How Do Frogs Eat?

If you ever watched how frogs eat their prey, you probably noticed that they eat in the most interesting way. I loved watching my pet toad lick up potato bugs when I was a kid. The first time I saw a frog eat, I thought it was choking! But frogs simply eat in a way I had never seen before.

Frogs generally spot their prey, lick it up with their long sticky tongue, and then swallow it whole and alive. Frogs use their eyes to push prey down into their stomach where it generally dies. The prey is then fully digested and excreted. 

Few animals swallow their food without chewing, and even less are known to suck up their prey using their long sticky tongue. Let’s have a look at the fascinating way frogs eat in more detail.

Slo-Mo Walkthrough of How Frogs Eat!

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1. The Frog Spots The Prey

Frogs spend most of their time answering one of two questions: “Can I eat this?” or “Can this eat me?” From these two questions comes one of two decisions: Flee or Eat. Frogs generally attempt to eat whatever fits in their mouth and is moving, and flee predators.

I loved to watch my pet toad spot potato bugs. He would turn his body toward the prey and bow his eye towards it as if to wonder, “can I eat this?”

If the answer was yes, it did not take much time for Toady to scoop up the bug. If the frog encounters a predator, it may instead use a defense mechanism to escape.

I saw this toad hunting a bug that was too big for it. The bug played dead and the toad gave up

Frogs generally feast on anything that can fit into their mouth including invertebrates, small mammals, small lizards, small freshwater shrimp or fish, and smaller frogs.

Frogs like to eat beetles, cockroaches, dragonflies, grubs, larvae, minnows, moths, roaches, slugs, small birds, small frogs, small bats, small snakes, and smaller frogs.

At this point, the frog may get into “stealth mode” – or just wait for the prey to become unsuspecting that there is anything in its path.

The frog may act like a rock, becomimmobile, waiting until the time is right to dive into the next step in their feeding process.

2. The Frog Licks Up The Prey

Once a frog has spotted prey that is moving and is small enough to fit in its mouth, it eats it by darting its tongue at the food and wrapping it up in its saliva. The sticky saliva helps hold the prey to their tongue and the roll gesture helps trap and direct the live prey into their mouth.

Unlike most other animals, frogs use their long sticky tongue to catch prey. Most animals use their hands and teeth, but frogs do not have nimble fingers or useful teeth.

Toads do not have teeth at all, and most frogs have teeth that only allow them to hold prey back, not to chew their prey.

I saw this toad eating a bug

Frog tongues are muscle tissue used primarily for hunting prey. This extremely soft appendage is 10x softer than a human tongue, typically 1/3 the length of a frog’s body, and is coated in unique reversible saliva that can both liquefy and solidify in order to capture and maintain its grip (Alexis, 2017).

Frogs capture their prey with their tongue by covering them in some of the stickiest saliva known to science made from a non-Newtonian fluid.

This saliva is secreted from thousands of mucus glands and transforms from a liquid to a solid and back, making it easy to catch and grip insects.

3. The Frog Swallows The Prey

Frogs do not chew their food, they suffocate or drown their food in their stomach acid by licking it up and swallowing it whole and alive. Frogs only have teeth to hold back their prey and toads do not have teeth at all.

Frogs teeth are designed to clutch onto the food and maneuver it down their gullet.

Once the food is in their mouth, the frog retracts its eyes into its head to force prey down its throat. Therefore, frogs swallow using their tongue and eyes. 

A frog or toad may naturally wipe its face after ingesting its prey

However, because a frog’s saliva is usually thick when not enveloping prey, it can be difficult to swallow, particularly when an insect is also in its mouth.

To solve this issue, the frog will swallow by closing its eyes to push its eyeballs down into its head because the force of this action re-liquifies its saliva and makes swallowing easier.

4. The Frog Digests The Prey

Once swallowed, the prey travels to the stomach through the esophagus and generally dies suffocated or drown in the frog’s stomach acid. The prey is broken down while it travels through the small intestine which absorbs the nutrients from the food. 

The broken down prey will also travel through the liver and pancreas to create the digestive enzymes needed to break down food and convert them into nutrients to feed the frog.

The food will also travel through the frog’s large intestine and finish by exiting the external cloaca.

5. The Frog Excretes The Prey

At the end of a frog’s digestive system is the anus, which is the external portion of the cloaca. The external cloaca is used for excretion and reproduction.

This is the end of the journey for the eaten prey which will be left to fertilize wherever the frog decides to excrete its remains.

At this point, you may be wondering if frogs have butts. Well, frogs do not have well-defined human-like buttcheeks since frogs do not sit on their rear ends at a 90° angle as humans do.

Frogs generally have a pointed or rounded vent (or butt). However, some frogs do have what look like human-like buttcheeks.

More About How Frogs Eat

Fun Fact: An aquatic beetle called Regimbartia attenuata is capable of escaping the vent of a frog by provoking the frog to excrete and help it escape its digestive system (CTNF).

Learn even more about what and how frogs eat in these articles on our blog:

Common Questions Related to How Frogs Eat

How do frogs eat? Frogs generally spot their prey, lick it up with their long sticky tongue, and then swallow it whole and alive. Frogs then use their eyes to push prey down into their stomach where it generally dies. It enters the digestive system and is excreted. 

How do frogs eat without teeth? Frogs eat by swallowing their food live and whole. Their prey generally suffocates in the esophagus or dies in the frog’s stomach acid. Frogs also use their eyes by retracting them into their heads to swallow their prey, pushing it down their throat.

What do frogs eat? Frogs generally eat about anything that can fit into their mouths. Small frogs eat smaller prey such as ants, snails, crickets, spiders, mosquitoes and moths. Larger frogs also eat mice, small bats, small fish, small snakes and smaller frogs.

Why is a frog’s tongue sticky? Frogs use their tongue to eat their prey live and whole, and so their tongue is sticky to ensure the prey does not get away. The prey sticks to the frog’s tongue when the frog catches it and is rolled up in saliva and pushed into the frog’s gullet using their sticky tongue. 

Do frogs have 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 swallow their prey.

Do toads 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.

Sources

Alexis C. Noel, Hao-Yuan Guo, Mark Mandica, David L. Hu. Frogs use a viscoelastic tongue and non-Newtonian saliva to catch prey. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 2017; 14 (127): 20160764 DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2016.0764

Daniella Master Herpetologist

Daniella is a Master Herpetologist and the founder of toadsnfrogs.com, a website dedicated to educating the general population on frogs by meeting them where they are in their online Google Search. Daniella is passionate about frogs and put her digital marketing skills and teaching experience to good use by creating these helpful resources to encourage better education, understanding, and care for frogs.