Surprising Photo: Toad Eats Bat

It may look like the Lady Gaga of amphibians, but this enterprising cane toad is actually in the midst of eating a bat.

Yufani Olaya, a ranger at Peru’s Cerros de Amotape National Park, sent the picture to Peru-based biologist Phil Torres, who published it on his blog.

toad eats bat
The toad and its bat prey in Cerros de Amotape National Park. Photograph courtesy Yufani Olaya and PeruNature.com

Torres said this is a rare—and perhaps first—documented sighting of a cane toad feeding on a bat. Cane toads (Bufo marinus) are native to South America and can weigh up to 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms). They are “notoriously opportunistic” feeders, which has made them a scourge in places where they’re not native, such as Australia, he said. (Watch a video of the unstoppable cane toad.)

Even so, Torres couldn’t imagine how even an aggressive amphibian like the cane toad snagged a highly mobile bat, so he contacted Olaya again for more details on the attack.

Olaya told Torres that “out of nowhere the bat just flew directly into the mouth of the toad, which almost seemed to be sitting with its mouth wide open.”

Wrote Torres: “With toad-like reflexes, this cane toad was able to snatch the unsuspecting bat right out of the air as it flew too close to the ground, and apparently directly at the toad’s awaiting mouth.” So, did the toad finally get those wings in its mouth?

According to Olaya, no. The toad finally gave up and spat it out. While Olaya at first thought the bat was dead, he said it slowly recovered and was able to fly away. I’m sure it won’t make that mistake again.

Voracious Predator

Don Wilson, curator emeritus of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, said that it’s “certainly plausible” that a cane toad could eat a bat.

Wilson said it’s a free-tailed bat, a type of bat that often roosts in roofs and flies high and fast, he said. For this reason, it’s likely that the bat crash-landed while exiting or entering its roost, and that the toad happened to be nearby.

Cane toads “will eat most anything it can get in its mouth,” he said, “so grabbing a nearby bat would be no great surprise.”

Brian Gratwicke, an amphibian conservation biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, agreed a cane toad could probably catch a bat, adding that there’s another report of a relative of the cane toad eating a bat in Brazil in 2003.

“But it’s really a traffic accident in the animal kingdom, not really the norm. I guess this is why this picture and story are so compelling.”

 

What other weird predator-prey attacks have you witnessed?

Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.

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