Frogs As Pets
A Guide to Choosing a Pet Frog
By Lianne McLeod, DVM[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]Important!
Frogs can make lovely pets, but frogs in the wild are facing population declines and extinction largely as a result of human activities. Unfortunately, the pet trade is likely contributing to the amphibian extinction crisis and the spread of an devastating infection by Chytrid fungus. For this reason, you should only buy frogs that you are sure are captive bred locally and tested to be free of disease. It may be impossible to find frogs which meet these conditions, but otherwise, pet frogs may be contributing to the decline of wild frog populations. More Things to Think About When Considering a Pet Frog
•Frogs in captivity are quite long lived (with proper care), so be prepared for a long term commitment. Average life spans are typically 4-15 years, although some have been known to live longer.
•Keeping frogs' enclosures clean can be a lot of work. Many frogs have fairly simple light, temperature, and humidity requirements, but they are very sensitive to contaminants and waste in their environment.
•Some people find frogs boring, though some of the smaller frogs are quite active. However, many of the larger frogs are quite sedentary and don't move around much.
•You need to handle insects to feed most frogs. Some of the larger frogs will even eat pinky mice.
•It can be difficult to find someone to care for your frogs if you plan on travelling at all (keeping in mind you could have your frog for years, you may eventually need someone to look after your frogs for a significant length of time). Before You Get a Pet Frog
As with any other kind of pet, doing lots of research prior to deciding on the type of frog that best suits your needs is the best way to make sure you and your frog will be happy. Set up a tank with everything needed before getting a frog. Things to consider include:
•Grown size of frogs. Some of the smallest frogs you might see in a pet store grow into giants. Sometimes their name adds to the confused expectations -- "pixie" frogs, which sound like they should be small, are actually African bullfrogs which grow to be 8-9 inches long and very fat. They get their cute name from their latin name, Pyxicephalus adspersus.
•The kind of tank they will need - aquatic, terrestrial, arboreal, or semi-aquatic (or half land and half water, which is probably the trickiest to set up and one of the most common types of tank needed for frogs).
•The type of food required - many frogs need a variety of insects, and the larger types can even eat pinkie mice
•Does the frog need to hibernate? Good Choices for beginners:
Dwarf Clawed Frogs
There are a handful of species in the genus Hymenchirus that are found; Hymenchirus boettgeri seems to be the most commonly found in the pet trade.
The average life span is reported to be around 5 years.
Size and Appearance:
Dwarf clawed frogs reach an adult size of about 1 - 1.5 inches long.
They are usually a light brownish grey color with darker spots. While they are sometimes light in color, albino coloration is generally limited to the larger African clawed frogs, not dwarf clawed frogs. Juvenile African clawed frogs are similar in appearance to dwarf frogs; look for webbing between the front toes; dwarf clawed frogs have webbed front feet while the larger clawed frogs do not.
Dwarf clawed frogs do not need a huge tank -- allow about a gallon per frog. They can be kept in groups or with peaceful community fish that are approximately the same size, but increase the size of tank accordingly. Avoid tall, deep tanks as the frogs need to easily get to the surface to breathe. Leave a pocket of air between the top of the water and the tank lid. Also, a tight fitting lid is a necessity as these frogs will try to escape.
Water and Filtration:
Use only dechlorinated water in the tank (use conditioner drops from the pet store). Filtration is not strictly necessary if you keep only frogs in the tank (use frequent partial water changes), but if you add fish a filter will be necessary. Use one that disturbs the water as little as possible as frogs like still water, and make sure the frogs can not get stuck in the intakes or behind the intake/filter.
You can use sand or smooth gravel on the bottom of the tank. Do not sue gravel that is too large or the frogs may get their legs trapped between the gravel pieces. You should make sure the frogs are not ingesting the sand or gravel when feeding. If this occurs you can try a different size of gravel, or feed on a small saucer that is placed underwater on top of the gravel (use a dropper to place the food items directly on the saucer underwater).
Plants and Decoration:
Dwarf clawed frogs like to have hiding spots. Use live or silk plants in the tank. Also provide hiding places using aquarium decorations, driftwood, or small terra cotta plant pots placed on their sides. Any decorations (including artificial plants) must be smooth so as not to damage the frogs' delicate skin. A land area is not required as dwarf frogs are completely aquatic.
Dwarf clawed frogs should be kept at temperatures in the range of 75-80 F(24-27 C).
Dwarf clawed frogs are bottom feeders and should be fed sinking foods. Live, frozen foods, or freeze dried foods can be used, and a variety is probably best. Bloodworms, tubifex worms, daphnia, brine shrimp, blackworms, or chopped (bite sized) earthworms. Dwarf clawed frogs gulp the food into their mouths and swallow it whole. They rarely accept flaked food; some will accept pelleted food (get frog-specific pellets) but these can quickly foul the water. Other notes:
•Dwarf clawed frogs can be kept in groups, as well as will community tropical fish. The fish should be of a similar size as the frogs, however; if the fish are smaller the frogs may try to eat them, and if the fish are larger they may try to eat the frogs.
•Make sure never to use soap to clean the tank or any buckets or other implements used in maintenance. Amphibians have very porous skin and are very senditive to chemicals and detergents. Dwarf clawed frogs should not be handled.
•Sexing: maturity is reached at about 9 months. Males develop glands that looks like small pink or white bumps behind the front legs.
The males will also sing (hum) trying to attract a mate. The females tend to be slightly larger than the males and have a more prominent bump where the cloaca is located between the hind legs. Oriental Fire Bellied Toads
Scientific Name: Bombina orientalis
Size: about 2 inches (5 cm)
Expected Life Span: around 10-15 years (sometimes longer)
Lifestyle: Semi aquatic
Level of Care: good for beginners
Oriental fire bellied toads are hardy little toads that are suitable for beginners. They are not difficult to care for, although they do take a fair amount of work to maintain. Native to southern and southeastern Asia, they are noted for their bright green and black coloration on their backs, and brilliant orange and black on their underside. These bright colors serve as a warning to predators (as in "I'm toxic!"). While not the most toxic of amphibians, regular handling is not recommended (avoid if there are cuts on your hands) and your hands should always be washed thoroughly immediately after touching the frog (or cleaning the tank for that matter). It is not recommended to house these toads with other species due to potential toxicity problems, though. Regular cleaning and water changes will help keep the toxins from building up in the tank.
A minimum 10 gallon tank is recommended, although 2-3 frogs can be housed in a tank of this size. A larger number of frogs will happily live together in a larger tank (allow about 4 gallons of tank space per frog, and the long style aquariums provide more "floor space" for their size). A secure lid is a necessity, as these active little frogs will escape given the chance. The top should allow adequate ventilation.
A semi aquatic tank is the ideal set up, with 1/3 - 1/2 of the tank as a land area and the remainder as water about 2-4 inches deep. The land area could have rocks (which should be smooth to prevent injury to delicate frog skin), damp moss, plants and some areas to hide.
The water should have a filter, and frequent water changes are necessary. Use only dechlorinated stale (let sit 24 hours) water or bottled spring water in the tank. These frogs produce quite a bit of waste so frequent partial water changes should be done. Smooth gravel can be used to line the water side, and live or artificial plants can be used.
A heater is not usually necessary as these frogs can handle room temperature, although warmer temperatures are considered more ideal by some (75-78 F or 24-25 C). A basking area can be set up with a low wattage lamp (use a thermometer and aim for about 78 F).
Fire bellied toads do not have extendable tongues, so use their mouths to grab their food and stuff it into their mouths with their forelegs. They will take a variety of prey items, including crickets and other insects, worms (such as waxworms and earthworms - mealworms are probably best avoided due to their tough exoskeleton), and even some small feeder fish such as guppies. Prey should be gut loaded, and dusted with a multivitamin powder. These toads generally have good appetites and usually do not have a problem eating in captivity. Adults typically only need to eat 2-3 times a week, and watch that the frogs do not become overweight. White's Tree Frog
Scientific Name: Litoria caerulea
Other Names: dumpy tree frog
Life Span: 15 years (up to 20 years has been reported)
Size: 4-5 inches
Distribution: White's tree frogs are native to Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea
Appearance: Their color ranges from a green to a blue green or aqua color, and can be quite striking. They have a waxy film or coating on their skin that helps them retain moisture, so these frogs can tolerate more arid conditions than some other tree frogs
Temperament: White's tree frogs are quite sedentary and docile, and can become fairly tame and tolerate handling. Remember however that amphibians have very sensitive skin and absorb chemicals through their skin, so extreme care is needed when handling (wash hand thoroughly with warm water and rinse well - natural oils and salts found on human skin can be damaging, as can any soap or lotion residue).
Habits: They are nocturnal, so will be more active in the evening and night hours.
Notes: good choice for beginning frog owners
A diet of primarily crickets can be fed to White's tree frogs. Other items that can be fed include moths, beetles, cockroaches, grasshoppers, and earthworms. Fully grown White's may even take pinkie mice on occasion. Insects can be simply placed in the cage, or offered using blunt (rounded) tip forceps.
The amount needed by your frog will very somewhat, but keep in mind that White's tree frogs tend toward obesity, so do not over feed. As a very general guideline, feed large frogs (greater than 3 inches long) a few larger crickets every 2-3 days, adjusting based on the behavior (i.e. acting hungry or not interested in food) and body condition of the frog (see below). Smaller frogs can be offered about 3 week-old crickets every 2-3 days, and juveniles should be fed daily. The best way to judge how much to feed is looking at the frog's body condition. Look for ridges just above the frog's eardrum - if there are no noticeable ridges the frog is likely underweight and should be fed more or more often. If the ridges become prominent and start to sag or fold over, then the frog is obese and should be eating less.
The insects fed to the frog should be gut loaded (fed a nutritious diet that is then passed on to the frog - for more information on cricket care, see "Raising Crickets"). In addition, the food should be dusted with a calcium/vitamin supplement (daily in very young frogs, once or twice a week for intermediate sized frogs, and once a week for mature frogs).
African Clawed Frogs
Scientific Name: Xenopus laevis.
Size: 4-5 inches (10-13 cm).
Expected life span: up to 15 years, perhaps longer.
Lifestyle: strictly aquatic.
Level of Care: suitable for beginners.
Tank Size and Set-Up
There are many variations in recommendations for tank size for these critters, but being a fairly large frog they will need a good sized tank. Approximately 10 gallons per frog is a good rule of thumb. The frogs are strictly aquatic and do not need a land area. However, the water should only be about 12 inches (30 cm) deep so that the frog will be able to easily reach the surface, as they must breathe oxygen at the surface (a minimum of 6 inches is recommended to allow the frog room to maneuver). A secure lid is also a must - these frogs are adept at propelling themselves out of the water and escaping, given the chance.
A gravel substrate can be used, but small gravel should be avoided to prevent accidental ingestion of the substrate. Rocks, wood, and flower pots can be used to decorate the tank and provide hiding places (frogs with no place to hide may be stressed). Artificial plants can also be used, but the frogs will dig up and generally destroy live plants.
The water in the tank must be dechlorinated - using a product from the pet store designed to remove chorine (and chloramine, if necessary). It is also said that these frogs are very sensitive to toxic effects of metal ions in the water, so it is important to ensure that their water does not come in contact with metal (e.g. on the tank cover).
The tank can be kept at room temperature - 68-75 F (20-24 C). No special lighting is required (indirect lighting is fine and may be preferred). A 12 hour light:12 hour dark light cycle can be used.
The issue of filtration is somewhat controversial. The frogs have a sensory system (lateral line) that allows them to sense vibrations in the water, so some experts believe that using filters provides constant stressful stimuli to the frog (compared to a human constantly being exposed to the noise from a jackhammer). However, gentle filtration is used by some owners with success, and this will keep the water a lot cleaner. These frogs live in stagnant water in the wild, but that is not the same as dirty water in an aquarium. If no filtration is used, the water should be nearly fully changed every week, if not more often.
These frogs will take many kinds of foods, live or not. Many owners are feeding floating reptile sticks with success. While these are relatively well balanced, feeding a variety of food is still a good idea. Items such as bloodworms, waxworms, earthworms, feeder fish such as guppies, brine shrimp, and dog and cat food can all be fed. In addition, a commercial food for clawed frogs can be purchased via mail order from companies such as Xenopus Express (these frogs are used fairly extensively in research so are available along with supplies quite readily). As long as a balanced food is used as the basis for the diet, supplementation with vitamins and minerals is not necessary.
Feed the amount they will clear from the water in 10-15 minutes, daily. Some sources say fully grown frogs only need to feed 3-4 times a week. In general over feeding is more of a problem than under feeding, so you can feed daily and keep an eye on the body shape of your frog--if it seems to be getting overweight, then you can cut back a bit.
Clawed frogs often become quite tame over time, taking food directly from the fingers of their owners. They do sometimes accidentally nibble on the fingers, but lack teeth so this is not a big problem. These frogs are also lack tongues, and feed by stuffing food into their mouths with their front legs. They can be quite messy as a result!
Note: These frogs are in the same family but different genus than the dwarf African frog, Hymenochirus boettgeri which has become very popular in recent years. However, the care of dwarf frogs is similar (on a smaller scale).American Green Tree Frogs
•Species: Hylidae cinerea (American green tree frog)
•Green with a light stripe from the side of the head down flanks
•Quite readily available in the pet trade.
•At about 1.5 to 2.5 inches (4-6 cm) fully grown, the American tree frog can be kept in a fairly small cage.
•Although susceptible to stress (especially from shipping), they are fairly hardy if a healthy frog is found.
•Suitable for beginning pet frog owners.
•A minimum 10 gallon tank is suitable as a cage for green tree frogs, although larger is fine.
•Keep in mind they are arboreal, so the height of the cage is more important than the floor space, so a tall tank is best.
•Need a secure cover to prevent escape (mesh or wire is fine).
•Substrate: can use a variety of materials, such as gravel (should be smooth), cypress mulch, or soil with peat/vermiculite (just be sure the frog is not ingesting substrate while feeding). Some people use indoor/outdoor carpeting. The substrate can largely be covered with moss and cork bark.
•Furnishings: opportunity for climbing is very important, so provide a variety of branches and live or artificial plants for climbing. Live plants to consider include philodendrons or sturdy ferns. Ensure any wood collected from the outdoors is pesticide free, and collected wood must be treated to remove harmful bacteria or bugs. Driftwood and cork bark also make good cage furnishings.
•Temperature: gradient from 68-77F (20-25C) with a night time drop of a few degrees is sufficient for summer, and a slightly cooler temperature gradient can be provided in the winter months. A combination of under tank heating and/or a low wattage basking light or heat element (placed outside of the tank to prevent burns if the frog tried to jump on the light) works well. Make sure the appropriate temperature gradient is provided by measuring temperatures in various spots around the tank.
•Light: American green tree frogs are strictly nocturnal, so no supplemental UVA/UVB light is strictly required. Some people believe some supplemental fluorescent UV light is beneficial, as long as it is neither too bright or used more than a few hours a day.
•Water: provide a large shallow sturdy water dish with dechlorinated water (must be shallow since these frogs are not good swimmers). The cage should also be misted with dechlorinated water daily to maintain humidity.
•More tips on setting up an arboreal cage can be found on the Frogland site.
•Green tree frogs are generally good eaters and feed exclusively on insects.
•Crickets can make up the bulk of the diet.
•Crickets and other food insects should be gut loaded (fed nutritious foods before feeding them to the frogs). For more on dealing with crickets as prey see "Raising Crickets for Food."
•In addition to gut loading, the crickets should be dusted with a calcium and multivitamin supplement a couple of times a week.
•Fruit flies, houseflies, moths and other insects can also be fed if available.
•Tree frogs will likely eat more in the spring and summer months than in the winter. Smaller frogs should be fed daily, while larger frogs can be fed daily or every other day, using body condition as a guide (i.e. if getting obese, cut down the feedings). Pacman Frogs (Ornate Horned Frogs)
This frog is relatively common in the pet trade, and gets its common (pet trade) name from the popular video game. The frog's generally rounded appearance and huge mouth led to the cute name. The frog's scientific name is Ceratophrys ornata, and it is also known as the ornate horned frog.
Pacman frogs are native to South America, and are terrestrial in nature. In fact, they are very poor swimmers and care must be taken that they do not drown in their water bowls.
These frogs are quite large, and can reach around 6-7 inches in length (15-17 cm), although males tend to be quite a bit smaller than females. They are generally about as wide as they are long, so are quite hefty for a frog. Their appetite matches their size, and they will pretty much eat anything that moves.
Pacman frogs have a reputation for being somewhat aggressive, which is largely undeserved. While they do sometimes bite, it is usually a case of the frog feeling threatened or simply confusing a finger with a food item.
Pacman frogs, despite their large size, are not very active and do not need a large cage. A 10 gallon tank is fine for one of these frogs. Because they will often try to eat cage mates, they should be kept singly. A cage top is recommended -- although they are not a huge risk for escapes, a cage top will help maintain temperature and humidity.
In the wild they spend much of their time in damp leaf litter. In captivity, the cage can be lined with paper or smooth rocks, as long as leaf litter or moss and some plants (live or artificial) are provided that the frog can burrow/hide in. They come from a humid environment so the substrate should be misted daily to help maintain humidity. In addition a shallow bowl of water should be provided.
The dish must be fairly shallow (e.g. a ceramic saucer from a plant pot) to minimize the risk of the frog drowning.
Depending on how humid your tank is, the frog might spend much of its time in its water dish, so providing plants around the dish will help your frog feel secure. The water dish should also be in a warmer part of the cage.
The temperature should be kept around 82 F (28 C) during the day, dropping to around 78 F (25 C) at night. Heating is best supplied by an under tank heater as overhead incandescent bulbs can be too drying (although a red incandescent could be used if supplemental heat is needed at colder times).
For lighting, a fluorescent fixture can be used, although they might prefer more subdued lighting and regular room light may be enough. A 12 hour light - 12 hour dark cycle can be provided. The use of full spectrum lighting for amphibians is somewhat controversial but probably isn't strictly necessary if a balanced diet is provided. The tank should be away from direct sunlight, to prevent overheating.
Pacman frogs are pretty easy to feed in that they are not usually fussy eaters. Smaller frogs can be fed insects such as crickets or other common pet store prey insects such as mealworms, wax worms etc. These should be gut loaded prior to feeding (see "Raising Crickets for Food"). As they grow, they can be fed pinkie (newborn) mice, and larger mice can be fed as the frog grows. Eventually they may take a medium sized mouse or pinkie rat. Guppies, a variety of insects, and even small frogs can also be fed. While small pacman frogs (eating insects) should be fed daily, larger frogs can be fed mice or feeder fish every 2-3 days. Adult frogs can probably be fed less frequently - the best guide is to feed based on your frog's body condition (if your frog is getting too round and fat, cut back how often it is fed).
Pacman frogs are not terribly difficult to care for, so can make a good pet that is quite attractive and interesting. However, people who like their pets active or interactive may get tired of caring for a pacman frog. Considering a these frogs can live for 7 -10 years, getting one of these frogs amounts to a long term commitment. Leopard Frogs
Scientific Name: Rana pipiens.
There are several similar species such as the southern leopard frog (Rana utricularia)and the plains leopard frog (Rana blairi) which have a similar appearance and similar care requirements.
Size: approximately 3 inches (7-8 cm).
Expected life span: approximately 5-8 years, perhaps longer.
Lifestyle: semi aquatic.
Level of Care: suitable for beginners.
•Tank: a ten gallon tank is sufficient for a single frog (if keeping more frogs the tank size must increase, keeping in mind that floor space is more important than height). Leopard frogs are semi aquatic and need a land area as well as a large enough body of water that they can submerge their bodies. A half land/half water tank is a good choice for leopard frogs and these can be set up a number of ways (see Frogland's Housing section for ideas). It is easiest in the long term to separate the land and water areas with a piece of plastic or Plexiglas placed across the aquarium and sealed with aquarium grade silicone sealant. This allows the use of soil on the terrestrial side to allow the frogs to burrow. A dense piece of wood (e.g. driftwood) can be placed partly in the water and partly on land to provide an easy transition from water to land (this also provides a nice basking spot). Alternately, gravel can be sloped in the aquatic side to provide a ramp out of the water.
•Substrate: as mentioned above, a combination of soil and peat moss, covered with a commercial reptile bark substrate and sphagnum moss can be used on the terrestrial side. The depth should be at least 2-3 inches to allow burrowing. Gravel can be used on the aquatic side. It is extremely important to use smooth gravel only (to prevent skin abrasions and injuries), and ideally the gravel should be large enough not to be swallowed.
•Accessories: small pieces of wood provide hiding and climbing opportunities (leopard frogs are not great climbers). Plants (live or silk) provide additional hiding spots (and therefore security), although frogs can damage live plants.
•Water: the water used must be dechlorinated. Use a product from the pet store designed to remove chorine (and chloramine, if your water supply is treated with chloramine) to be safe. Filtration is not a necessity, but doing a 50% water change on a regular basis (at least twice weekly, perhaps more) is necessary. (In fact, some experts believe that the constant water vibrations from the filter is a sensory overload to frogs).
•Temperature: the tank can be kept at room temperature - 68-75 F (20-24 C), although a temperature drop at night is a good idea (down to about 60 F or about 16 C).
•Lighting: no special lighting is required. Some owners use a UVA/UVB fluorescent light which not strictly necessary but is not harmful and may be beneficial. Just make sure the frog can't jump onto the lamp. Avoid making the enclosure too bright however as the frogs may just hide if the tank is very brightly lit. A light cycle of about 10 hours light to 14 hours dark is recommended by some keepers.
•Lid: a secure lid (preferably a mesh lid with lots of ventilation) is also a must - most frogs are adept at escaping, given the chance.
Leopard frogs should be fed a variety of invertebrates such as crickets, wax worms, fly larvae, and earthworms. A meal of 3-4 crickets daily is a good starting point, although some experts recommend feeding mature frogs only every other day. Variety seems to be key with frogs - crickets can make up the bulk of the diet but should be supplemented by a variety of other insects and worms. Prey items should be gut loaded (feed nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, dog food, fish food etc.) before being given to the frog. Once weekly dust the crickets with a complete reptile vitamin mix.
Keep an eye on the body shape of your frog. Remember that overfeeding is likely more of a problem than underfeeding so make sure the frog is not getting too round and cut back on feeding if necessary.
These frogs are genetically programmed to hibernate, so will naturally slow down and may stop eating in the winter months (usually for about 3 months). If possible, the tank can be cooled to 37-39F (3-4C) for three months to mimic the natural environment of the frogs.