Ants biting amphibians: a review and new observations

Open access


Antagonistic interactions between insects and amphibians are the subject of many scientific articles, mostly concerning amphibian predation on insect, but many fewer examples exist of the opposite situation. In this article we review available information from the literature and add our own observations collected during amphibian pitfall trap monitoring in 2012–2016 in Western Poland, as well as discuss potential conservation implications of observed behavior. We identified a total of 29 cases involving 94 individual ants attacking four species of Anura, Rana temporaria, Pelophylax esculentus complex, Bufo bufo, and Pelobates fuscus, and biting their back, cloaca, armpits, or hind legs. Bites were inflicted by three ant species: Myrmica rubra, Lasius fuliginosus, and Formica polyctena. The number of ants found on an amphibian was positively and significantly correlated with its body length. To date, direct damage by ants on amphibians was reported mainly from the tropics in general predation accident. However, as we document here, it is probably a more common phenomenon, especially in some ecological traps or during pitfall trapping, which is a common method to mitigate road mortality of frogs and toads.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Bernard R. & Samoląg J. (2014) An event of underground predation on a wintering caudate amphibian by a carabid beetle. Entomologica Fennica 25 157–160.

  • Brown D.J. DeVolld B. Nowlin W.H. & Forstner M.R. (2012) Fire ants in houston toad habitat: annual activity and responses to canopy cover and fire. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 3 142–149.

  • Clerke C.B. & Williamson I. (1992) A note on the predation of Bufo marinus juveniles by the ant Iridomyrmex purpureus. Australian Zoologist 28 64–67.

  • Dyderski M.K. Gdula A.K. & Wrońska-Pilarek D. (2014) Vascular plants of newly created ‘Bogdanka I’ and ‘Bogdanka II’ ecological lands in Poznań. Nauka Przyroda Technologie 8:#44. Available at:

  • Enge K.M. (1997) A standardized protocol for drift-fence surveys. Technical Report No. 14 (pp. 1-75). Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

  • Enge K.M. (2001) The pitfalls of pitfall traps. Journal of Herpetology 35 467–478.

  • Ferguson A.W. (2006) A device for excluding predators from pitfall traps. Herpetological Review 37 316–317.

  • Ferguson A.W. Weckerly F.W. Baccus J.T. & Forstner M.R. (2008) Evaluation of predator attendance at pitfall traps in Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist 53 450–457.

  • Fritz G. Rand A.S. & DePamphilis C.W. (1981) The aposematically colored frog Dendrobates pumilio is distasteful to the large predatory ant Paraponera clavit. Biotropica 13 158–159.

  • Hölldobler B. & Wilson E.O. 1990. The Ants. Harvard: Harvard University Press. Jenkins C.L. Mcgarigal K. & Gamble L.R. (2003) Comparative effectiveness of two trapping techniques for surveying the abundance and diversity of reptiles and amphibians along drift fence arrays. Herpetological Review 34 39–42.

  • Kaczmarek J.M. Kaczmarski M. & Pędziwiatr K. (2015) Atlas of amphibian distribution in Poznan - a tool for efective conservation. In: Nowak M. (Ed.) Scientific Technological and Legal Background of Creating Integrated Biotic Databases (pp. 67-74). Poznan: Adam Mickiewicz University Press.

  • Linares A.M. Horta Maciel-Junior J.A. Santo De Mello H.E. & Fortes Leite F.S. (2016) First report on predation of adult anurans by Odonata larvae. Salamandra 52 42–44.

  • Long A.K. Knapp D.D. Mccullough L. Smith L.L. Conner L.M. & Mccleery R.A. (2015) Southern toads alter their behavior in response to red-imported fire ants. Biological Invasions 17 2179–2186.

  • McCormick P. & Polis G.A. (1982) Arthropods that prey on vertebrates. Biological reviews 57 29–58.

  • McKnight D.T. Harmon J.R. McKnight J.L. & Ligon D.B. (2015) Taxonomic biases of seven methods used to survey a diverse herpetofaunal community. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 10 666–678.

  • Nordberg E.J. Edwards L. & Schwarzkopf L. (2018) Terrestrial invertebrates: An underestimated predator guild for small vertebrate groups. Food Webs 15 e00080.

  • Parris K.M. (1999) Review: Amphibian surveys in forests and woodlands. Contemporary Herpetology 1999 1–14.

  • Puky M. (2006) Amphibian road kills: a global perspective. In: Irwin C. Garrett P. & McDermott K. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 2005 International Conference on Ecology and Transportation (pp. 325-338). Raleigh: North Carolina State University.

  • Rödel M.-O. & Braun U. (1999) Associations between Anurans and ants in a West African savanna (Anura: Microhylidae Hyperoliidae and Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Biotropica 31 178–183.

  • Schmidt B.R. & Zumbach S. (2008) Amphibian road mortality and how to prevent it: a review. Herpetological conservation 3 157–167.

  • Scholtz C.H. & Ralston C.D. (2017) A beetle (Carabidae: Chlaenius (Epomis) spp.) that eats frogs. African Entomology 25 540-543.

  • Sutherland W.J. 2006. Ecological census techniques: A handbook. Cambridge University Press.

  • Thomas L.A. & Allen J. (1997): Bufo houstonensis (Houston Toad). Behavior. Herpetological Review 28 40–41.

  • Todd B.D. Rothermel B.B. Reed R.N. Luhring T.M. Schlatter K. Trenkamp L. & Gibbons J.W. (2008) Habitat alteration increases invasive fire ant abundance to the detriment of amphibians and reptiles. Biological Invasions 10 539–546.

  • Toledo L.F. (2005) Predation of juvenile and adult Anurans by invertebrates: current knowledge and perspectives. Herpetological Review 36 395–400.

  • Ward-Fear G. Brown G.P. & Shine R. (2010) Factors affecting the vulnerability of cane toads (Bufo marinus) to predation by ants. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 99 738–751.

  • Willson J.D. & Gibbons J.W. (2009): Drift fences coverboards and other traps. In: Kenneth Dodd C. (Ed.) Amphibian Ecology and Conservation: A Handbook of Techniques (pp. 231-245). New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Wizen G. & Gasith A. (2011a) An unprecedented role reversal: ground beetle larvae (Coleoptera: Carabidae) lure amphibians and prey upon them. PLoS ONE 6 e25161.

  • Wizen G. & Gasith A. (2011b) Predation of amphibians by carabid beetles of the genus Epomis found in the central coastal plain of Israel. ZooKeys 100 181–191.

  • Zuffi M.A.L. (2001) Bufo bufo (European Common Toad). Red ant predation. Herpetological Review 32 100–101.

Journal information
Impact Factor

CiteScore 2018: 0.84

Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.365

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 334 334 334
PDF Downloads 234 234 234