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Frog Mouth Open

This is Why Frogs Scream

After a hot sunny day, it was high time we retired to bed for a hopefully relaxing night’s rest. No sooner had I crashed under the sheets than the weather became unruly and windy, minutes into the weather tantrums a rainstorm ensured.

Now trying to rest of the day’s stress seemed impossible, it was however in no way a result of the raging wind, but rather a more unpleasant orchestra.  Some frogs had claimed the serenity with their screams, and at this point, I could not help but wonder why frogs scream and why now.

Waking up to the blaring alarm, it dawned on me that I have drifted to sleep whilst waiting for the end of the awful symphony, and decided to write about it. Although being a taunting experience, this article; should you choose to digest, is a bid to justify the frogs.

A short video of a frog screaming.

Animal Sounds and Communication

Sound in itself can be a base for music and also noise; however, it is also a base for most forms of communication. Sounds emitted by animals are used as a means of communication, or echolocation between similar species or even different species. Emitting sounds for these purposes are characteristic features of many insects, fishes, and acaudate amphibians, some reptiles, and almost all species of birds and mammals.

Animal sounds include sonic reactions of animals, given off not only through the vocal apparatus but also other apparatuses such as the swim bladder, fins, wings, abdominal area, wings, legs, beak, and even tail feathers. 

These sounds serve different roles with ever distinct notes, as they can be used to signify reproductive maturity, danger alarm, fear, hunger, anger, and even warnings.

About Frogs

Even as scientist continues to identify new breeds and species of frogs, there are over five thousand species of known frogs. Existing in different sizes and colors, frogs can be found thriving on every continent on earth except Antarctica, living both on land and in water as amphibians and highly concentrated in tropical regions.

Starting their life cycle as purely aquatic organisms in the form of tadpoles, frogs are not one size fits all. In different ecosystems with different species of frogs, every frog still has the vocal ability to scream. Either to declare sexual maturity, territorial claim, or danger frogs click, squeak, trill, honk, tap, croak, peep, and scream.

Why Do Frogs Scream?

Frogs scream at the sense of danger, this may sound awkward but yes most breeds of frogs scream once terrified. They kind of sound funny (or cute) when they do scream but the truth is frogs scream when they are scared.

Unlike crocodiles, and juvenile birds which give off sonic calls to parents for attention and other reasons, very little is known about distressed frog calls. It is popularly agreed upon that a frog’s sounds are mechanisms that evolved as a defense mechanism to scare of possible attacks; it also may be a way of attracting other predators.

Still, the typical cause of their scream is due to alarm at predators. The shriek usually comes off like a startled baby’s scream, lasting for over five (5) Seconds. 

It is not uncommon for individuals with little or no knowledge of frogs or rather this trait to mistake frogs to scream for that of a human baby’s cry.

The cutest frog scream?

Why Do Frogs Scream At Night?

A lot happens at night that we are unaware of, so don’t judge the frogs. 

Frogs scream at night when they feel stressed out, insecure, or threatened. While other animals make these vocal calls as a mating call, the same does not apply to the frogs. 

It has been observed that frogs vocalize when threatened, touched, or held thereby communicating it feels threatened and wants out of the situation.

There are other behaviors a frog will exhibit when they’re feeling intimidated but screaming is one most effective tool when competing with a larger animal hence making this aggressive behavior a wild spread phenomenon.

The shrill call of a frog is not only to frighten or distract an attacker but also to warn other prays in the area and to attract a challenger to the feast thereby saving its own life.

Unlike toads, many breeds of frogs do not have toxin glands as a defense mechanism, and although some come with inbuilt stunning patterns and colors to ward off predators, it has been observed that most of the frogs that scream are often camouflaged. So when screaming serves its purpose, it allows the prey to hide away.

It has been observed that other animals hide after hearing a frog’s scream, which in turn results in why hunters/predators sneak upon them in the cover of the night.  Hence, frogs would scream at night if they feel danger lurking around or when actually cornered.

Why Do Frogs Scream When Touched?

Fairy tales may portray kissing a frog as a good idea to birthing a prince, however touching or kissing a frog could kill the frog or harm you.

Even with the common knowledge that touching a frog or toad could prove harmful, many neglect this fact.  Frogs or toads, when touched could prove detrimental to the health as they do transmit diseases, for instance, humans can contract salmonella and tapeworm cysts from frogs which if not treated could result in health complications.

Frogs and toads on the other hand experience health issues, sometimes even death. Natural oils and salts in the hands of humans irritate the skin of a frog which injures or kills them. The reason for the scream when touched being that frogs and toads have moist skin, so when torched the salt in your skin creates a burning effect ridding their cells’ water thereby affecting their body’s equilibrium possibly even drying them to death.

Another perspective being the fact that many frogs and toads can’t differentiate gender, hence having the males be sensitive to being mounted thereby making such sounds to signify “gets off my back”.  So touching them can also trigger such a reaction.

Frogs can do more things than just scream…

It is a tough world out there, and since frogs or toads can’t carry physical/ mechanical weapons, they arm themselves with series of biological strategies which can serve as weapons. When faced with a dangerous scenario, frogs use other defense mechanisms other than screaming and they include:

  • Mimicry: this method otherwise known as camouflage is a way in which frogs or toads fake themselves to seem as what they are not to survive. They not only pretend to look like leaves, logs, or soil to blend in and escape being seen, they also impersonate other known poisonous frogs.

Frogs or toads that impersonate poisonous frogs possess bright colors that depict high levels of poisons like the originals but actually possess none. 

  • Poison: several types of toads are covered with specialized glands that secrets poison. While some obtain toxicity from diets such as the poison dart frogs (Dendrobatidae) some produce the poisons via their parotid glands (true toads of the Bufonidae family). This defense mechanism has proven effective as the toxins secreted (bufotoxins) not only kill small animals but also cause allergic reactions to humans.
  • Color: this is another effective method of self-defense where the frog suddenly becomes bright or blends into its environment. Bright colors come off a frog to a predator as a warning of high toxicity and are called aposematism.
  • Size: under many circumstances, it is observed that frogs use size to their advantage against predators and contenders. Some species try to present themselves as bigger than what they really are by filling their bodies with air in other to puff up and look scary. Others tend to stand on their hind legs to look taller than the predator or contender.
  • Horror: although being a barbaric method, the horror frog (Trichobatrachus robustus) literally breaks its arm bones to use as claws against a predator.
  • Belly up: using a mechanism called unkenreflex, a frog would arch its backs to exhibit its bellies which often are lined with bright colors which depict toxicity.
  • Smell: some frogs give off awful spells that stun and repel predators.
  • Urination: this is another smell-related self-defense mechanism. The frog in this case discharges urine which repels the predator. 
  • Playing Dead: being one of the oldest tricks in the survival book, playing dead remains an effective way of evading attacks from predators, an example of an expert in this is the American toad. It is adapted to keeping its position and stature even in the face of danger and might look like an easy kill, but who will eat what’s dead.
  • Turk and Roll: this mechanism is not, in this case, to put out a fire or dodge bullets, however, this is a defense mechanism utilized by Venezuelan pebble toads. This measure is effective for this amphibian as when it perceives danger, it stops, folds up into a ball, and rolls away from the threat. Its color also helps this toad in mimicry a stone.

More Theories On Why Frogs Scream

Screaming, a defense mechanism of toads that appears to sound awkward serves in protecting not just the frog itself but also other animals around that could serve as prey. This is the first theory.

Another infers that the frog’s scream also serves as a means of scaring the predator in other to get free and also to call for reinforcement from a higher ranking predator as a challenger i.e. if a frog is attacked by a cat, it would cry to attract the attention of an alligator which would attack the cat neglecting the toad. 

There however is another theory that suggests that the evolutionary ability of a frog to scream is not only present in the adult toad or frog but also found in developing stages of their life span. The screams are also noticed in tadpoles defending themselves from being hurt.  This theory suggests that frogs start to scream at stages as early as the Laval stage. Siting example an example using the horned frog tadpoles, it was observed that they give off a metallic scream that lasts 0.05 seconds long.

This screeching noise made from the tadpoles is said to have a different purpose than that of the adults. It believed that this vocal behavior is a form of evolution in larvae to prevent accidental cannibalism which is a trait associated with the horned frog species.

Conclusion

Frogs scream for several reasons, such as beckoning to higher predators to contend the frog’s attacker and to scare the predator, it remains unclear the main reason behind the frogs’ screams, is it actually to deter predators and is attracting higher predators on purpose or a coincidence? It has nonetheless been concluded to serve both purposes. Not only does screaming do the above-mentioned, but it can also help in motivating the predator to release it if caught.

Most frogs lack the sophisticated defense mechanisms other amphibians have and therefore are more liable to get hunted down and preyed upon, so screaming is a vital survival instinct they have to make do with in order to preserve themselves.

So be it in the day, noon, or nighttime, a frog will most certainly scream at the sight of danger notwithstanding if it might be just a feeling of insecurity or when actually being touched or hurt, THEY SCREAM.

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