Sailfin Dragon Care and Conservation: a Zookeeper’s Notes

H. pustulatus

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by MKFI

Sailfin Dragons (4 species in the genus Hydrosaurus) are among the most spectacular of all the world’s lizards. Even after a lifetime of working with reptiles in zoos and the field, the sight of one stops me cold – and I know of no herp enthusiast who reacts otherwise. While certainly not suitable for beginners, the experienced keeper with ample space will be hard pressed to find a more exciting prospect. And with a new species recently described, and wild populations of others in jeopardy, serious attention to captive breeding is urgently needed.

 

Description and Natural History

The Philippine Sailfin Lizard, Hydrosaurus pustulatus, was the species most commonly seen in the pet trade until the mid-1990’s, when exports were restricted. Stoutly built and sometimes nearing 4 feet in length, males are clad in green, neon purple, and reddish blue, and bear huge crests along the back and tail. DNA studies of individuals in Manila animal markets revealed that 2 genetically-distinct species are currently classified as H. pustulatus. The newly-described species has not yet been named. Please see the article linked below for further information.

 

Sailfin habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Ramon FVelasquez

The Amboina Sailfin, H. amboinensis, native to Indonesia and New Guinea, now often appears in pet markets in the Philippines. Weber’s Sailfin Lizard, H. weberi, is limited in distribution to the Indonesian islands of Ternate and Halmahera.

 

Sailfin Dragons are found near water, frequenting forested river edges, swamps, and coastal marshes.

 

Behavior

Sailfin Dragons are alert and somewhat high-strung. Pets will flee from noises, cats, dogs, large birds and other threats. Injuries during such escape attempts are common. While some calm down and accept gentle handling, wild caught individuals may remain unapproachable for years.

 

Female

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Adrian Pingstone

Status in the Wild

A recent survey by University of Oklahoma herpetologists (Biological Conservation, V 169, Jan, 2014) revealed that only 10% of the Philippine Sailfin Dragon’s remaining habitat is protected. The rest is impacted by logging, coastal fisheries, illegal collection, and other activities.

 

The Terrarium

Sailfin Dragons forage on the ground but are otherwise arboreal. They will be stressed if kept in low enclosures that do not allow climbing opportunities.

 

Youngsters may be raised in 30-55 gallon aquariums. In common with Asian Water Dragons and Basilisks, they often run along the glass and are prone to snout and jaw abrasions. Cardboard or other solid borders along the lower 3-4 inches of the tank’s sides will help to limit such injuries.

 

Larger individuals must be housed in custom-made cages. A single adult will need a home measuring approximately 5 x 4 x 5 feet. More height – 6 feet or so – is ideal. In suitable climates, predator-proof outdoor enclosures, including pre-fabricated bird aviaries, can be fashioned into “luxury accommodations”.

 

H. amboinensis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Cburnett

Numerous wide, stout branches and shelves should be provided. Sturdy live plants (Pothos, Philodendron, Spider Plants) and/or artificial plants should be added to provide a sense of security. Wild Sailfin Dragons always live near heavy cover, and will be ill-at-ease in bare terrariums. One or two sides of the enclosure should be solid as opposed to screened, again to place the animals at ease (this is standard in zoo exhibit construction – many animals fare poorly when open to view from all directions). Never position rocks below branches, as startled individuals may jump to the floor and be injured.

 

A water bowl large enough for bathing must be provided. Custom built cages with filtered pools are ideal.

 

Substrate

The substrate should be capable of holding moisture and soft enough to cushion falls when hungry or frightened Dragons leap to the ground. Cypress mulch is ideal; soft sphagnum moss can be added if falls are frequent. Avoid fine substrates such as peat and coconut husk, which tend to lodge around the eyes and jaws.

 

Light

Sailfin Dragons will not thrive without a source of UVB radiation. Natural sunlight is best, but be aware that glass and plastic filter out UVB rays, and that fatal overheating can occur very quickly. If a florescent bulb is used (the Zoo Med 10.0 UVB Bulb is ideal), be sure that all animals can bask within 6-12 inches of it. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances, and provide beneficial UVA radiation as well. A 12:12 hour day-night cycle should be maintained.

 

Heat

The ambient air temperature should range from 80-90 F, with a basking spot of 110-120 F; night-time temperatures can dip to 75 F.  Incandescent bulbs should be used to maintain these temperatures. Provide your pets with the largest enclosure possible, so that a varied temperature gradient can be maintained. A ceramic heater or red/black reptile “night bulb” can be used after dark.

 

Humidity

Sailfin Dragons require humidity levels of approximately 80%, and the chance to dry off as well. The terrarium should be misted twice daily. Large bathing pools and reptile misters can be used to increase humidity.

 

Companions

Males are territorial and will fight savagely. Females often co-exist, but may also battle for dominance.

 

Crayfish

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Thomas Seip

Feeding

Sailfin Dragons need a varied diet. Those fed crickets and mealworms alone quickly develop serious developmental disorders. Whole vertebrates such as minnows, shiners, crayfish or small bait crabs, and pink mice represent the best means of meeting their high calcium requirements; use goldfishes only sparingly, as a steady diet has been implicated in health problems in other reptiles. Pink mice should be fed less often than fishes (once each 7-14 days), and furred rodents are best avoided.

 

Roaches, earthworms, crickets, butterworms, silkworms, super mealworms and other commercially-available insects, should be offered regularly. In order to increase dietary variety, try canned grasshoppers, snails and silkworms. Cicadas, beetles, grasshoppers, moths and other wild-caught insects should be provided as well; please see the article linked below for further information on safely collecting insects.

 

Young Sailfin Dragons are primarily carnivorous, but add greens and fruit to the diet as they mature. Captives, however, often reject non-living foods. Mixing live mealworms into a bowl of kale, dandelion, squash, carrot, mango, peaches and other produce may encourage them to sample the salad.

 

Depending upon the type of food, Sailfin Dragons can be fed daily, every-other-day or thrice weekly; young fare best when fed frequently. Food (other than vertebrates) should be powdered with Zoo Med ReptiCalcium or a similar product. Vitamin/mineral supplements such as ReptiVite should be used 2-3 times each week.

 

While ingested substrate is usually passed, food is best offered in bowls to limit potential problems.

 

Health Considerations (Pet Owner and Pet)

Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Please speak with your family doctor concerning details, and feel free to write me for links to useful resources.

 

Unfortunately, captive breeding remains the exception rather than the rule. Wild-caught individuals will be afflicted with various parasites and should be seen by an experienced veterinarian shortly after acquisition.

 

Sailfin Dragons are prone to snout and jaw injuries that result from rubbing against glass and screening. Wounds may become infected, and should be treated immediately.

 

Fine/gritty substrate may lodge along the gums and in the eyes.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.

 

Further Reading

 New Sailfin Dragon Species Found in Pet Market

Feeding Insectivorous Lizards

 

Working with Spitting Cobras…and Getting Snake Venom in My Eyes!

Black-necked Spitting Cobra

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Warren Klein

Working with Spitting Cobras has been a fascinating, if sometimes un-nerving, experience. In addition to being able to deliver venom via biting or ejection through the air, Spitting Cobras also have the alertness and speed that is typical of nearly all the world’s 353 Elapid species. On two occasions, I’ve had to re-capture a total of 6 escaped Red Spitting Cobras (Naja pallida) – once because a man helped his little son to kick in the glass of an exhibit at the Bronx Zoo! (please see article linked below) But despite these incidents, and decades of working closely with related species, the only venom to wind up in my eyes came not from a Spitter, but rather courtesy of a species that “cannot spit” – the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox).

 

 

Illegal Rattlesnakes: Live and Cooked

Most of the obvious risks associated with venomous snake care are easy to avoid (in a reputable zoo, that is…one cannot properly prepare for a bite delivered by a snake in a private collection). When working with Spitting Cobras, for example, safety glasses are always worn. Emergencies occur, of course, and then you must sometimes make do without. In the escape mentioned earlier, for example, I arrived on the scene not knowing that Red Spitting Cobras were involved, and I had to immediately evacuate visitors, many of whom were children, from the area.

 

Western Diamondback rattlesnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Gary Stolz

But, as in most fields, the greatest dangers arise from unexpected situations – those that we don’t imagine or believe can happen. This was the case one day when I was in a Bronx Zoo holding area, checking on some newly-arrived Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. The snakes had been confiscated the night before, in a store in NYC, of all places. Several police officers had entered following a report of a burglary, and found snakes instead of criminals. The snakes, mainly Western Diamondbacks, were being held in a variety of slip-shod containers; several dead individuals were in cooking pots, alcoholic drinks, and “medicines”. As usual, the Bronx Zoo was summoned.

 

“Hey…Rattlesnakes Can’t Spit”

Co-workers and I had installed the snakes in screen-topped aquariums in an isolation room at the zoo’s Reptile House. As is dictated by protocol (and common sense!), I was careful not to lean on any screen tops as I checked the animals. All were highly agitated. Unable to see one individual clearly through the tank’s glass side, I peered down into the screen top. The snake struck at the top, and I instantly felt a splash of liquid in both eyes.

 

Javan Spitting Cobra

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Department of Sustainability & Environment

The standard wisdom is that only Spitting Cobra venom can cause eye damage. In the rare event that another type of venom enters the eye, it needs merely to be washed out; a follow-up with a doctor, to assure that an infection does not take hold, should follow. But this incident was unique for two reasons. First, the force of the snake’s strike against the screening had propelled the venom into my eyes. Second, I had just returned to work following a cornea transplant. There were numerous stitches in my eye, and they were not all that stable.

 

I felt a stinging sensation (which is not typical for other than Spitting Cobra venom) and thought that perhaps the venom had seeped under my cornea through the stitches. I wondered if the transplant could be ruined, and if I might suffer a typical envenomation as well, once the venom moved further along in my body.

 

Just When You Thought You Had Seen Everything…

The Bronx Zoo’s snakebite protocol relies upon the NYC Police Department for transport to the hospital. Fortunately, several NYPD Officers are always on the grounds. I was on friendly terms with all – one, in fact, was a former BZ animal keeper, and all were top-notch. It’s hard to surprise an officer who’s spent some time in the Bronx, but I did a good job that day! In less time than I could imagine, I was at Jacobi Hospital being attended to by a young doctor who, after some time in a busy Bronx emergency room, thought he had seen it all!

 

All went smoothly, and I suffered no symptoms of envenomation. It would have been interesting to learn if the venom had entered my body via a cornea stitch, but in those years Bronx hospitals were unbelievably busy (often with unbelievable, at least to me, cases) and there was no time for speculation or experimentation – I was shuttled out as quickly as I’d arrived!

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

A Close Call with a King Cobra

Snake Escapes!

 

Thanksgiving at the Zoo: The Giant Appetites of Snakes, Frogs, and Moles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArticles on holiday over-eating always appear as Thanksgiving approaches. Throughout my career as a zookeeper, a variety of creatures have amazed me with their abilities to consume massive meals. Reptiles and amphibians are the most impressive diners, with a 60 pound deer, swallowed by a wild Green Anaconda, being my most notable observation. But several others take even larger meals, comparatively. For example, one Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops atrox) successfully consumed a lizard that exceeded the snake’s weight by over 50%! The 17 young Spitting Cobras taken in a single “sitting” by an African Bullfrog are also worthy of mention. From Star-nosed Moles to Asian Elephants, the mammals I’ve cared for have impressed me as well. Please feel free to quote my stories if friends and family criticize you for over-indulging this year, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Anaconad, me and MariaGiant Constrictors

I’ve had the good fortune to work with Green Anacondas for many years, in both the wild and captivity, and I’ve written several articles about their amazing appetites (please see links below). A 60 pound White-tailed Deer regurgitated by a massive wild female topping 17 feet in length remains the largest snake meal I’ve witnessed. Other memorable Anaconda food items include a 5-foot-long Spectacled Caiman, a large Red-footed Tortoise, and a hefty Giant Side-necked Turtle.

 

The world’s other giant constrictors – Reticulated, Burmese, Indian and African Rock Pythons – are also champion diners. The largest meal I’ve been able to track down in a published source is a 130 pound Impala taken by African Rock Python. A captive 25-foot-long Reticulated Python came close, consuming 138 pounds of food (Ibex, domestic goats) over several days. Please see the linked articles for details.

 

Vipers and Elapids

But it is among the vipers that we find the true gluttons (or eating champs, depending on your point of view!). In his spectacular book Snakes, the Evolution of Mystery in Nature (U. Cal. Press, 1997), Harry Greene recounts examples of Viperids consuming prey that exceeded their own body weight. I was amazed to read of a Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops atrox) that ate a Whiptail Lizard which outweighed the snake by 56%, and a 23 gram Hog-nosed Viper (Porthidium nasutum) that swallowed a 29 gram Spiny Pocket Mouse. Mr. Greene likened such feats to himself downing a 200+ pound hamburger, intact, in less than 1 hour, and without the use of hands or utensils!

 

Gaboon Viper

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by TimVickers

Gaboon Vipers are well-known as large-meal specialists. Those I’ve worked with have awed me with their mass, and I have no trouble believing that a wild specimen was found to contain an antelope (Red Duiker) that was 4% heavier than the snake itself. A Harlequin Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius) – not known for taking massive food items – was able to down a Glass Lizard that exceeded its own weight by 37%.

 

Digestive Systems that Grow and Shrink

While most people who overdo it at Thanksgiving suffer a variety of discomforts, snakes have no such worries. Recent research has revealed that some have evolved a truly remarkable means of adapting to large, infrequent feeding bouts. Within 24 hours of a meal, the liver and intestines of Indian Pythons actually grow larger! Eventually, the intestine’s diameter increases by 30% and its mucus membranes, responsible for nutrient absorption, become 3x thicker than usual. The liver’s circumference becomes 2/3 larger than its pre-meal size. All returns to normal within a week or so after a meal has passed through the intestinal tract.

 

Indian Python eating Chital Deer

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Rakesh Kumar Dogra

I wouldn’t be surprised if other herps were found to have unique digestive adaptations as well. However, I can’t help but think that the cobra-eating African Bullfrog described in this article suffered at least some digestive distress!

 

Keeping up with Moles, Shrews, and Elephants

I have wide interests, and was, for a time, the Bronx Zoo’s head mammal keeper. Over time, I’ve had experiences feeding some of the world’s tiniest and largest mammals.

 

Back in my early teens, while working at a nature center in New Paltz, NY, I came across a Star-nosed Mole. Bizarre beyond belief, it was gorging on earthworms driven to the surface by heavy rains. I grabbed the surprisingly-powerful creature and popped it into a large coffee can. I tossed in several earthworms, and was shocked to see the mole slurp them down as if it was in its usual habitat! At the time, I was in charge of collecting and caring for a huge array of animals, including woodchucks, baby raccoons, flying squirrels and numerous native herps, birds, and insects, and simply could not keep up with the mole’s appetite. Reluctantly, I released the ravenous little beast – I’ve yet to come across another.

 

Star-nosed Mole

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by en:User:Big iron

I also kept another small insectivore, the Short-tailed Shrew. Driven by a heart that beats over 1,000 times per minute, these hyper little guys were quite common in fields at the Bronx Zoo. I trapped several, and kept them for varying periods. Just recently my nephew and I came across one while we were feeding some Chipmunks. The little guy surprised my nephew by hauling away a huge chunk of cheese bread (one of the few times I’ve seen this equally ravenous 6-year-old part with such a delicacy!).

 

Most shrews consume at least 1.25 x their bodyweight in food each day. By contrast, the Asian Elephants I cared for ate only 1-1.5% of their body mass daily. But this amounted to 300-375 pounds of yams, carrots, hay and such, delivered by the wheelbarrow-full…and nearly equal amounts of elephant waste. I much preferred caring for shrews and moles!

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

People as Python Prey: Surprising Statistics!

Giant and Unusual Snake Meals

 

 

Pet Snakes That Don’t Eat Rodents: Insect-Eating Snake Care

Snail eating snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by ShareAlike 2.5

Snakes that feed solely upon insects, earthworms, spiders, snails and other invertebrates are a great choice for folks who would rather not handle rats and mice. They also have other attractive characteristics, including small size, inoffensive natures, and adaptability to naturalistic terrariums containing live plants. What’s more, most receive scant attention as captives, and so offer us the opportunity to record new facts about their needs and habits. Several invertebrate-eaters, such as Brown Snakes (Storeria) and Ring-Necked Snakes (Diadophis), thrive in the hearts of large cities, while others, including the Worm Snakes (Carphophis), Black-Headed Snakes (Tantilla), Snail-Eating Snakes (Sibon), Red-Bellied Snakes (Storeria), Pine Woods Snakes (Rhadinae) and Flower Pot Snakes (Rhamphotyphlops), are sometimes collected and offered for sale. Today I’ll introduce this fascinating but over-looked group. Please see the articles linked below to read about others that can do without rodents, including Garter, Ribbon and Green Snakes.

 

Note: There are thousands of snake species that fit within this general category…please post your own experiences below, thanks, Frank

 

Eastern Worm Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Schechter

Description

Most invertebrate-eating snakes are shy and secretive, and measure less than 12 inches in length when fully grown (Garter and Ribbon Snakes, covered elsewhere, are an exception). Many, such as Brown and Worm Snakes, are well-camouflaged by their somber coloration, while Ring-Necked and Red-Bellied Snakes flash bright warning colors when disturbed.

 

Range

Invertebrate specialists occur from southern Canada to southern South America and in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia – everywhere that “typical” snakes dwell.

 

Nearly all spend most of their time below leaf litter, decaying logs, rocks, or other cover that offers protection and access to grubs, earthworms, slugs and other prey. Some, such as the Eastern Worm Snake, have pointed heads that assist in burrowing, and rarely appear above-ground. However, the lifestyles of these interesting snakes are as varied as the habitats they occupy. Garter Snakes, for example, actively forage on land and in water, while Rough Green Snakes spend most of their time in bushes, hunting caterpillars.

 

Habitat

Insect-eating snakes of one type or another may be found in rainforests, cities, farms, arid scrubland, swamps, grasslands, deserts, montane cloud forests and many other environments.

 

Flowerpot Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Eugene van der Pijll

The aptly-named Flowerpot Snake, a native of India, has been shipped worldwide as a stowaway among plant roots, and is now established in greenhouses and gardens in Florida and elsewhere. Brown Snakes are still to be found in Manhattan, while Ring-Necked and Red-Bellied Snakes frequent gardens, farms, and suburban parks.

 

Care and Feeding

Note: Husbandry details may vary widely from these general guidelines. Please post below for information about the species in which you are interested.

 

Depending upon the snake in question, the natural diet may include earthworms, beetle grubs, slugs, grasshoppers, caterpillars, termites, and a wide variety of other invertebrates. The most commonly-kept species accept soft-bodied foods such as earthworms, waxworms, silkworms and butterworms; crickets and mealworms are often rejected. Specialists, such as the Cloudy Snail Eater or the Red-Bellied Snake (which favors slugs) can be difficult to keep unless their natural foods are available. Fascinating snakes that specialize in hunting centipedes, spiders, fish and frog eggs and other unusual prey items are also known, but these are rarely kept as pets.

 

Ring-necked Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Schechter

A single adult of most species will do fine in a 10 gallon aquarium. Unlike more commonly-kept snakes, they do not fare well on newspapers, aspen shavings or similar substrates. The terrarium should instead be furnished with a mixture of dead leaves and coco-husk. Many will shelter below the substrate, but a dark cave stocked with moist sphagnum moss should also be provided. Due to their small size, insect-eating snakes make ideal inhabitants of naturalistic terrariums provisioned with live plants.

 

On the menus of predators ranging from frogs and tarantulas to crows and skunks, most insect-eating snakes are shy and retiring. Brown, Worm, and Ring-Necked Snakes can rarely even be induced to bite, but stressed individuals may release musk. Many take short periods of gentle handling in stride.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Brown Snake Care (the Best Small Snake Pet?)

Garter Snake Care & Natural History

Keeping Rough & Smooth Green Snakes

African Bullfrog or Pac Man Horned Frog: Choosing the Best Frog Pet

Ornate Horned Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by “Max Gross”

The Argentine, Pac Man or Ornate Horned Frog (Ceratophrys ornata) may be the world’s most popular amphibian pet. Beautiful and “charmingly” pugnacious, Horned Frogs require relatively little space despite their “salad bowl” size, and may live to age 20 or more. In a close second among frog fans is the massive African Bullfrog, Pyxicephalus adspersus. These brutes, which can live past age 50, are resilient beyond belief – one was observed downing 17 hatchling spitting cobras, and during droughts they can remain dormant for 10 to 12 months!

 

In the following article I’ll compare Horned and African Bullfrogs in terms of their habits, activity levels, and care needs, so that you’ll be able to choose the species that best suits your interests and frog-keeping skills. Detailed care information is provided in the articles linked under “Further Reading”; as always, please also post any questions or observations you may have.

 

African Bullfrog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Steven G. Johnson

Handling Your Pet Frog

Both Horned and African Bullfrogs have powerful jaws equipped with bits of bone that extend up from the jaw. These “teeth”, technically known as odontoid structures, can inflict serious wounds. Even after years in captivity, an instinctive feeding response will cause frogs to bite fingers moved within range.

 

Fortunately, it is a simple matter to safely pick up either by grasping it behind the front legs. However, they should be handled only when necessary, and then with wet hands, so that you do not remove the protective mucus from their skin. Wash well after handling any animal.

 

Surinam Horned Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Maarten Sepp

Activity Levels

Neither is overly active, but each has fascinating behaviors (please see articles linked below). Both will feed by day, but may become more active after dark. In order to observe them at night, you can equip the terrarium with a black or red reptile night bulb (frogs do not sense the light produced by these bulbs).

 

Life Span

The published longevity for an Ornate Horned Frog is just short of 15 years, but there are unofficial reports of individuals approaching age 23. African Bullfrogs are among the longest-lived of all amphibians, with a 51-year-old individual holding the record.

 

Breeding Potential

Both are bred by commercial dealers, but reproduction is not common in home terrariums. However, given suitable space and proper pre-conditioning, either species may surprise you with thousands of eggs…and the tadpoles are as rabidly carnivorous as their parents!

 

Cost

The cost of ownership of each frog is about the same. Neither requires UVB exposure, and they do fine with similar diets, terrariums and heat levels.

 

Horned frog habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Haroldarmitage

Terrarium Size (single adult)

African Bullfrogs and Horned Frogs are “sit and wait” predators, and as such are relatively inactive. A 20 gallon aquarium (or a similarly-sized plastic tub) will accommodate an average adult, but a 30 gallon tank will be “appreciated”. Males, the smaller sex, have been successfully kept in 15 gallon aquariums.

 

Light and Heat

Neither frog requires exposure to UVB light.

 

Both African Bull and Horned Frogs fare best at temperatures ranging from 72 F on the cooler side of the terrarium to 85 F at the warmer. Reptile heat pads are ideal as heat sources, but are best located along the sides of the terrarium. When placed below the tank, there is a chance that your frog may burrow down and come in direct contact with overly-hot glass. Incandescent bulbs, night bulbs, or ceramic heaters may also be employed, but beware of their drying effects.

 

Minnows

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Etrusko25

Frog Diet

The dietary requirements of the two species are identical.

 

Both require a great deal of calcium, especially as they are growing. Whole fishes and, to a lesser extent, pink mice, are ideal calcium sources. Pink mice may be offered once each 7-10 days, or omitted if fish are consumed regularly.

 

Crickets alone will not supply adequate nutrition. Minnows, shiners, earthworms, roaches, and crickets can make up the bulk of their diet. Crayfishes, butterworms, silkworms and other invertebrates should also be included regularly.

 

Food (other than pinkies and fish) should be powdered with Zoo Med ReptiCalcium plus D3  or a similar product. Vitamin/mineral supplements such as ReptiVite should be used 2-3 times weekly.

 

Health Concerns (Pet and Pet Owner)

African Bullfrogs and Horned Frogs are equally at risk from the following health issues. If proper care and diet is provided, both will prove to be extremely hardy and long-lived.

 

Ammonia toxicity is the most frequent cause of death. Ammonia is released with waste products and is rapidly absorbed via the skin as frogs soak in water or rest on the substrate. Ammonia can prove fatal in short order, so be sure to have someone clean the terrarium frequently when you are away from home for extended periods. Generally, water should be changed daily, and always treated with a chlorine/chloramine remover. Unclean conditions can also result in a bacterial skin infection known as Septicemia or “Red Leg”.

 

Intestinal impactions resulting from substrate ingestion are sometimes encountered (both species). This problem can be avoided by the use of cage liners, or by feeding your frogs in large bowls, via tongs, or in a bare-bottomed enclosure.

 

Calcium deficiencies and other diseases related to poor nutrition are common among frogs maintained on crickets and mealworms alone. Please post below for further information.

 

Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Please speak with your family doctor concerning details, and feel free to post below if you would like links to useful resources.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

African Bullfrog Care

An Appetite for Cobras: Huge Bullfrog Meals

Horned Frog Care

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