Home | Amphibians | Feeding Pet African Bullfrogs Pyxicephalus adspersus – Part 2

Feeding Pet African Bullfrogs Pyxicephalus adspersus – Part 2

See Feeding Pet African Bullfrogs Pyxicephalus adspersus – Part 1 for the first part of this article.

How does one satisfy a 9 pound amphibian!?

Wild-Caught Insects
Native invertebrates, collected from pesticide-free areas, should be offered whenever possible. In my work with frogs of all types, I’ve found very little that approaches the beneficial effects of a varied diet. Zoo Med’s Bug Napper is an excellent insect trap.

Sweeping a net through tall grass and searching around outdoor lights will also yield a number of useful species. Avoid using spiders, stinging and brightly-colored insects and fireflies, and do not collect during times when your collecting site is being sprayed with insecticides as part of mosquito control programs.

African bullfrogs under my care have enthusiastically accepted (“enthusiastically” goes without saying where these stout fellows are concerned!) cicadas, katydids, grasshoppers, beetles and their grubs, moths, tree crickets, hover flies, caterpillars, and most everything else I could come up with. I rely heavily upon wild-caught invertebrates throughout the spring, summer and early fall, but even a few beetles plucked from a screen door every night or so will go a long way in keeping your pet in the peak of health.

The Importance of Canned Insects
African bullfrogs can be easily trained to accept non-living food items from a plastic feeding tongs (well, to be honest, no actual “training” is involved…they generally just swallow whatever moves within range!). They have a very vigorous feeding response, and hit food quite hard. Accordingly, I avoid using metal feeding implements, as the risk of a mouth injury is fairly high.

This frog’s willingness to tong-feed is quite fortunate, because it enables us to use canned insects as a source of important dietary variety. The canned grasshoppers are quite large, and are suitable even for adult African bullfrogs. Large canned grasshoppers, silkworms and other insects can be broken into smaller pieces for juvenile frogs.

Meal Frequency and Nutritional Supplements
Juvenile frogs can be fed 3-4 times weekly, while adults do fine with a meal each 4-7 days (fast them for 10 days or so after a “heavy” meal of large shiners or pink mice). Smaller, more frequent meals can also be offered…I personally find this preferable, but it is not as critical for with this species as it seems to be for certain others.

The food of juveniles should be powdered with Reptocal at every other feeding, that of adults once weekly. During periods when you are unable to offer a varied diet, alternate Reptocal with Reptivite.

African BullfrogThe African bullfrog pictured here may be seen in the wonderful amphibian exhibit area at Norwalk Connecticut’s Maritime Aquarium. I was involved in the project’s development as a consultant, and am pleased to say that the staff has done an excellent job of keeping and breeding a wide variety of amphibians in beautiful, naturalistic exhibits. The accompanying photographs show some of the aquarium’s other residents – albino American bullfrogs with pumpkinseed sunfishes, poison frogs and tiger salamanders. Also exhibited are barking treefrogs, Surinam toads, bronze frogs, mudpuppies, fire salamanders, red-eyed treefrogs and many other toads, salamanders and frogs from both the USA and abroad – please visit if you have the opportunity.

Further Reading

For a startling account of African bullfrog predation upon red spitting cobras and of the amazing degree of parental care these frogs provide to their tadpoles, please see my articles “An Appetite for Cobras” and “The African Bullfrog (South African Burrowing Frog, Giant Bullfrog), Pyxicephalus adspersus: The World’s Heaviest Frog is also a Devoted Parent”.

African bullfrogs seem to give rise to all sorts of interesting stories.


  1. avatar

    Hello Frank,

    I’m guessing this dietary info also applies to the other fat frogs in the hobby(budgetts and horned frogs?)

    I think hobbyists tend to be overly impressed by the dentition and ability of these animals to eat…thus the whole rodent thing.

    I’ve read in a few places that livebearers are to be preferred over fishes like goldfish. Any thoughts? Its unfortunate that except for perhaps Xenopus no amphibian/reptile seems easy enough to breed and raise as a food source for, for example, cornuta, which in the wild supposedly prey mainly on other frogs.

    Have you any experience with Budgett’s frogs? I’ve always thought of keeping some kind of leptodactylid frog(the size/needs of african bullfrogs is a bit prohibitory)…and these seems quite neat. Not to mention their tadpole stage.(though relatively few keepers seem to be breeding any of this group of frogs, those that are are being tight lipped for good reason!)

    Their are lots of discussions on how to care for this group of frogs in captivity, and musing on how they survive in the wild.(people wonder how they could live out their without swallowing substrate and becoming impacted…my best guess is substrate in the wild vs substrate in captivity?) Great series of articles!

    • avatar

      Hi Joseph

      Frank Indiviglio here.

      Yes, marine toads colorado river toads and many others are very similar in that regard. Basilisks, tiger salamanders and numerous others often develop corneal opacities (lipid deposits in the eye) when pinkies are fed on a regular basis.

      The goldfish problem was first noted at the Bronx Zoo 15-20 years ago…mata mata turtles that were fed goldfish on a regular basis would die after about 5 years; necropsy showed kidney and liver damage. They do fine long term on a diet of shiners and minnows. These are seined from outdoor ponds by most suppliers and are likely a better source of nutrition in general,as they are eating a more natural diet than are farm raised goldfish. The goldfish problem was speculated to be related to vitamin A excess somehow, but that was not proven. Livebearing tropical fish are also fine to use in most situations.

      Bullfrog tadpoles are sometimes used as food in zoos when available in large quantities, African clawed frogs are easy to breed but seem well protected by skin toxins – an American eel that I kept for 17 years lived with several for much of that time and would not touch them, despite eating everything else that came its way.

      I am going over some notes and will be writing an article on Budgetts frogs soon.

      Yes, I am sure that the type od substrate make a big difference in terms of what will and will not pass

      Best regards, Frank

  2. avatar

    Hi there……We have the African Bullfrog for quite some months now and has been fine……recently it hasnt been to the loo for weeks….its a male as far as we know, and I wonder if this is normal?
    The weather has become warmer so he is a bit warmer than usual and is still eating normally and looking his usual menacing self !!!
    Any advice???

    • avatar

      Hello Danielle, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      African bullfrogs that are fed a steady diet of mice, or swallow gravel, moss and other types of substrates, often develop intestinal impactions or blockages. Stop feeding the frog for now and try putting the frog in a few inches of water – just enough to keep him swimming for awhile, but not so deep that he has to struggle to stay afloat. They are not good swimmers, so watch to be sure he is not in distress. Sometimes swimming about helps the animal to have a bowel movement.

      If this is not effective, I suggest that you bring the animal to a veterinarian for a radiograph or ultra-sound. Less robust animals usually cease feeding once an impaction forms, but African bullfrogs often continue as usual. This can disguise the symptoms and render treatment more difficult – the earlier this is addressed, the better.

      Please let me know if you need anything further, and please let me know how all turns out.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    thank you for your advice….we feed the frog locusts and things from the garden like caterpillers etc, we give it a vitamin/powder with the locusts.

    I will “attempt” to put him in his water side of the tank as he hasnt gone there for a while!

    thankyou for your help.

    • avatar

      Hello Danielle, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for the feedback.

      The diet sounds fine; you may want to add earthworms/nightcrawlers…nutritious and easy to digest. If you’d like to write back concerning the frog’s size and feeding frequency, perhaps I can offer some suggestions to prevent the problem from recurring.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    Hi there Frank,

    I would just like to say thanks for your advice it worked!!!! Almost straight away!!

    I lifted it into its water and “encouraged” it to swim about a bit and it took about an hour or so to work.

    Admittedly, it isnt too impressed with me tho and keeps trying to hide from me whenever I go in the room hehe.

    But thanks again!!

    Kind Regards


    • avatar

      Hello Danielle, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Great news…and thanks so much for taking the time to let me know. Please write in with some details concerning his size, frequency of feeding and amount of food given, etc….perhaps we can avoid future problems.

      They do seem to “hold a grudge”, don’t they!

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Well I couldnt tell you the exact size, he is huge tho,I needed both hands to put him in the water….in the winter time when theres not as many insects he gets locusts with the calcium/vitamin dust, then as soon as available he gets slugs and caterpillars….
    We put in a few bits each day in the morning, like 3 things.
    He now hides under water when I go in the room!!!
    My friend gave him to us last year as she needed space as she was having a baby, she used to feed him locusts and mice, mum wont have the mice in the freezer so we reasearched that its ok for him not to have them as long as he gets a replacement.

    We would love to know if there are any other “readily” available things we could give him.

    Hope this is enough information

    Thanks again


    • avatar

      Hello Danielle, Frank Indiviglio here. Nice to hear from you again.

      Sounds like you are already doing quite a lot to provide your frog with a healthy, varied diet…my compliments. I would continue with the wild-caught invertebrates. Other convenient foods include tong-fed canned insects, nightcrawlers (collected or from a bait store) and an occasional goldfish or shiner. You might also occasionally order large feeder insects such as roaches or hornworms (sphinx moth caterpillars) via inter net dealers. Please see my article Feeding Large Insectivorous Reptiles and Amphibians for additional ideas.

      Small daily meals work well, and are indeed preferable, for many frogs. African bullfrogs, however, dwell in habitats that have caused them to evolve rather unique feeding strategies, and I’m wondering if this might be related to the problem you experienced. They gorge themselves during the short rainy/breeding season, and then aestivate for 6-9 months, sometimes longer, living off stored fat…it may be that frequent small meals year-round tax the digestive system. This is only a theory, but experience leads me in that direction. Also, they are very efficient at storing fat, and do not expend many calories in captivity.

      You might wish to skip a day or 2 between meals, and intersperse longer fast periods (i.e. 4-5 days) on occasion. Stay with about the same volume as now for each meal, and fast the animal for a few days after a particularly heavy meal, i.e. a shiner. The frog just may not be able to process small daily meals efficiently, at least long term.

      You can also feed heavily during the warmer months, and cool the animal down a bit and reduce food intake at other times…please let me know if you need further details.

      It’s interesting how the frog’s behavior changed after you terrified him (just teasing!), isn’t it? They do remember and learn from past experience. In this regard, you might be interested in another article I wrote on the topic, Amphibian Learning Abilities.
      Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  6. avatar

    Hi Franks thanks ever so much for all your advice…..

    Its been very usefull and its great to have this information available.



    • avatar

      Hello Danielle, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write back. I’m very glad to know that the information was of some use to you.

      Please write back anytime and keep me posted on your frog’s health.

      Enjoy, Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    How many flies does a bull frog eat a day?

    • avatar

      Hello Peter, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      Unfortunately, there has not been much research done concerning the actual composition of frog diets in the wild. One that I recall (US Dept. of Agriculture perhaps) stated that an American toad consumed upwards of 4,000 insects during its 6 month activity period in the northeast, but I haven’t seen much else along those lines.

      In any event, African bullfrogs are not well suited to prey upon flies…they move slowly and can not leap very well and tend to specialize on large terrestrial invertebrates (and their smaller brethren!).

      Sorry I could not be of more help.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  8. avatar

    Hi there, I just bought a African bullfrog and wondering if u can give me any advice on him. Two things though: If he ever bit me how would I deal with that? Secondly, I bought a heat mat which is under the tank I got but I dnt think its warm enough. Thanks, Vixta.

    • avatar

      Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      It’s easy to avoid a bite – be sure not to move your fingers about in front of the frog, and grasp it behind the front legs, or usher it into a container, if you need to move him. If you are bitten, do not pull back but rather just stay still – the frog will usually let go. A credit card or spoon inserted between the frog’s mouth and your skin can be used to loosen its grip if need be. If your skin is broken, even a tiny bit, you should contact your doctor concerning proper disinfection of the cut and the possible need for tetanus or other shots.

      Heat pads are not the best choice for frogs, as they usually do little to warm the air…also, in cold conditions frogs tend to stay on them too long, and may burn themselves. Small ceramic heaters can be used, but you’ll need to experiment with the distance and to watch that the tank does not become overly-dry. Temperatures can range from 76-82 F by day; a dip to 66-68 F or so is fine at night.

      Please remember that ammonia poisoning is the most common cause of death in these frogs – their water and substrate, if any, must be kept scrupulously clean.

      Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  9. avatar

    My son Jacob 9 years old purchased a bullfrog tadpole 3 months ago. He currently has 8 aquariums over the last three years with great success(turtles,(3)frogs in two different tanks,water lizards, fish, sharks, salt water crabs, land hermit crabs and a coi outside pond). The tadpole bullfrog turned into a bullfrog three weeks ago. He noticed that it was not eating. We purchased it meal worms and tried these. Tomorrow we wre going to try crickets. He has lost alittle weight. We thought his mouth was not formed yet but after looking at him under a bright light he finally opened it quickly after I tried with my finger. He definitely has a working mouth. He is now stressed out so we placed him back into the environment. We also had 95% water and 5% land until today. We placed a large rock that provides 50% dry land now if he needs it. Can you suggest how to get him to feed and if we should add a heater in the aquarium. The water is at 60-65 degrees right now!

    Any assistance on feeding and warmth would be appreeciated. Can you notify me by e-mail. Looking forward to your answer.

    Michele Kirk

    • avatar

      Hello Michele, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      Sounds like Jacob is off to a great start! I’m assuming this is an American bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana…newly transformed frogs are very shy and high strung, the opposite of the African bullfrog described in the article. They are on the menus of predators ranging from giant water bugs to herons, and so are stressed if not able to hide. Fill the water area with plenty of plastic plants, and be sure the depth is such that the frog can completely submerge. He’ll likely spend most of the time among the floating plants, rather than on land – some plants on land may encourage him, but they are largely aquatic (but need plants to rest on).

      A filter will lessen the stress of full water changes, but if you do empty the tank give the frog a hiding spot in the holding container as well.

      A temperature of 60-65 is fine health wise, but the frog’s metabolism will be a bit slow. If he doesn’t state feeding soon, you can gradually raise the water to 70-72 F with a heater.

      Crickets are the easiest food to start with – they will cling to the floating plants and so be alive at night, when he is more likely to feed. He will need more variety in time, but get him started on crickets and once feeding please write back re the next step.

      Young bullfrogs have very high calcium requirements. For now, powder most of his meals with supplements, alternating between Reptocal and ReptiCalcium.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  10. avatar

    Hi have a large pixie and I have feed him lots of mice snakes lizards and other frogs, but are they able to eat American eastern toads? Are they toxic like the cane toad? Thank you for any info you can help me with!

    • avatar

      Hi Jennifer,

      American and other toads are highly toxic; African Bullfrogs will not have evolved a resistance, and could be killed. Actually, almost all N American frogs have skin toxins to some degree. Even if they do not kill the frog outright, they may over time. Another concern is that parasites, bacteria, etc that infect but do not kill native frogs may be transferred to related, exotic species such as Af Bullfrogs, where they can cause illness or death (as in tourists becoming ill after drinking tap water in foreign countries). snakes and lizards pose similar problems, and should not be used.

      The bulk of the diet should be large invertebrates…many people feed solely on mice, and claim success, but bear in mind that this species should live into their 30’s at least…the record is 51 years. Longevities of 10-15 years are not impressive. Use pinkies only, not furred mice. Shiners and other fw fishes are a good source of calcium, as are crayfishes if available (remove claws).

      Best,. frank

  11. avatar

    Oh thank you for your speedy answer! My cousin caught a big fat eastern toad and tried to feed it to my pixie, he did get it in his mouth and had him in his mouth for about 10 minutes before I found out that he had it. I pulled the toad out of it’s mouth, it was bleeding but I didn’t see any of thing else. I think blood got in it’s mouth, should I take him to my reptile vet right away? He’s not acting weird but he is pissed that he lost a meal…

    • avatar

      My pleasure. No need for a vet; nothing could be done as far as I know if toxins have entered the frog (absorbed through lining of mouth, etc); but I believe toad venom would have fairly quick effects…we once lost several large Blomberg’s toads and Smoky Jungle Frogs very quickly after placing them in a container that had housed an agitated toad or pickerel frog (details escape me now). As mentioned, avoid the tendency to experiment with native herps as food, or to est the frog’s appetite limits, Best, frank

  12. avatar

    Is polyurathane foam a good substrate for african bullfrogs? If so what companies make safe foam? Is air conditioner foam a good example? Can I use great stuff foam? Thanks.

    • avatar

      Hi Teddi,

      Thanks for raising this point, I’ve been meaning to. Most poly is excellent, I keep 2 sheet for each tank, let 1 dry out after cleaning. I used upholstery foam from garment district wholesalers in NYC for decades…no specs on it, just relied on long use by co-workers. harder to get today, but I’ve had no probs at all with A/C foam, foam used to pack fruit for shipment. I’ve not looked into actual makeup of these materials, again relying on my past experience and that of others. I like it for large frogs that are prone to swallowing earth, chips, etc. Sorry I could not provide details, best, frank

  13. avatar

    I’m not sure if this forum is still active, but I had a few questions. I bought an Af bullfrog and I like feeding him/her with outside insects. I seen you warn someone about feeding outside of the frogs native environment. Does that apply for insects also.

  14. avatar

    Thank you!
    I don’t plan to give him/her anything that will sting. My neighbors flea treat their yard. They said it’s Non toxic to people and animals. It’s called DE I don’t remember the name. But I’m wondering if you have an opinion or experience with this

    • avatar

      Hi Casey,

      It may be Diatomaceous Earth they are using , which is very safe (desiccates insects, not a toxin). Let me know if you need any info on specific insects, or collecting tips.

      Best, Frank

  15. avatar

    I think that’s it. What are the main insects that are harmful?
    Also you spoke of the frogs memory and ability to associate certain events with others. We feed our snake outside of his enclosure to help against tank aggression. Is that a common practice with Af bullfrogs?
    A little backstory, we fed our snake once inside his tank and the next time I reached in to get him he struck at me. From then on we fed in a feeding area

    • avatar

      Hi Casey,

      African Bullfrogs will snap at anything, of any size, anywhere in range, at any time! The training you mention is “iffy” with snakes, so do let let your guard down, but once adjusted to captivity, the frog will eat or defend itself at every possible opportunity!
      Enjoy, best, Frank

  16. avatar

    Your comment that African Bullfrogs are not good swimmers made me realize the incredible diversity among Frogs and Toads- we have swimmers, climbers, land-dwellers, active jumpy frogs and slow-moving ambush feeders, frogs as big as my head and frogs as big as my thumbnail…wow! Thanks!

  17. avatar

    Can african bullfrogs be raised on a staple diet of trout pellets?

    • avatar

      Hello Teddi,
      Interesting questions. many turtles do fine on a diet composed largely of trout pellets; Purina trout chow was a staple in many zoos for years…turtles I kept there and at home have lived into their 40’s-60+years of age with it as a base of the diet. But there’s no long term studies or experience as far as I know re frogs. African bullfrogs have high Ca requirements…like the turtles above, they would need some whole fishes etc, along with CA supplementation. And given their appetites, rolling pellets to them would be quite time consuming! Zoo Med’s Pacman diet might be a useful alternative; and there seems to be some long term experience with a related product in Japan…please see this article and let me know if you need more info, best, Frank

  18. avatar

    I really enjoyed your article & advice on feeding African bullfrogs. I have a 1 year old female ABF with a great appetite. She was raised with super worms, pinkies, earthworms, and during this summer all types of outdoor insects with some Reptocal. I read somewhere that ABF can’t digest “cooked” food. With this in mind – recently I was out of my usual varied diet, and I fed her some raw, but warmed slightly, chicken livers with Reptocal. She consumed this eagerly. I would not make a practice of doing this all the time- but can you think of any reason that it would hurt her?

    • avatar


      Thanks for the kind words.

      They can digest, to varying degrees, cooked and raw meats…no serious research on this, what’s posted is gen conjecture. But chicken etc not a good food in general…while ABF take some vertebrates in the wild, they are mainly invertebrate feeders. Other insectivorous herps have suffered liver/kidney damage on diets high in rodents, human foods, etc (although lab axolotls were long raised on beef liver w/o problems).

      I avoid raw chicken for human health reasons…should be assumed to have Salmonella, needs to be handled properly, etc. Salmonella may or may not also be a species transferable to frogs. Liver filters out/de-toxes various harmful compounds etc…not sure if this is also a concern, but seems not a great idea to use for that reason as well (I’ve not researched that…please do not re-state as fact..you know what can happen on the net – thanks!). Best, Frank

  19. avatar

    I’m planning to buy a African Bullfrog and I’m a starter so I was hoping for feeding tips, cage size and what kind of environment what he needs. Hoping for a quick response!

  20. avatar

    Hi frank

    I have got a juvenile African bull frog. It was hard to encounter in the uk and very expensive, but that doesn’t mean anything to how much I adore this frog. I have read that pink mice’s rumps should be dipped in calcium, but would this be with or without D3? I plan on feeding this 2″ frog daily, most on supplemented crickets dusted by Repashy’s calcium plus and two feeds either supplemented super worms or earthworms, then once every other week on a pink mouse. Do earthworms also need supplemented? I heard they have a good calcium to phoporitous ratio, but this doesn’t mean they have D3 which these frogs need.



About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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