How to Know If a Wild Frog is Dying

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I was out in nature looking for frogs when one of them suddenly fell from a tree, lied on its back, and looked dead. It’s the frog in the photo above, and as you can see it was just playing dead. Sometimes it can be hard to know if a frog is actually dead, or just playing dead. But frogs generally show some very clear external symptoms to indicate they are ill, dying, or dead.

Signs that indicate a frog is dying include discolored skin, cuts, bruises, bleeding, lethargy, and disorientation. Signs a frog is dead include closed eyes, no breathing, dull coloration, floating in water with no movement, or lying belly up. 

There are enough visible indications you can see on a wild frog to determine whether it is dying or not. However, be careful not to confuse a dead frog with a frog that is hibernating or playing dead.

Signs That Indicate A Wild Frog is Dying or Dead

Frogs may die from lack of food, lack of water (dried up ponds), low oxygen levels in the water, drowning, dehydration, pollution, predator attacks, stress, sickness, pathogens, viral or bacterial diseases, or old age. Frogs often die trying to cross roads due to urbanization and deforestation.

Here are some visible indicators that show a wild frog may be dying

  • Skin appears discolored
  • Ulcers (open wounds) anywhere on the frog’s body
  • Bleeding
  • Appears very lethargic
  • Appears disorientated 
  • Limbs are breaking down
  • Not eating
  • Sudden or gradual weight loss
  • Not sloughing (cleaning and eating its dead skin)

Here are some indicators that show a wild frog may be dead

  • Eyes are closed with no breathing movement
  • A limp body that is very close to the ground
  • Their color is dull or is turning white
  • They are not moving for a long time
  • Arms and legs are spread out on the ground
  • They are laying with their bellies up
  • Their tongue is hanging out of their mouths
  • A rotten smell is coming from them
  • Flies or maggots are on them

Keep in mind though that frogs may be hibernating or playing dead to avoid predators. We will cover this in more detail further below but always remember to observe wild frogs with caution and avoid touching them.

What to Do If You Find a Dead or Dying Frog

For the frog’s safety and your safety, the best thing to do is to leave sick or dying wild frogs alone. This is because wild frogs may carry viral or bacterial diseases, and dead frogs are even more prone to being carriers of such sicknesses. Sick or dying wild frogs may or may not recover and should be left alone.

However, if you notice unusual frog mortality in a large group of frogs, then you should take action and call your local wildlife department to report the incident:

Report Unusual Frog MortalityCountryWebsitePhone Number
USGSUSAanswers.usgs.gov1-888-275-8747
Ministry of the Environment,
Conservation, and Parks
Canadaontario.ca1-800-268-6060
Frog Watch – British ColumbiaCanadagov.bc.caN/A
SOS Braconnage – QuebecCanadamffp.gouv.qc.ca1-800-463-2191
Department of Environment
and Science
Australiades.qld.gov.au13-74-68
Frog ID, by Australian MuseumAustraliaReport it to the App
Frog Mortality ProjectUKN/A01733-558444
FroglifeUKfroglife.orgN/A
Garden Wildlife HelpUKgardenwildlifehealth.org020-7449-6685
Schönbrunner Tiergarten GmbHAustriazoovienna.at43-650-420-2955
Ghent UniversityBelgiumugent.beN/A
Genoa UniversityItalydistav.unige.it39-010-3538027
Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle
et Evolutive
Francealerte-amphibien.frN/A

But before you pick up the phone, make sure that the frogs you are observing are not hibernating, estivating, or playing dead.

Hibernating & Estivating Frogs May Look Dead

In colder seasons with low temperatures, frogs tend to go into hibernation. The frog will find a space that it can hibernate in, a place that will protect it from the harsh winter weather and potential predators called a hibernaculum. Toads hibernate underground, aquatic frogs hibernate underwater, and tree frogs freeze and hibernate under leaf litter.

Do not disturb hibernating frogs or toads. If you find any hibernating amphibians at the start of winter or during the winter months, be sure to cover it back up as it was and leave it alone to increase its chances of survival (CTNF).

If a toad is found hibernating underground in its hibernaculum, or a tree frog is found on the forest floor during Winter, it may appear dead. If you happen to find a frog during cold seasons, you should assume it is not dead and you should not interact with it or interfere with its surrounding environment.

Similar to this situation are estivating frogs that generally enter a hibernation-like state during dry seasons in hot environments. If you live in South America or Australia and find an inactive, lethargic frog during the hot season, leave it alone. It may be estivating to avoid the hot months and will become active again during the Rainy or Wet season.

Frogs May Play Dead

Frogs may play dead as a defense mechanism to deter predators. A frog that plays dead usually has its eyes shut, layin on its back with its belly up, possibly with its legs and arms in the air. If you find a frog in this still position for more than a few minutes, it is probably already dead.

If you find a frog in the position described above, leave it alone for a few minutes and come back to know if it is dead or simply playing dead. The frog I spoke about at the beginning of this article was just playing dead and was back on its feet a few minutes after I found it. Watch it happen in the video below where I went looking for Spring Peeper.

More About Frogs And How to Help

Now you know how to tell whether a frog is dying, dead, hibernating, or playing dead. Be sure to report any unusual deaths of groups of frogs to your Wildlife Department to help frogs in your location.