but wondered if it had any teeth. It seemed as if my frog would just suck up its prey and not chew at all. It was pretty intriguing that my hungry frog would just power through its meal like that. After much research, I now know the secret to frog teeth.

Frogs generally have teeth, however, frogs do not use their teeth to chew their food like most mammals. Most frogs have two types of teeth in their upper jaw, maxillary and vomerine teeth, that work together to assist the frog to hold back and consume their prey.

The truth is not all frogs have teeth. Not only that, but their tooth structure is very different from other types of mammals. Let’s dive into some interesting facts about frog teeth and their differences with mammals like humans.

Most Frogs Have Upper-Jaw Teeth

Generally, frogs have teeth in their upper jaw (maxilla) that serve the purpose of holding back live prey. Frogs consume their food live and whole, use their teeth to retain it in their mouth, and then use their eyes to push it down their throat. Frogs do not chew their food.

Frogs generally do not have teeth in their lower jaw (mandible). However, one frog species, the Gastrotheca Guentheri did have lower-jaw teeth over 230 million years ago. Incredibly, research has shown that this frog’s mandible teeth made a comeback about 20 million years ago! This Southern American frog is one of the only frogs out of over 7,400 species to have lower teeth.

We will dive into more exceptions in a few minutes, but keep in mind here that one big exception to the rule that all frogs have teeth, is toads. Toads do not have teeth. But before we discuss this in more detail, let’s have a look at the types of teeth most frog species have.

Frogs Have Two Types of Teeth

Frogs have two types of frog teeth: Maxillary and Vomerine. Both types of teeth work conjointly to help the frog consume its prey. There are subtle differences between these two types of teeth. 

Frogs Have Maxillary Teeth

A frog’s maxillary (upper jaw) teeth are not typically visible to humans. If you get the chance to see their maxillary teeth, you will notice a cone-like set along the edges of their mouth. These teeth are all the same size with the sole purpose of assisting the frog with eating. 

Frog teeth are not designed for chewing. Instead, a frog swallows its prey alive, whole, and as-is. The teeth are designed to clutch onto the food and maneuver it down their gullet. Once the food is in their mouths, the frog retracts its eyes into its head to force prey down its throat

Frogs Have Vomerine Teeth

Frogs also have Vomerine teeth in the maxilla. These teeth are smaller and even less noticeable as they are located in the vomer bone of the skull at the roof of the mouth. Vomerine teeth are smaller than cone-like maxillary teeth, and they are found in clusters of two. 

The sole purpose of vomerine teeth is to assist in eating. These teeth are specifically designed to anchor into the prey and hold it in place. From there, the frog has an easier time swallowing. Frogs tend to consume their prey by suffocating it in their stomach and mouths.

Learn more about frog anatomy in this article on our blog.

One Frog Has “Fanged” Teeth

Limnonectes or Fanged Frogs that can be found in South-East Asia are known for their two bottom teeth because they stick out like fangs. However, these frogs are not venomous and their teeth are not very sharp.

This frogs teeth may be from a genetic adaptation to help the frogs defend their territory and protect protect themselves from predators.

Difference Between Mammal Teeth & Frog Teeth

At this point, you might be wondering what the difference is between mammal teeth and frog teeth. There are a few key differences as follows:

Frog TeethMammal Teeth
NamesMaxillary, VomerineHeterodont
PurposeAnchoringChewing
ShapeSmall ConesVaries
ReplacementsLifetimeOne

Here are some interesting facts about frog teeth vs mammal teeth:

  • Frog teeth replace themselves as needed. Instead of most mammals that only lose a single set of teeth in a lifetime. When a frog loses a tooth, there is always another one waiting to replace it. 
  • Frog teeth are not made for chewing food. Instead, they act as an anchor of prey for swallowing. Mammals use their teeth to chew and break down food before eating.
  • Frog teeth are very different in shape compared to mammals. While frog teeth have small, cone-like teeth, mammals have different shapes and sizes because they serve specific purposes, unlike frog teeth that only have the goal of holding food back.

Toads Do Not Have Teeth

As a general rule, toads do not have teeth, contrary to most frogs that have both maxillary and vomerine teeth in their upper jaw. Toads are ambush predators meaning they sit and wait for food to come to them and do not require teeth to hold back their prey.

Although frogs and toads share many similarities, toads do not have teeth. This is because they do not need help from their teeth to catch, hold, or retain their prey which they prefer to ambush without warning. The frog I had as a kid that roamed my backyard was actually a toad, and so I know now that he did not have any teeth. And it makes sense as to why,

Many frogs hunt their food and will chase after it, giving their prey time to realize they are about to be eaten. The prey may fight back in the frog’s mouth, and their teeth help hold their food down and into their bellies. Whereas toads stun their prey and catch it by surprise. A toad’s food generally has no idea it is about to be eaten, so the toad has enough time to catch it off guard and send it directly to its stomach without the need for teeth to hold it back.

Learn more about toad teeth and if toads can bite in our dedicated article on our blog.

Frogs May Bite Out of Self-Defense

Most frogs generally do not use their teeth as a defense mechanism as frog teeth are designed to hold back food, not to chew or bite. This is especially true for smaller frogs that tend to have tiny teeth. However, large aggressive frogs may have a strong bite that can draw blood.

The good news is, most frogs do not bite out of self-defense unless they are very large and aggressive like the African Bullfrog or Pac-Man Frog. These larger-size frogs prey on larger food such as mice, small lizards, bats, and small birds. Their teeth tend to be more noticeable and sharp, and they may bite if they feel threatened or think your finger is food. 

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However, most frogs (especially smaller ones) do not have teeth designed to produce a very strong bite. If you do end up with a frog bite, it may be somewhat painful. Relax, and the frog will release its grip. Keep in mind that frogs cannot inject their poison with a bite.

If a frog bites you:

  • The best thing to do is to stay calm and let the frog release its bite naturally. Flailing your hands around can harm the frog and won’t do much for releasing its bite.
  • Immediately wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If the bite drew blood, also clean it with some antiseptic and place a bandaid over it.
  • Frogs may carry salmonella so seek professional medical treatment if the pain intensifies or if you develop other symptoms.

Learn more about how frogs defend themselves in this article on our blog.

Most frogs have teeth, but they are not made to chew their food. Instead, a frog relies on its maxillary and vomerine teeth (both found in the maxilla) to assist in the eating process. These teeth are difficult to see with the human eye and are not used as a defense mechanism most of the time (CTNF).

More About Frog Teeth

Lean more about toad teeth, frog anatomy and frog self defence in the following articles on our blog:

Common Questions About Frog Teeth

What are Frog Teeth Used For? Fros have two types of teeth in their upper jaw: maxillary and vomerine, and both work together to hold the prey in place and help the frog swallow it whole. Frogs do not use their teeth to chew their food like most mammals.

Do Frogs Have Mandible Teeth? The only frog species that had teeth in their upper (maxilla) and lower (mandible) jaws were the Gastrotheca Guentheri. Generally, frogs only have maxillary and vomerine teeth that can be found in their maxilla.

Can Frogs Bite? Frogs can bite and may bite if they believe they see food. If you wave your finger in front of a frog it may bite you thinking that your finger is food. If this happens, do not worry and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Do Frogs Lose Their Teeth? Frogs regularly lose their teeth that are then replaced by others fairly quickly. Just like they shed their skin, frogs shed their teeth when they are loose or no longer sharp enough to fulfill their function.

Sources

Wiens, J.J. (2011), RE-EVOLUTION OF LOST MANDIBULAR TEETH IN FROGS AFTER MORE THAN 200 MILLION YEARS, AND RE-EVALUATING DOLLO’S LAW. Evolution, 65: 1283-1296. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01221.x

Davit-Beal, Tiphaine & Chisaka, Hideki & Delgado, Sidney & Sire, J-Y. (2007). Amphibian teeth: Current knowledge, unanswered questions, and some directions for future research. Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. 82. 49-81. 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2006.00003.x.

Mark W. Herr, Johana Goyes Vallejos, Camila G. Meneses, Robin K. Abraham, Rayanna Otterholt, Cameron D. Siler, Edmund Leo B. Rico, Rafe M. Brown; A New, Morphologically Cryptic Species of Fanged Frog, Genus Limnonectes (Amphibia: Anura: Dicroglossidae), from Mindoro Island, Central Philippines. Ichthyology & Herpetology 1 May 2021; 109 (1): 188–210. doi: https://doi.org/10.1643/h2020095