September 22, 2013

What the heck is going on in this picture?

Peru Tambopata

This toad appears to be a fan of star wars... or is it using blinders...? or does it have giant ears...? or what is that sticking out of its mouth!?

Look closely and you'll realize that this is a rare, and perhaps first, sighting of a cane toad feeding on a bat. Yes, this happened.

This photo was taken at a remote guard station in Peru by park ranger Yufani Olaya at Cerros de Amotape National Park. He gave us permission to write about the photo, but we're waiting to hear back from him on more details about where exactly he found it, and how he thinks a ground-dwelling toad could have captured a bat. 

We're unsure how common this is, but we do know that this is probably the first photographed record of a cane toad feeding on a bat.  Cane toads are notoriously opportunistic feeders, and while they are native to South America this trait has made them infamously invasive in places like Australia.

Without more information about this photo it can be difficult to guess how a ground-dwelling toad and a flying bat could ever cross paths, unless the bat had fallen.

My best guess? I have seen bats and toads use similar locations in the rainforest, just not at the same time. Both are known to use small holes along streamsides, so it's possible this bat decided to roost in a hole that was inhabited by a hungry toad, which after some difficulty swallowing took a walk to get its photo taken by Olaya.

Here in the Tambopata rainforest we often run across cane toads- but from now on we'll keep an extra close eye out for what's in their mouths. 

We'll keep you in the loop as we get more information on this odd and fascinating sighting.

Update: Sept 23, 2013 10:00am

We finally got in touch with Olaya. As was suggested by John Scanlon in a comment on a repost of this story on Why Evolution Is True, it appears the bat was flying a bit too close to the ground. Many bats will feed on insects flying near the ground or will glean insects that are actually on the ground (pallid bats in the US are a great example of the latter).

Olaya described the toad's success as "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." 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.

Update: Sept 24 5:00pm

We were sent a paper which describes a related toad feeding on a bat, which you can find (with images) here.

Special thanks to A. Ruesta for bringing this photo to our attention, and for getting in contact with Mr. Olaya.


  1. That's a great picture!!!... Visit Tambopata, visit Tumbes, visit Perú! =)

  2. The bat ended up flying away? Incredible!!!

  3. I've been stearing at this photo all day long. Can't stop. It's so amazing and funny at the same time. :)

  4. Great picture, great story! Also interesting to see that there's a similar case published.

    The swallowed bat clearly is a free-tailed bat (family Molossidae; shown by the tail, which is not enclosed by a membrane, and the particular way the 3rd digit is folded).

    Several free-tailed bats (such as Molossus sp. mentioned in the published article) roost in roofs of buildings, and the picture seems to show a concrete floor, so most likely this happened when the bat was exiting its roost.

    These bats are fast flyers, which comes at the cost of reduced manoeuvrability. They further require a certain height of their roost site to gain sufficient speed and lift. Sometimes things go wrong and they crash-land on the ground below the roost, and I would reckon that in this case it happened right in front of the toad...

  5. kk Is This Creature a Bat-Toad Hybrid?

    Here in the Washington, DC area, autumn is fully underway. That means the holiday season is just around the corner, with Halloween only about 5 weeks away. A lot of holidays have animals associated with them--think Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas reindeer, Easter bunny. Halloween has a whole menagerie: snakes, spiders, wolves and the most important ingredients in any witch's brew, bats and toads.

    So, to kick off the holiday season, I'm sharing this crazy photo of an animal that looks like a cross between a toad and a bat.

    What could possibly be going on here? Is this a toad that has mutated and sprouted bat wings? Is it someone trying to have fun by sticking prosthetic wings on the head of the poor amphibian? Or maybe it's a totally new species, undescribed by science?

    It's none of those things; what you are seeing here is a photo of a South American cane toad that managed to catch and partially swallow a bat. How did this macabre act of predation occur when bats fly through the air and toads spend their time on the ground?

    You'll have to click through to read the full story, including what actually ended up happening to the bat, on biologist Phil Torres' blog post all about it.

    To learn more about Rainforest Expeditions, visit the group's Facebook page.
    Get Involved! Protect wildlife with David and the National Wildlife Federation.

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