In early April 2020, I had an experience that will forever change my view of painted turtles. It was a warm night, the sun had set and the sky was changing from dark blue to black. I was standing on the edge of a pond watching spring peepers hop into the water in search of mates. Many spring peepers were visible around the edge of the pond. As the spring peepers called furiously, a painted turtle bumbled up slowly, swimming underwater. A peeper floated near and …. BOOM! The turtle took a bite. In less than 2 minutes the turtle had completely swallowed the peeper. All the while, peepers kept singing inches away.
I got to watch the turtle try to catch quite a few frogs; it wasn’t an efficient predator. As you can see in the next video, the spring peeper escaped pretty easily, and the turtle took a bite out of a stick. I also saw the turtle grab another peeper by the foot, but the peeper escaped.
But the turtle wasn’t the only predator hunting and eating the male spring peepers. In a reversal of the old frogs-eat-bugs trope, an adult predaceous diving beetle (Dytiscus) caught and killed a male peeper. Amazingly, while the beetle was killing the peeper, another male peeper literally hopped onto and over the beetle on its way to a new spot to call for a female.
The third predator I watched that night was a bullfrog. The next video shows a bullfrog trying to eat a male spring peeper. However, when the bullfrog lunges forward to try to catch the peeper, it just boops the peeper with its snout, pushing the peeper away! Peeper 1, Bullfrog 0.
But the bullfrog didn’t always miss. Here we pan from the turtle to the bullfrog. Look close, what is that sticking out of bullfrog’s mouth? A peeper foot! I saw this happen out of the corner of my eye while recording the turtle, so didn’t get the action shot of bullfrog.
I watched these animals for around 90 minutes while trying to stand still in the same spot so I didn’t disturb them. Near the end, the bullfrog seemed to get full. Peepers started hopping over the bullfrog and none were eaten! Even the peeper that crawled onto the bullfrog’s eye only got a half-hearted head swipe.
Adult frogs are a particularly easy target for predators during the breeding season when they are very active and the males are loudly trying to attract a mate. I’ve seen adult frogs captured by giant water bugs and hungry ribbon snakes. But I have never before seen such a high density of predators catching and killing so many frogs in a short period of time.