When you think of pets that bite, frogs aren’t usually at the top of the list. Frogs are typically thought of as docile and calm but they still have large mouths and powerful jaws…
So do frogs bite and does it hurt?
Yes, frogs can bite although the frequency will depend on the species. Any frog that feels threatened or frightened may turn to biting for defense and others may confuse your finger with food. Frog bites are uncomfortable but not especially painful or dangerous and most frogs will be unable to break the skin.
That’s the quick answer but let’s take a closer look at frog bites and cover everything you need to know.
Why Do Frogs Bite?
The motivation behind frog bites usually falls into one of two categories: fear or food. While some species of frogs are more aggressive than others and may be quicker to bite (looking at you Pacman frog) even these more aggressive species are usually motivated by either fear or food.
Frogs that feel threatened will bite out of self-defense. There is usually clear body language leading up to a bite related to self-defense and the majority of frogs will try to get away from whatever is agitating them before they bite. Again, this will greatly depend on species and aggressive frogs like the Pacman frog will usually just go for the bite.
Other frogs may confuse your hand, or more often your finger, with their next meal. This can easily be avoided with the use of tongs, avoiding wiggling your finger at your frog, and just being aware of whether or not your frog is hungry.
Frogs aren’t exactly the smartest creatures so it doesn’t take much for them to mix up food and fingers. Some frogs, like the Pacman frog, are notorious for being quick to chomp on a finger during mealtime and you can check out the eager frog in the video below for an example:
Do Frog Bites Hurt?
Frog bites can hurt but in most cases, it’s more startling than it is painful. It’s safe to say you weren’t expecting your frog to bite and you’ll probably be surprised at just how fast a frog can be! Larger and more powerful species like African bullfrogs and horned frogs can draw blood.
It’s safe to say that getting bit by just about any creature isn’t an enjoyable experience and it’s no different with frogs. Still, you’re not going to lose a finger or break a bone from a frog bite so in terms of animal bites they’re quite mild.
Do Frogs Have Teeth?
Yes, most frogs have teeth! But unlike our teeth, which are used to chew up food, frogs primarily use their teeth to restrain their prey before swallowing. There’s a huge amount of variation in the type of teeth that frogs have but most have something that could be called teeth.
Frog teeth are actually a fascinating sign of complicated and confusing evolutionary history as scientists suspect that frog species have gained and lost their teeth dozens of times. That seems to have led to a wide range of teeth types and most frogs have maxillary and premaxillary teeth (part of the upper jaw).
Other frogs have vomerine teeth which are those found on the front of the mouth. Researchers found that the vomerine teeth (the ones in the front of the mouth) “are the most variable in frogs, being present in 202 species and absent in 226.”
When it comes to frog bites, these teeth rarely cause damage and they’re really designed to hold prey in place more than they’re designed to hurt creatures. However, the big exception are larger frogs that not only generate more power but also have larger teeth.
Frogs like the African bullfrog immediately comes to mind and you can see the imposing vomerine teeth on the African bullfrog in this video:
What To Do If A Frog Bites You?
If you’re bitten by a frog, the first thing you need to do is stay calm and avoid jerking your hand back suddenly or shaking your hand which can not only harm the frog but may also make any potential injury worse. Instead, let the frog detach themself from you which will usually happen quite quickly and even Pacman frogs will eventually let go.
Once the frog is no longer attached to you, it’s time to wash your hand and the area of the bite. Even you don’t see blood or a wound, it’s a good idea to wash the area in case there’s a small bite you’re not able to see right away.
Salmonella can spread more quickly in open wounds so you’ll want to extra precautions if the frog bite does draw blood. Salmonella is by far the largest zoonotic concern when it comes to frogs and open wounds only increase the risk.
How Strong Is A Frog’s Bite?
We’ve mentioned several times that different frogs have different bite forces but which frogs are the winner when it comes to having the most powerful bite?
Surprisingly, this has been extensively studied and we know that the small horned frog has a bite force of 30 Newtons (roughly 6.5 pounds of force) and a larger horned frog can have a bite force of 500 Newtons (a whopping 112 pounds of force)!
That makes the various species of horned frogs the clear winners when it comes to bite force. Even though 30 Newtons might not sound like a lot of force, remember that this amount of force is dispersed over a small surface area (your finger) so if you’re bitten by a horned frog it can be quite a painful experience.
Scientists found that the size of the head was the most important factor in determining bite force. Frogs with a 45mm skull produced the 30 Newton bites while frogs with 100mm skulls were able to produce the 500 Newton bites. That means that doubling in size produces more than 15 times the bite force. Scientists plotted the relationship between head size and bite force on a graph that you can see here.
Using this data, scientists were able to speculate that the now extinct Beelzebufo ampinga would have an even more powerful bite than any modern frog that was likely able to produce 2,200 Newtons of force. That’s a bite force comparable to a wolf or female tiger and these big frogs would hunt small dinosaurs!
But these frogs have long been extinct and their closest relatives are the eager Pacman or horned frogs.
However, these bite forces are specific to horned frogs and other frogs that lack the same powerful skull shape won’t be able to produce the same level of power. Because of the obvious lack of power, other frog species haven’t been covered.
So when it comes to bite force, the horned frogs and their extinct relative are the clear winners.
And if you’re wondering just how scientists were able to test the bite force of these frogs in the first place, you can see their method in action in this video:
Can A Frog Bite Your Finger Off?
There’s no living frog that would be able to bite a human’s finger off or do much harm other than causing a small wound. However, the now extinct Beelzebufo ampinga was large enough that they could have potentially pulled it off (pun intended) but no modern frog really comes close.
With all this talk about bite force, it’s easy to let our imaginations run off with us but it’s very unlikely that a frog will do any real damage which definitely includes removing a digit!
Are Frog Bites Venomous?
While the power behind the bites may not be concerning, things could certainly change if frogs are able to inject poison into the wound.
But luckily, this is extremely uncommon and there are only two known frogs that are considered venomous:
- Greening’s frog (Corythomantis greeningi)
- Bruno’s casque-headed frog (Aparasphenodon brunoi)
It’s also worth clarifying the difference between venomous species and poisonous ones. To be considered venomous, a frog would have to inject their poison via a bite or stinger and act as the one taking action. Poisonous frogs, on the other hand, release their poison when they’re bitten or when the predator acts as the aggressor.
So while there are many poison frogs (there are over 100 species of poison dart frogs alone) there are only two frogs that inject their poison via a bite.
Both of these species have tiny spines around the edges of their skull that act as fangs or teeth by which the venom can be injected via a bite. So not only are they unique in the fact that they’re venomous but their delivery method is pretty unusual too since they don’t actually have teeth.
Bruno’s casque-headed frog carries the more potent venom and a single gram is enough to kill 80 humans. Greening’s frog isn’t as deadly but it still causes extreme pain and discomfort, as one researcher had to find out the hard way.
As scary as that sounds, most folks are very unlikely to ever encounter either of these venomous frogs which are found deep in the rainforests of Brazil and understandably not part of the pet trade.
Are Some Frogs More Likely To Bite Than Others?
Most frogs have been (fairly) accused of being walking stomachs and these little guys didn’t earn that reputation by being shy around food. Most frogs will bite you if they think you’re food and this happens all the time with hand feeding.
Other species like the Pacman frog (the horned frog), African bullfrog, and Budgett’s frog are all well known for having a low threshold for biting. Whether that’s to triple check that your finger isn’t edible or to not-so-politely let you know that you’ve entered their space these frogs are rarely shy about biting.
Even though you don’t need to worry about encountering a biting frog in your day-to-day life (luckily) if you’re keeping frogs as pets then bites are something you need to be aware of. Especially if you’re keeping bigger frogs or species that are quick to bite.
But even the horned frogs, which have the most powerful bite, are unlikely to break the skin or do more than startle you.
Still, it’s a good idea to practice good feeding habits and make sure your frog doesn’t associate your finger with their next snack to greatly decrease the chances of a bite occurring.
What do you think?