Frogs are quirky little critters, and they have all kinds of interesting behaviors. Whether they are hopping, swimming, hunting, walking, or even just sitting there being adorable, frogs are a joy to observe.
However, sometimes frogs do things that are a little unusual!
While new behaviors can be exciting and interesting, they can also be indicators that something is wrong in the frog’s environment or that the frog is experiencing a health issue. It’s a good idea to read up on any new behaviors.
If you’ve stumbled upon this article, you might have seen your frog lying upside down and wondering what’s going on with your little friend.
Why do frogs lie upside down?
Frogs lie upside down for several reasons. It could be that they simply lost their balance, are stressed, or are feeling threatened and are trying to defend themselves. However, sometimes frogs lie upside down due to exposure to toxins, sickness, neurological problems, or death. That’s why it’s best to take your frog to the vet.
As you can see, there is a wide variety of reasons that frogs lie upside down. Hopefully, this article will shed some light on the reason for your frog’s behavior. Lying upside down isn’t a normal frog activity, and you may need to take your little buddy to the vet.
With that being said, let’s learn more about why frogs lie upside down!
7 Reasons Frogs Lie Upside Down
The reasons that frogs lie upside down range from mild to severe. A frog lying on its back may be the result of simple clumsiness, or it could be a sign of an underlying health issue.
Reason 1. They Lost Their Balance
Frogs aren’t always the epitome of grace. Sometimes they lose their balance and fall over when trying to climb something, or they fail to land an epic jump, like the tiny frogs (Brachycephalus pernix) in the video above.
If you notice your frog lying upside down by some object in its vivarium, it is likely that your frog toppled over and is unable to right itself.
If your frog cannot flip back over, it is important that you place your frog right-side-up immediately. This is especially true if it has fallen into its water dish. If your frog is unable to right itself, it can drown. Make sure your frog’s water dish isn’t too deep for it to climb out of!
It is also a good idea to keep a close eye on your amphibious friend to see if this was a one-time occurrence. If you notice your frog is repeatedly having balance issues, even with a shallow water dish, it is time to take a trip to the vet.
Reason 2. Stress
When they are startled by something, frogs sometimes flip onto their backs in their panic to get away. When captive frogs lie upside down, it is often a sign of severe stress.
Something may have spooked your frog, or it is experiencing some other kind of discomfort due to illness or its environment, which we will talk about later.
If you see your frog lying on its back, you should first rule out incorrect parameters. What is the humidity of the vivarium? The temperature? Are these readings in your frog’s desirable range?
Aquatic frogs lie upside down when their water parameters are out-of-whack, like if the water is too cold.
Problems with humidity or temperature are easily fixed. If you realize that there is a problem with these parameters, correct them and see if your frog’s behavior changes.
If your frog is still lying on its back even with correct environmental conditions, it may be a sign that something more serious is going on.
Reason 3. Defense
Some frogs lie upside down when they feel threatened because it is their defense mechanism! One frog that lies upside down to deter predators is the fire-bellied toad.
Fire-bellied toads get their name from their bright red-orange underbellies with bold black markings. This is a form of aposematic coloration – bright colors that warn predators that an animal is toxic or doesn’t taste very good.
These popular pet frogs secrete a mild toxin that irritates mucous membranes, like those in the mouth. Predators learn to associate this unpleasant sensation with the fire-bellied toad’s bright coloration, and they leave them alone.
However, fire-bellied toads’ warning colors are only on their undersides – the rest of their bodies are a typical froggy-green. To show off that beautiful aposematic coloration, these frogs perform what is called the unken reflex, which consists of frogs lifting themselves up on their front legs and arching their backs.
If that isn’t enough to deter the threat, the frogs lie upside down, giving the predator a full view of their warning hues.
Other frogs, like the leaf litter frog and floating rocket frog, lie upside down to play dead. In the science world, this process is called thanatosis and is characterized by a motionless body with relaxed limbs. If you touch the leg of a frog in thanatosis, it might not even react!
While thanatosis occurs in both brightly and cryptically colored frogs, research suggests that it is more common in cryptically colored frogs, because these frogs usually do not have strong toxins to defend themselves.
Reason 4. Toxins And Chemicals
As amphibians, frogs have highly permeable skin and are sensitive to chemicals and other compounds in the air and water. Frogs lie upside down when they are “toxed out” – a term referring to when a frog is experiencing the effects of some kind of toxin that has been absorbed through the skin.
Toxins can be natural or artificial. If you go too long without cleaning your enclosure, your frog’s waste products will cause a build-up of nitrogenous compounds in the substrate and water.
Frogs produce urea as a waste product. If the tank is not cleaned regularly – and this includes the water bowl – compounds like ammonia and nitrate will build up in the frog’s environment.
The frog absorbs these compounds through its skin and may exhibit symptoms including muscle spasms, listlessness, and uncoordinated jumping. These behaviors could lead to frogs lying upside down.
To avoid this, spot-clean your frog’s enclosure at least every few days. Change out your substrate if you notice mold or unpleasant odors. The length of time between substrate changes will vary based on your setup. This could be anywhere from 1 month to 6 months, or even years!
Furthermore, frogs can be impacted by other chemicals like cleaning agents and air fresheners, as well as chlorine in tap water. Be careful of using chemicals around your frog’s tank and dechlorinate any water that your frog will come into contact with using a frog-safe water conditioner.
Sometimes aquatic frogs lie on their backs due to toxins in their water. Before you even get your frogs, make sure you cycle their aquarium! This will reduce the chance of ammonia building up in your tank and harming your froggies.
Weekly partial water changes will reduce other potentially harmful compounds, like nitrate. Keeping your water as clean as possible will ensure your frogs stay healthy and happy!
Reason 5. Sickness
Like all other living creatures, unfortunately, frogs can get sick. If you see a frog lying on its back, there is a chance that is feeling under the weather.
One ailment that can make frogs lie upside down is a bacterial infection. Other symptoms of bacterial infections include loss of balance, lethargy, pale or grey color, and bloating.
Bacterial infections can be caused by an unclean environment or contaminated water. Frogs are more likely to develop bacterial infections if their immune systems are weakened due to malnutrition, stress, or overcrowding.
Maintaining good husbandry is critical for preventing the development of bacterial infections and other medical conditions.
Reason 6. Seizures
One of the more serious reasons that frogs lie upside down is an underlying neurological issue.
Sometimes, frogs lie upside down during or after having seizures. Other symptoms of seizures in frogs include muscle spasms, unconsciousness, and labored breathing. The frog in the video above appears to be having a mild seizure, as evidenced by its twitching legs.
Seizures can have a variety of causes, from congenital abnormalities, exposure to toxins, illness, head trauma, severe stress, parasites, or calcium deficiency.
Calcium deficiency, or hypocalcemia, is caused by insufficient calcium or vitamin D3, which is needed by reptiles and amphibians to process calcium. It can also be caused by an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus.
Frogs need more calcium than phosphorus – if they have too much of the latter, it will interfere with the frog’s absorption of calcium!
Hypocalcemia can make frogs lie upside down due to the seizures it causes.
While all the talk of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D3 can seem overwhelming, you can easily avoid nutritional issues by dusting your frog’s prey with a calcium supplement (with vitamin D3!) twice a week and a multivitamin once a week.
Reason 7. Death
Unfortunately, frogs are mortal. Another reason frogs lie upside down is because they have transcended this earthly plane.
In other words, frogs lie upside down because they may have passed away.
As we have discussed, there are many other reasons that frogs lie upside down, so it can be difficult to know when a frog is dead.
Deceased frogs will quickly become dried and shriveled. Closely examine the frog for signs of breathing. You can gently warm your pet frog in your hands to make sure it isn’t just cold.
If you see a frog out in the wild you believe to be deceased, it is best to leave it be.
It Probably Isn’t Because They Are Relaxing
While we humans lay on our backs to relax, frogs do not. Even when they are sleeping, hibernating, or just chilling, frogs are usually right-side up.
If a frog is floating, swimming, or lying upside down, it probably isn’t okay. The exception to this is when frogs are in amplexus. Sometimes during mating, aquatic frogs end up upside down in the water.
My Frog Is Lying Upside Down! Should I Be Worried?
Lying upside down is not the normal behavior of happy and healthy frogs. It is possible that something startled the frog, or it simply lost its balance or failed to land a jump.
However, many of the reasons frogs lie upside down are negative – like incorrect parameters, exposure to toxins, sickness, or neurological problems. If you repeatedly find your frog lying on its back, you need to reevaluate its care and take it to the vet.
It may be nothing serious, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
As you have learned, frogs lie upside down for all kinds of reasons – but none of them are good.
While they have many wonderful qualities, frogs do not have the ability to tell us what is wrong with them. It is up to you – the frog keeper – to closely observe your frog’s behavior to determine if they are healthy and happy.
As always, fully research the species of frog you keep to ensure you are meeting all of its needs and be prepared to take your little friend to the vet if anything is amiss!