Invasive alien American bullfrog populations are commonly identified as a pernicious influence on the survival of native species due to their adaptability, proliferation and consequent ecological impacts through competition and predation. However, it has been difficult to determine conclusively their destructive influence due to the fragmentary and geographically dispersed nature of the historical database. An expanding meta-population of invasive American bullfrogs, Rana catesbeiana (= Lithobates catesbeianus), became established on southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada in the mid- to late 1980s. An on-going bullfrog control program begun in 2006 offered a unique opportunity to examine the stomach contents removed from 5, 075 adult and juvenile bullfrogs collected from 60 sites throughout the active season (April to October). Of 15 classes of organisms identified in the diet, insects were numerically dominant, particularly social wasps and odonates (damselflies and dragonflies). Seasonality and site-specific habitat characteristics influenced prey occurrence and abundance. Native vertebrates in the diet included fish, frogs, salamanders, snakes, lizards, turtles, birds, and mammals, including some of conservation concern. Certain predators of bullfrog tadpoles and juveniles are commonly preyed upon by adult bullfrogs, thereby suppressing their effectiveness as biological checks to bullfrog population growth. Prey species with anti-predator defences, such as wasps and sticklebacks, were sometimes eaten in abundance. Many prey species have some type of anti-predator defence, such as wasp stingers or stickleback spines, but there was no indication of conditioned avoidance to any of these. Results from this study reinforce the conclusion that, as an invasive alien, the American bullfrog is an opportunistic and seemingly unspecialized predator that has a uniquely large and complex ecological footprint both above and below the water surface.
Keywords: Bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana, Lithobates catesbeianus, predation, diet, invasive species
1. As an “invasive alien” the American bullfrog is a highly adaptable, opportunistic, and seemingly unspecialized predator that has a uniquely large and complex ecological footprint both above and below the water surface.
2. Insects were the dominate prey group found in 84% of prey instances and 93% of stomachs with food, but seasonality influenced the relative importance of any one insect group over another at any given time period.
3. Cannibalism was found to be a minor component of the diet in terms of relative instances and accounted for approximately 34% of all instances of predation on amphibians.
4. Bullfrog control measures should be routinely factored into management plans for rare and endangered species, such as the western painted turtle on southern Vancouver Island, which are particularly vulnerable to bullfrog predation.
What do American bullfrogs eat when they're away from home? Practically everything!
American bullfrogs are native to eastern North America but have been transported by people to many other parts of the globe, and other parts of North America, where they have readily established populations and become an invasive alien menace to native ecosystems. In the largest study of its kind to date, the stomach contents of over 5,000 invasive alien American bullfrogs from 60 lakes and ponds on southern Vancouver Island were examined to identify the native and exotic animals that they had preyed upon. The study was published in the open access journal NeoBiota.
Over 15 classes of animals were reported from a total of 18,814 identifiable prey remains, including terrestrial and aquatic insects, spiders, crayfish, fish, frogs, salamanders, newts, snakes, lizards, turtles, birds, and small mammals. The study examined the stomach contents of adults and juveniles of all size-classes, but excluded tadpoles. These results show that bullfrogs will attack and consume virtually any organism that is within reach and can be swallowed, including their own species.
Previous studies on bullfrog diet have examined relatively small numbers of stomachs from a comparatively small number of lakes and ponds. Our results reinforce the general consensus that there is good reason for concern about the ecological harm that uncontrolled populations of American bullfrogs might have, or are having, on populations of native species.
For decades, bullfrogs have been transported and released around the world by prospective frog-farmers, pet owners, game managers, recreational fishermen, biological supply houses; and even by entrants in frog jumping contests. They adapt readily to a variety of habitats from the tropics to temperate zones and once established, their numbers grow fast with each adult female producing about 20,000 or more eggs per year. For these reasons, American bullfrogs are internationally recognized as one of the 100 worst invasive alien species in the world.
Jancowski, K, Orchard, SA. 2013. Stomach contents from invasive American bullfrogs Rana catesbeiana (= Lithobates catesbeianus) on southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. NeoBiota. 16: 17, doi: 10.3897/neobiota.16.3806