Home | Amphibians | Amphibian Abuse – Neon Dyed Frogs Wildly Popular in Chinese Pet Stores

Amphibian Abuse – Neon Dyed Frogs Wildly Popular in Chinese Pet Stores

Loggerhead TurtleMany turtle keepers here in the USA can recall seeing hatchling Red-Eared Sliders with gaily-painted shells being offered for sale at pet stores and carnivals.  Thankfully, through education and the passage of legislation, that practice, which killed thousands if not millions of turtles, is no longer with us.  Unfortunately, an equally-horrific new fad has recently popped up in China, where millions of young African Clawed Frogs are being colored with industrial dyes and sold as short-lived “novelties”.

Torturing Sensitive Creatures

A thin, sensitive skin pre-disposes frogs to a variety of environmental hazards, and may be one of the factors behind the recent extinctions of hundreds of species worldwide.  Permeable to water, oxygen and chemicals, frog skin is marvelous yet delicate, and easily irritated by any exposure to less-than-ideal environments.

So just imagine the effect of injections of industrial dyes!  Actually, any animal would be horribly injured or killed by such a practice…in fact, the dyes being used on the frogs are reportedly dangerous for people to handle.

As you can see from article linked below, the frogs take on neon hues of pink, yellow, green and other colors, and appear more like plastic toys than live animals – a situation that makes it more likely they will be treated as objects and not living creatures in need of care.

Larger Issues: Animals as Objects

In addition to the outright killing of frogs, the practice of dyeing them raises the larger issue of how they are perceived.  In this article, for example, the author has not even bothered to identify the type of frogs that are being sold, and even makes light of the situation – suggesting that the frogs sell-out so fast that prospective owners may need to dye their own!  The author callously goes on to note that the dyes should last 3-4 years “…by which time the frogs will probably be long dead anyway”.

As you can see by the video linked below, sellers also show little regard for the doomed creatures’ needs – the dyed frogs pictured there are held in a bare tank of filthy water in which float dead fishes.

A Life-Saving Frog

Ironically, so much of interest could have been written about African Clawed Frogs.  Once used as the basis for pregnancy tests (the Hogben Test), these frogs have been used in medical research for decades, and have saved countless human lives.  Captives become quite responsive and have lived for nearly 30 years, and educational kits featuring Clawed Frog tadpoles have introduced millions of school children to the wonders of metamorphosis.  I could go on…please see the article below for more on this most unique amphibian.

“Tiger Dogs” and other Odd Fads

Apparently, “plain” animals are not interesting enough for many modern-day consumers in China and elsewhere these days.  Fishes confined to lockets are still being sold, and in the past few years the practice of coloring dogs to resemble tigers, pandas and other creatures has become fashionable (please see article below).

Reporting Animal Abuse

Please read my article on Reporting Animal Abuse (USA), and of course feel free to write in for advice; in most cases I’ll be able to direct you to an appropriate local authority if you have witnessed animal cruelty or abuse.


Further Reading

Video of Dyed Frogs Held under Terrible Conditions

African Clawed Frog Behavior

White clawed frog image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Museoftheviolets


  1. avatar

    As a Chinese person and frog keeper, I’m embarrassed and appalled. A little education and compassion goes a long way; and the people doing this have neither.

    • avatar

      Hello Brian,

      Thanks for your interest. They have begun to show up here in the US as well, despite the fact that turtle-painting has been outlawed for decades. Glass fish and some others are also sometimes dyed. I’m sure it happens in other countries as well, unfortunately.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    This is not good. Regardless, if they look more special than other frogs, we should not support these stores that go against nature. This is just sad. 🙁

    • avatar

      Hello Susan

      Thanks for your interest and concern. Several organizations are looking into legislative changes, pressure on stores etc., as the frogs are now showing up in the US as well as China. Turtle painting was outlawed years ago, so hopefully it will not be difficult to apply the same logic to frogs. Dyed fish (usually glass fish) seem not to arouse as much concern, and are still seen regularly.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Came across a kiosk selling large numbers of these little frogs in an overcrowded tank at the Mills mall in St. Louis today. Have never seen them before and was not even aware it was legal, but I knew people have been doing it with fish. These poor little frogs. 🙁

    • avatar


      Thanks for your interest and concern…laws vary from state to state. You might wish to contact the Missouri Humane Society; even if practice is legal, they may be able to pressure the store into discontinuing by threatening bad publicity, etc. That tends to work, esp. in cities such as St. Louis, where there are likely to be many concerned residents. Pl let me know if you decide to follow up, thanks, Frank

  4. avatar

    I bought two of these frogs just yesterday. My son fell in love. I had no idea they were dyed. That is absolutely awful. I have spent my evening doing lots of research on these little guys. If I remember correctly the guy told me that they were some sort of Chinese Frog. After doing my research I found out that he only gave me half truth. The sad thing is that many people will not do research on the proper care of these animals. I still would have bought the frogs regardless of their color. We had talked before about getting one. An earlier post said these were at the Mills Mall in St. Louis and that is exactly where I got mine. They are legal here in Missouri. The vendor should be ashamed of himself for not giving me ALL the information on the origin of these frogs.

    • avatar

      Hi Becca,

      Thanks for your note; I’ll see if I can raise some local interest; Here is an article on feeding African Clawed Frogs.; They do well at room temperature. Be sure to keep the aquarium covered, as they will jump out at night. A small corner filter will help keep the water clean (ammonia produced by the frogs is colorless and odorless, but will kill them if allowed to build up. Partial water changes should also be done 1-2x week. An instant chlorine remover, sold for use with tropical fishes, should be used to treat water added to their aquarium. Please let me know if you need further info, Best, Frank

  5. avatar

    Oh no! My daughter received 2 of these neon frogs for her bday from friends. They were told at the pet store that they were dyed as embryos and would actually return to white as they grew?? I found this article while researching how to care for them. I feel so awful! They were given general fish food granules as the diet. Is this OK? We added a small corner filter to the tank. How can we best care for these frogs? I don’t know if they are African clawed frogs or not. We are from Ohio. Our tank is full and they stay continually submerged. They seem to be doing OK after a week…

    • avatar

      Hello Heather,

      “Dyed as enbryos”…that’s a first, and I’ve been hearing clawed frog stories for over 50 years! This would be quite a feat, given that their minute tadpoles hatch from tiny eggs…

      If the frogs survive, the dye may wear off…likely depends on whether they were injected or soaked; albino African Clawed Frogs () are common in the trade and often chosen for dying due to the lack of dark pigments. This may be what the store employee meant…but given the “embryo” comment, I would not any stock in their advice.

      Dwarf Clawed frogs are sometimes dyed as well, but not commonly. They are harder to care for..please see this article on distinguishing the 2 species, and let me know if you need more info.

      Fish food is not an adequate diet, but they are quite easy to feed (assuming, as I think its safe to do, they are the larger species, X. laevis). Use the Reptomin based diet described in this article; you can add the other foods mentioned if you wish.

      A filter is essential. You should also scoop out appx 1/2 of the water each week and replace with fresh water; be sure to use instant de-chlorinating drops on all water that goes into the tank. Ammonia poisoning (from wastes) is the main cause of death among captives. A small ammonia test kit is useful, but probably not necessary if you keep up on filter changes and partial water changes.

      They jump at night, so the aquarium must be tightly covered. Do not handle the frogs, as the skin mucus rubs off easily and leaves the frogs open to attack by fungi, etc.

      Normal room temperatures are fine.

      Do not empty water into sinks used for food preparation, and follow the precautions set forth in this article.

      I’m glad you took the time to research and write in; if they survive the dye, they can go on to live 20+ years and may even produce eggs in the future. they become quite responsive…feeding from the hand and rising to the top when someone enters the room. Enjoy and please let me know if you need more info, best, Frank

  6. avatar

    Thank you Frank! After reading the article to determine species, I do believe that it is the dwarf frog. The front feet are NOT webbed and the body long and thin not round. Is there a way to post or send a picture for confirmation? As an animal lover, I want to make sure we take care of them the best we can!

  7. avatar

    Sorry! Switch that, it is not a dwarf as the feet are not webbed…

    • avatar

      Ok, Heather….please keep me posted; it will be useful to know if the dye passes and if they survive. The legality of the practice is in question, but painting the shells of turtles has been illegal fir many years,,,if you wnat to follow up, you might place a call to your state’s wildlfie agency and or the local ASPCA office. Best, Frank

  8. avatar

    I am a very big animal lover. I think this is horrible. Animals should be treated like living things, not injected with dye. I don’t understand why people would do that, especially since it is harmful to people.

    • avatar

      Thanks for your concern, Ariana.

      This has the attention of several animal rights groups now, so I am hopeful that some legal action will be taken. Back when I was a boy, it was common for pet stores to paint the shells of small turtles see small turtles. This was outlawed when concerned people such as yourself became involved.

      I noticed the “McT” and checked..your Grandfather is a very good friend of mine, and a great guy! Hope to see him this slummer, and perhaps to meet you as well!

      Please stay in touch, and let me know if you ever need information or help with school projects.

      Best regards, Frank

      best, Frank

  9. avatar

    I hope this is outlawed as well. I have loved animals since i was really young, so when I hear about stuff like this it makes me sad.

    I hope I meet you this summer too. my grandpa thought you would notice the “McT”. I am really exited to read more of your articles.

    • avatar

      Hi Ariana,

      Thanks for writing…glad to be in touch with you here. It seemed like people were reporting local stores in the USA, where the frogs were located; so, at least in the USA, it will likely become illegal to dye frogs…as you mentioned, the human health aspect are important, and pointing that out often helps.

      best regards, Frank

  10. avatar

    My grandpa told me that your favorite thing at the zoo is the insect house. that’s my favorite too. I love seeing all the different insects. Most girls my age think that bugs are gross and weird, but I don’t! In my opinion the coolest parts are the ant tunnel and naked mole rats.

    There is an ant tunnel that runs along the ceiling of the insect house, from one side to the other. I love the ant tunnel because you can see what the ants carry and what they do underground. Also because its just cool to look up and see all the ants walking in tubes above you. If I were one of the ants, I would freak out because it would look like I would fall.

    I like the naked mole rats because they maneuver really well through the tunnels even though they are blind. Also, in my opinion they are really cute. I honestly don’t know why they are in the insect house though.

    I forgot to say that I love that they have a scale and you can see how many bugs you weigh. I weighed over 3 million bugs!

    Today I got to pet a hedgehog and a 22 year old ball python. How old was the reticulated python that you had at the Bronx Zoo? My grandpa told me it was the biggest python in captivity.

    I love going to zoos because you can learn about animals. When I went today I saw a 2 month old camel and a young rhino.

    The only part of the zoo I don’t like is the cat house because it smells really bad. My dad thinks that too, probably not only because of the smell. One time we were there and a cat peed on the glass right in front of him. The zoo keeper said the cat was marking his territory.

    I will keep in touch ,and hopefully see you this summer

    -Ariana McT.

    • avatar

      Hi Ariana,

      Cincinnati is a wonderful zoo..one of the few that pays attention to insects and other invertebrates. I grew up in the Bronx, where most boys, and few if any girls, were interested in insects. But my Mom was interested in Japan, where insect keeping is very popular…in those days, it was common for Japanese girls to have large insect collections; I had many books from Japan, and thought it must be wonderful. When I visited as an adult, I was shocked by the interest. Many zoos have huge insect buildings…the Tama Zoo even had a large outdoor exhibit. Pet stores sell Hercules and other giant beetles and insect supplies…you can even buy beetle grubs from vending machines (they do fine in the machines…they are well set-up. The aquariums are also beyond belief. I had some contacts there, went behind the scenes,. etc.

      Now, here in the US, women outnumber men in many animal related professions, including zoos, museum research etc., so you’ll have no worries if your interests grow!

      I favor insects because you can provide most with all they need, and you can often see all of their natural behaviors and even reproduction. This is very difficult to do for most mammals and birds, impossible for large species…and therefore we cannot see and ;learn as much as with invertebrates, some fishes, etc.

      Do they still have leaf-cutter ants at the zoo? I worked with them at the Bronx Zoo, and saw wild ones in Costa Rica..amazing creatures. Once a group escaped…they trimmed all the leaves from a walking stick cage overnight, but couldn’t fit back into their exhibit with the leaf bits…so they put them in a neat pile on top of the exhibit!

      I had naked mole rats also, one of the first groups to be kept in US zoos. In the wild, they create tunnels to several giant tubers (picture a 60 pound turnip) and eat a bit from each one..then they move on, allowing that one to heal and re-grow. In this way they do not need to dig as much through the very hard earth of their natural habitat.

      They are sometimes displayed in the insect house because their social organization is somewhat like that of the social insects (most ants, bees, termites). There is a large “queen”, which is the only female that reproduces, many female workers, and a few males that mate with her. No other mammal, as far as we know, exhibits this type of lifestyle.

      Insect weight adds up, doesn’t it! One recent study showed that, in central African rainforests, the weight of all insects exceeds that of all vertebrates -including monkeys, forest elephants, birds etc!!

      The python your Grandfather mentioned was captured (in Borneo) as an adult, so we do not have exact figures…we estimated her at 22-25 years old at her death, based on average growth each year for wild snakes. A ball python at the Philadelphia Zoo set the snake longevity record…it was 51 years old when I checked several years ago.

      Baby camels and rhinos are rare to see, glad you had the chance.

      Even the newer air handling systems have trouble keeping cat and primate houses selling fresh…most do best in outdoor exhibits, but that’s not possible for most of the year in this part of the country.

      My nephew and I just collected some Caterpillar Hunter Beetle Larvae…perhaps you might enjoy this article.

      Here’s one on some of the huge beetles that you may have seen at the zoo; they sometimes appear for sale here in the USA at reptile shows and online: http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2011/05/12/stag-beetle-conservation-with-notes-on-keeping-large-beetles/#.U1L_j1d8qpE

      Best, Frank

  11. avatar

    Yes, they still have leaf cutter ants. those are the ones in the tunnels. Thanks for the info. I will be sure to check out that article.

    – Arianna McT.

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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