How Smart are Frogs?

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A frog’s brain is defined as simplistic yet complex. Frogs are seen as creatures with a one-track mind that doesn’t ponder much about what it is doing. However, they have a lot more to them than the unassuming look they normally adorn. 

Frogs have amazing recognition in certain humans and other frogs. Along with having an amazing sense of place, frogs are expert navigators. Frogs can innovate within their wild or domesticated environments to better accommodate their needs. 

With over five thousand different species of frogs thriving around the world, the question remains. How intelligent are these creatures? 


How do we define intelligence in frogs? 

How do we define intelligence in frogs? 

#1 Recognizing their owners

With our pets, we often perceive that spark of excitement in recognizing us as a form of intelligence, and that spark of intelligence is not present in frogs. 

Frogs will either attack the wall of the tank if they are territorial, hide if they are shy, or do absolutely nothing. 

When I walked into the room, my red-eye tree frog would sleep while my white’s tree frog would launch herself across the tank to attack or stare blankly. My Pacman frog would do nothing unless food was involved

Every frog is different. Even though your frog may not recognize you as their owner, they will remember you as the food giver. 

This association with food will let you have a positive connection with your frog. Your frog will begin to recognize your voice as they associate you with food. 

Frogs are also smart enough to differentiate between different people! My frogs would hide from my husband if he fed them, but they were quite active when I fed them because I was their primary handler.

#2 Extraordinary adaptability

Frogs have an amazing sense of place and are masters of their environments to adapt to any set-up you provide within their tank. 

You might find yourself surprised at the nooks and crannies they’ll end up in. You’ll also be amazed at the simple innovations the frogs will create for themselves to improve upon the environment you’ve already provided. 

My white’s frog would create burrows within the clump of wet moss behind a small log to create a den for her to sleep in. As she grew, she would dig out the substrate of her tank to create a shallow hole that would accumulate water for her to sit in. 

My Pacman frog would do something similar, but she would try to cover herself entirely with substrate and moss.

Frogs in the wild must be more adaptable. Some poison dart frogs can spatially map their surroundings so they can find their way back home. Some frogs can learn to recognize their neighbors by their calls. 

Wild or domesticated, frogs are mindful of their surroundings. Although some of the places we might find them are surprising to us, the frog is exactly where he wants to be.

#3 Genetic evolution

A frog’s intelligence is on full display in its innovative evolutionary advantages. 

  • Tree frogs have adapted to camouflage expertly in their arboreal setting. 
  • Terrestrial frogs have developed teeth to take down their prey with ease. 
  • Even poison dart frogs have developed bombastic colors that mock predators and give the frogs confidence to explore and multiply in their environment.
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With their sticky tongues that are five times stickier than honey, bright colors, dull colors, and different textures on their skin, frogs have adapted to survive with the best odds. 

A frog’s ability to adapt to any environment they are thrown in is a testament to their intelligence. 


Are some frog species smarter than others? 

Tree frogs vs. terrestrial frogs

Both tree frogs and terrestrial frogs have some of the same basic instincts to hunt and keep their body moist, but some research suggests the basic intelligence between these two variations of frogs is different. 

In most cases, modern tree frogs are more intelligent because of the environment they have evolved to adapt to. Surviving in the trees, arboreal frogs have had to adapt without becoming a meal themselves! 

This has shown in their ability to camouflage with leaves or other foliage, with some frogs opting for almost clear bodies or colors so bright that it is a warning sign to any predators. 

Tree frogs actively hunt for their food and, in some cases, can be in a group of their kind socially if all frogs are the same size. 

On the other hand, terrestrial frogs lack this innovative evolution because their biggest attribute is their brute strength. 

Pacman and pixie frogs rely on being ambush predators, so they do not have to actively look for their food since they wait for it to come across them. 

Less energy is exerted, but do not be fooled. Although they look fat and lazy, a terrestrial frog can take down prey larger than the frog itself and then not have to feed for a week. 

Tree and terrestrial frogs are intelligent in their own ways, but tree frogs’ innovative evolutionary track put them on a path to stand out over their terrestrial counterpart.

Brain structure

Even with the vast variety of tree and terrestrial frog species, the frogs’ brain structure has a simplified organization which leads to simplified behaviors. 

In multiple species of frog, intelligence is varied even with similar brain functions. Terrestrial frogs’ brains focus on prey-capture while a tree frog’s brain focuses on wrist and limb movement. 

These different focuses show that although their brain structure is similar, their motivations are vastly different.


Are frogs emotionally intelligent? 

What is emotional intelligence in animals?

Emotional intelligence in animals is something we mostly associate with mammals. A perfect example is our dogs and cats. 

We can visually witness our furry friends giving us attention or actively seeking out attention from us. 

They can emphasize with us and us with them. In the wild, we can see emotional intelligence in mammals as well in how they bond with each other and care for one another in their packs and herds. 

Is a frog capable of this kind of deeper emotional connection?

Emotional intelligence – Frogs edition

Frogs can form connections with other frogs of their size but not in any way two pet mammals may interact. 

Some frogs live together in groups and will swim together when they are still tadpoles. They will vocalize together, and in captivity, some will gather around when it is feeding time to eat together. 

Frogs do not feel love (even with their mating partner) but can feel danger and pain. A frog will react as though it is in danger if it is held and will try to escape. Larger frogs may even try to bite. 

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Frogs do not require handling because they would rather be left alone, although they can form simple bonds with frogs around them.

Incapable of bonding with humans?

Although a frog cannot love you with the emotional intelligence a dog or cat will, it will begin to recognize you over time. 

Being the food giver will create a positive bond your frog will associate with you. Your frog will begin to feel safe in your presence and may even come out when it thinks you are about to give him food. 

This isn’t an emotional bond for the frog, but it will learn that you are not a predator. 

Although it will not want to be touched, after years of trust, it is possible. Being very gentle and with the correct techniques, you could even hold your frog on the frog’s terms.


Are frogs simple-minded? 

Basic instincts

A frog’s basic instinct is to eat, mate, and survive so it can continue doing the first two. 

Tree frogs will interact socially, and some will form little colonies called armies. Most social frogs are tree frogs, with terrestrial frogs choosing to be solitary. 

Wild frogs have an incredibly complex brain but often have an extremely simplistic brain structure that only provides them with the ability to avoid predators, find food, multiply, and stay moist. 

A domesticated frog, on the other hand, is different. Without the constant need to survive, a domestic frog has all its needs met. A domesticated tree or terrestrial frog will sleep often and become more confident exploring. 

All frogs work with their basic instincts, and the only one that shines through, whether the frog is wild or a pet, is food. 

A frog’s primary motivation for survival is to find food, and much of their intelligence is geared towards survival and securing food. 

Extraordinary actions

Even with a frog’s limited cognitive abilities, we still see extraordinary actions from these creatures. 

A terrestrial frog is not trying to make emotional connections with others of its kind even when it goes to mate, but it will put its life on the line to protect its offspring in the wild. 

Some larger frogs will even build tunnels with their bodies to create a waterway from a small puddle to a larger puddle so their tadpoles can survive. 


Final thoughts 

Are frogs smart? In their own way, yes, frogs are smart. 

They are not going to be doing tricks like your average dog, but a frog’s simple, yet complex, brain shows us that behind an unassuming animal is something much more. 

Frogs are incapable of bonding with humans like we are used to with our furry companions, but pet frogs can recognize their owner’s voice from others. 

Frogs are intelligent enough to map out their environment in their minds and even modify their surroundings to better suit their needs. 

Between tree frogs and terrestrial frogs, the former reign in being smarter than their land-bound family.  

Frogs are mostly performing their basic instincts to find food, mate, survive, and stay hydrated, but their brain suggests that frogs are a lot more complex despite their simplistic tendencies.