The robust African bullfrog shares with the fire salamander and Chinese/Japanese giant salamanders the distinction of being the longest lived of all captive amphibians. I personally know of 2 specimens that lived for 21 years in captivity, both owned by the same person (interestingly, although housed separately, they died within a few days of one other). The unpublished longevity record for the species is 50 years.
Ammonia – an Ever-Present Threat
However, one easily-overlooked point – terrarium hygiene – can very quickly end their potentially long lives. In my experience, a lack of attention to this critical point is the most common cause of African bullfrog deaths in captivity. Despite their burly, somewhat tank-like exteriors, African bullfrogs are extremely sensitive to ammonia toxicity…tiny metamorphs and huge, decades-old adults are equally vulnerable.
These frogs usually (but absolutely not “always”!) defecate in their water bowl. The bowl should be cleaned at least once daily, even if it does not appear fouled. Frogs soaking in fouled water will absorb ammonia through their skin and can die in short order.
Daily care while you are on vacation or otherwise absent from home is a must…a day or so of missed cleanings can easily kill a treasured old pet (think of how you’d feel then!).
Useful Products and Techniques
R-Zilla Terrarium Cleaner is safe to use on water bowls and terrariums, but wherever amphibians are concerned it is essential that all surfaces are rinsed thoroughly after being disinfected. Be sure to use a water conditioner to de-chlorinate water used in the bowl and in spraying the substrate.
A very useful product of which I was made aware recently is Hagen Cycle. It is contains huge populations of live beneficial aerobic bacteria, is being increasingly used in laboratory frog colonies, both for aquatic species and in the water bowls of others. I believe it is an important product to consider when keeping large frogs, which produce copious amounts of nitrogenous wastes (it is not, however, a substitute for water changes).
As your frog may also defecate outside of the water bowl, it is important that the entire terrarium can be easily cleaned. Simple set-ups are therefore preferable for African bullfrogs (when designing planted zoo exhibits, I always allow for a floor drain and false bottom, so that the substrate can be hosed down without removing the frog). Washable terrarium liners are very useful in African bullfrog enclosures.
You can read more about African bullfrog natural history and captive husbandry in the following articles on this blog: The African Bullfrog – Devoted Parent, An Appetite for Cobras , and Feeding African Bullfrogs.