What Do Frogs Eat? Guide to the Natural Diet of Frogs in Ponds & Gardens.
Backyard ponds are a favorite place for all water-loving frogs. Even a tiny puddle of water can draw in these leggy amphibians and make them jump about in glee. Cool and clean water isn’t the only thing that attracts them, but it sure is a huge plus. It’s the aquatic ecosystem in the pond itself that serves as an irresistible lure. All outdoor ponds, especially those left to nature’s devices, can sustain a food chain that perfectly accommodates a hungry frog.
In the wild, the frog diet is associated with the species of frog and depends on the food types that are readily available. Some frogs can be more voracious than others, eating almost anything that can wriggle and fit into their mouths. Others are more selective and prefer prey types that are found on specific plants. In general, adult frogs love insects, worms, and slugs. Some aggressive ones, such as the South American horned frog (Ceratophrys spp.), will even go for small vertebrates.
Luckily, the common frogs that visit our garden ponds tend to be more friendly! These species are usually nocturnal and fall under the Ranidae family, which includes bullfrogs, pickerel frogs, green frogs, and the common frog (Rana temporaria). While these frogs tend to feed on the interface between water and land, they may occasionally seek food from within the pond itself. If you have an ornamental pond, you would perhaps be concerned about frogs eating your fish.
Will Frogs Eat My Fish?
The answer to this question depends less on the frog’s typical diet and more on the size of the frog relative to the size of your fish. A fully grown frog can lie in wait, camouflaged by your pond’s marginal and floating fronds, eyeing for unsuspecting passersby. A small fish, such as a guppy or a minnow, may, unfortunately, be a satisfying main course for your hungry resident frog. You may find yourself wondering where all the small fish have gone come morning!
Larger ornamental fish, such as koi and orfes, are less likely to be frog prey due to their sheer size. Their offspring, however, can easily be consumed by frogs. Tadpoles, which are initially herbivores that feed on algae, are able to consume fish eggs and hatchlings after a few weeks to months of development.
Due to their small-medium size as pond fish, goldfish lie in the grey area when it comes to being frog prey. Large frogs (e.g. bullfrogs) may consume small goldfish, especially if they prefer to keep close to your pond’s edges. If your pond is filled with small, highly valuable fish, it may be necessary for you to place a barrier around your pond. This is advisable during the rainy periods of the year, as this is when frogs are likely to search for ponds to serve as breeding sites.
Frogs as a Form of Pest Control in Ponds & Gardens
When present in controlled numbers, native frogs can collectively be a mechanism for pest control. Their preference for insects makes them desirable wild visitors in areas that are plagued by seasonal increases in mosquito, fly, cricket, and snail populations. A single frog can eat thousands of insects in just a few seasons. A particularly hungry one can even gobble up as many as a hundred tiny insects in a single night!
Frogs can also help keep your pond plants devoid of leafy eaters that would otherwise graze shoots to the ground. Caterpillars, snails, grasshoppers, and beetles may occur in harmful numbers if their populations aren’t kept in check. Frogs are a vital part of every healthy and natural ecosystem as they play a central role in the food chain. Do be aware that they may also attract larger predators, such as snakes, birds, and small mammals, to your area.
Frog Cannibalism in the Pond
Though ponds are rife with potential food sources for frogs, they may sometimes attempt to eat one another. This typically occurs between different species (as cross-species predation), but may also be observed between conspecifics. Food shortages, an overabundance of frogs, or significant differences across their size distribution may account for this behavior, but even amphibian researchers are still befuddled.
Tadpoles may occasionally cannibalize on one another too. This is more unusual than adult frogs eating one another as it seems to occur only when desirable food types are scarce. One thing’s for sure – at the end of the day, frog cannibalism still serves to control their populations in the wild. Nonetheless, we can only hope it doesn’t lead to them wiping one another out as their natural habitats increasingly disappear.
Best Time to Observe Hungry Frogs
Frogs going about their day-to-day activities can be great fun to watch. Observing them feed can be a vital learning experience for young children. As they are nocturnal animals, they mostly feed and move around the pond under the protection of darkness.
An early evening visit to the pondside, when the sun has yet to fully set, may already provide you with some fantastic sights. Frogs may begin to emerge from their hiding places in search of food. You’ll have to pay close attention, as their tongues can flit out of their mouths and come into contact with prey in under a split second – faster than the human eye can blink!
Another way to attract insects as prey to your pond would be to place a night light close to the pond’s perimeter. You’ll find that this will also attract many insect predators, including lizards and frogs. As always, make sure that there is adult supervision throughout every pondside activity that involves children as observers.
Should I Feed Frogs in My Pond?
If your pond is naturalized with native plants both within and around its perimeter, you can be certain that any visiting frogs will not be hard-pressed to find food. Wildlife ponds are perfect sources of prey for frogs as they house many primary consumers, which include insects, worms, and small fish. Moreover, they open up a wealth of niches and serve as breeding grounds for several semi-aquatic animals.
Feeding wild frogs can, in fact, disrupt their role in the food chain. While it can be tempting to give them food as a means to keep them in your pond, keep in mind that this may do your ecosystem more harm than good. There’s no need to worry about frogs finding food as they are instinctive hunters. Here’s a better way to keep frogs close to your pond: encourage their prey to establish populations there. This simply means increasing the structural diversity of your pond in an effort to increase its biodiversity!
Do Toads & Frogs Eat the Same Things?
Toads are basically a sub-classification of frogs under the order Anura. Toads and frogs eat pretty much the same types of food in ponds. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that toad tadpoles can be quite carnivorous compared to those of frogs.
Some toad tadpoles are excellent hunters. They can eat small fish, along with tadpoles of other amphibians and those of their conspecifics. Moreover, they tend to secrete a toxin that makes them unpalatable to predators (including fish). Spadefoot toad tadpoles are known for being ravenous predators, with meat consumption intensifying their growth rate. While you can rest easy with a few frogs around your ornamental pond, it may be necessary to watch out for toads as their offspring can be more dangerous around fish.