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When I watched my pet frog munching on some mealworms I had diligently placed in their terrarium, I couldn’t help but notice that he looked like he was smiling. Was my frog happy?
There are many images of frogs with big grins on their mouths, so I am sure you’ve wondered about that too. Are we imposing human emotions on animals, or can frogs feel happiness?
Can Frogs Feel Happiness?
Frogs can’t process human emotions, but they can feel stressed when their environment is unsafe and their needs aren’t met.
Since stress is something you don’t feel when happy, it stands to reason that frogs can feel some happiness or contentment when their basic needs are met, as they won’t be stressed.
I recall the sad-looking frog in the amphibian section of the zoo I had visited as a kid. It was housed next to the snakes, and I still remember the frog eyeing the snakes through the glass. The poor frog must have been so stressed, which I always believed was why it looked so sad.
Many Quora users have noted that they believe their frogs can show happiness when they see them approach or that their frogs seem happy in their homes.
Wondering if these people were mushy froggy lovers like me, I decided to dive into the science behind amphibian feelings and decide for myself.
Considerations For and Against Frog Feelings
There are several scientific facts that seem to support the notion that frogs can feel emotions like happiness. Many of these facts are based on scientific deductions from what we know of basic biology.
Frogs Have Large Brains
Animals capable of higher thinking need a larger brain to allow different areas of the brain to develop. Great, right? Scarily, frogs have a larger brain size compared to body size than humans do!
While this may mean that the frog has a larger brain-body proportion because it needs to react quickly and thus may have a large motor cortex, it is unclear whether frogs also have a sufficiently developed emotional or neural cortex.
Frogs Can Feel Stressed
In most animals with a larger brain, there are signs of when they are stressed, such as moving around frantically, making sudden noises or suddenly falling silent, and generally looking “unhappy.” Science tells us that cortisol levels in the brain can indicate a stressed mental state.
So if we were to measure the levels of cortisol in frogs that are stressed, we could deduce they are unhappy because they are stressed. The cause of the frogs’ stress is probably related to their environment where they may be facing a lack of food, experiencing aggression from other frogs or animals, perceiving a threat, or being ill.
Frog stress is not likely to be caused by the same things we humans stress about—one frog won’t call the other fat, and frogs don’t pay taxes—but frogs still feel stressed and behave out of the ordinary when their cortisol levels spike.
There are several apps to help you track your mood if you suffer this type of spike.
Frogs Can Experience Oxytocin Increases – AKA Happiness
Frogs have their own unique feel good hormone called mesotocin that drives frogs to seek partners, mate, and even look after their young (in some species).
Like oxytocin in humans and other animals, mesotocin in frogs helps these amphibians feel content with their environment and not be stressed.
In humans, the presence of oxytocin indicates that you feel good and you are essentially happy. So, the argument is then that mesotocin, doing the same job in frogs, helps frogs to also feel good.
But … Frogs Don’t Suffer Tachycardia When Stressed
One of the arguments that my friend pointed out while we were sitting at the Natural History Museum looking at the amphibian display is that frogs don’t seem to suffer heart palpitations when they feel upset or even a more moderate heart rate when they are content.
I wondered at this line of thinking, as most mammals will suffer a bounding heart beat when they are excited or in love. My own Yorkie gets so worked up with clear joy at the sight of me that I fear she will have a heart attack! Shouldn’t frogs have a similar response when or if they feel happy?
What I could state in the frog’s defense of happiness is that we know so little about exactly how the frog’s chemicals and hormones really function and interact.
Frogs can breathe through their skins, so why not consider that their hearts beat slightly differently than mammal hearts? This doesn’t necessarily mean the frog is without feeling.
Is Frog Happiness the Same as Human Happiness?
The real question that pops up is whether frogs feel and process happiness in the same way as humans do. While frogs may have a large brain to body mass, the presence of oxytocin and cortisol, and seem to show happiness, this happiness is not necessarily the same as a human who has just won the lotto or someone who just fell in love.
While humans may think about their feelings and tell you why they are happy or content, such as when they have just won a prize, met someone amazing, or achieved their ultimate goals, frogs just feel good and basically happy.
A frog may seem happy because they feel safe, cared for, and have their needs met, though the proverbial froggy grin isn’t a real indication of this. Froggy happiness is then more a case of environmental satisfaction.
So, while your frog isn’t going to pine away waiting for you to return, they can become excited when you approach, as they know and associate you with treats. Froggy fondness is based on meeting their needs. However, for many frog owners, that is enough. Their frogs are happy, so frog owners feel happy too. Sounds like a win-win situation.
Increasing Frog Happiness
If you want to help your pet frog feel more content and “happy,” there are a few ways you can improve their environmental satisfaction:
Final Thoughts on If Frogs Can Feel Happiness
In my opinion, and based on some sound animal biology, frogs are capable of feeling content. While this may not be a leaping and bounding kind of joy (which is how we think of happiness), it is a sign of happiness too.
So, frogs can be happy if you care for them, feed them, keep them safe, and ensure their needs are met. In the end, that’s all we humans can ask for as well. Learn more about being happy in my guide on 54 ideas to be happy.