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Frog Facts, Natural History, and Behavior – Notes on Amphibian Pets

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Those with an interest in frogs and toads will never be bored…among the 6,200 known species are found some of the world’s most fascinating and unusual animals.  Many amphibian pets may, with proper care, live for 10, 20 or even 50 years, and can be wonderful animals to keep and observe.  A number engage in complex social behaviors that range from hand-signaling to the feeding of tadpoles…and well-adjusted captives are often not at all shy about doing so before an audience!

I cannot remember a time when I was not fascinated by frogs and toads, and my amphibian-keeping friends and Bronx Zoo colleagues often voice the same sentiment.  But what is it that draws us to keep, study and breed these marvelous creatures?  True, some species, due to their ability to survive near people, become our first herp pets…as did Bullfrogs, American Toads and others when I was growing up in the Bronx, but there’s more to it than that.  Part of the answer, I believe, lies in their amazing diversity of forms and lifestyles…some of which stretch the limits of believability.  Please be sure to post your own thoughts and experiences below, as well as any questions you may concerning choosing a pet frog or caring for individual species.

Dendrobates

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Pixeltoo

Range and Habitat

Frogs and toads live on every continent except Antarctica, and have adapted to an amazing variety of habitats – rainforests, deserts, icy streams, mountain lakes, salt marshes, farms, houses, cloud forests, big cities, caves, gardens and many more.  Surprises abound…here in North America, Wood Frogs live within the Arctic Circle and American Bullfrogs thrive in the heart of Manhattan!

Size

The smallest frog, discovered in New Guinea in 2011, is barely as large as a pea, while the largest, Africa’s Goliath Frog, measures 3 feet long with legs outstretched.  Sometimes weighing in at 9 pounds, male African Bullfrogs are devoted parents (for a time, anyway…at a certain point they will enthusiastically gobble up their progeny!); I still recall being astonished at footage of one defending its tadpoles from 2 young lions!

Unusual Survival Strategies

There are lung-less and tongue-less frogs, gliders and burrowers, frogs that brood their eggs in vocal sacs and others that form lifelong pair bonds.  The first time I bred Surinam Toads, and witnessed 100 tiny frogs emerging from their mother’s back (please see photo), I thought I had seen the oddest of all amphibian breeding strategies. 

But that amazing experience turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg.  In 2011, tree-dwelling, wood-eating tadpoles were uncovered, and we learned that Fringe-Limbed Treefrogs tadpoles feed upon their father’s skin!  And tadpoles of the aptly-named Vampire Treefrog have fangs.  Please see the articles linked below for further information on these mind-boggling “firsts”.

Behavior in Captivity

Frogs vary greatly in their reactions to captivity, both among the various species and between individuals of the same species.  It’s impossible to summarize what you may expect to see, so I’ll just highlight some popular species and “trends”.  I have many frog care articles (individual species) posted…please be sure to write in below for more information, advice and links to articles.

Surinam Toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dein Freund der Baum

A surprising number of species, including Poison Frogs, Mantellas, Fire-Bellied Toads, Dwarf Clawed Frogs and African Clawed Frogs, are active by day and always foraging, exploring and interacting.  Others, such as the Argentine Horned Frog, may spend days in a single spot.  Toads of many if not most species tend to be quite calm and seemingly “trusting” of people, and often take food from the hand.  Most nocturnal frogs will eagerly feed by day once they have settled in.

White’s Treefrogs are always ready to perch on one’s arm, but in general frogs should be handled only when necessary, and with wet hands so that the skin’s protective mucus covering is not removed.  Horned and African Bullfrogs have tooth-like projections known as odontoid structures, and can bite savagely unless grasped behind the front legs.  Poison Frogs and other tiny, agile species are best moved by being urged into a plastic container.

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 Indiviglio

 

Further Reading

Skin-Feeding Tadpoles!

The Fanged Tadpoles of the Vampire Treefrog

Arboreal, Wood-Eating Tadpoles

10 comments

  1. avatar

    Dear frank. i have allways had a love for all amphibians and reptiles. recetly i have raised apiar of american bullfrogs for my latest project. the first polywog is a frognow and seems to me to be a female because of the small eardrum. a setup on what would be best for keeping these guys long term and healthy would be nice ill let you know what i have. i am currently keeping tank humid and water temp 74-80 they eat a wide varity of incests such as water skippers,water spiders,grass hoppers,young minnows and much more. i have recetly done a ordor from petco for vitiman d3 reptile and amphibian calicum supplement and orderd 500 crickets with a uv heat light and some forest floor bedding sense the grave i was useing before may lead to problems my female ate a small rock the other day let me kno if this will leave her with any problems. thank you for your time and knowlage
    – Cody

  2. avatar

    Hi Cody,

    Thanks for your post, great questions.

    Room temps are fine…allowing to cool in winter and warm up in summer is beneficial, no need to heat water.

    Large water area, filtered if [possible with floating plants (live or plastic) and a land area suits them well. there’s a link to submersible filters and turtle basking platforms (used for land) in this article. The Penn Plax Turtle pier is my favorite land area (smaller sizes are available)…doubles as a feeding platform (in deep water , minnows are hard to catch..put on land or tong-feed). Even with a filter, you’ll need to do partial water changes regularly. use largest tank possible. 2 Adults will need a 55 gallon aquarium.

    Varied diet as you describe is perfect, ; focus on wild caught inverts when [possible; minnows very impt for calcium; add vit/mineral powder also.

    500 crickets can be quite a bit of work. Please see article below…be sure to set up container as described, with lots of ventilation; Consider wearing a mouth mask and goggles when working with them..many people develop allergies to the dust/waste they create. Try to train them to feed from tongs…then you can freeze some of the crickets.

    Best to avoid substrates…they swallow everything! Forest floor litter not a good idea. Bare bottomed land area best. Frogs often pass stones…if there is a blockage the animal will stop feeding, become listless.

    Not possible to determine sex before maturity via ear method, as all resemble females until nearly full grown.

    Please check articles below also and let me know if you need more info. great project, enjoy, Frank

    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2008/09/05/a-survey-of-amphibians-reptiles-and-insects-suitable-for-maintenance-in-outdoor-ponds-%E2%80%93-part-i-the-american-bullfrog-rana-catesbeiana-lithobates-catesbeianus/

    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2010/10/07/frog-diets-nutritious-foods-for-popularly-kept-frogs-and-toads/

    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2012/02/14/cricket-care-and-breeding-keeping-your-live-food-alive/

  3. avatar

    thanks frank!

    thank you for the fast reply frank! I was in a hurry earlyer so i left out afew important details my tank is a 55gal tank so its quite spacey for the young frogs. After i get some substrate that willsupport nutrients for live plants i plan to plant a assorment of them.i have two 29gal tanks presetup for the crickets i figure this way ill allways have a food i can give them there calcium with. I often spend 5+ hours a day on the internet learning about amphibians. I live on a farm with quiteafew drifrent ecosystems all cloce togther so i make my young bullfrogs food verry varieted.I have it eating young olympic mudminnows and dragonfly nypys + created a small eco system in the water of prey that is not so easy to catch but gets cought. My oldest frog of no tail is quite the suscfull hunter and is so verry special the way it will go to a rock and sit still for 20min then swim half way acrost the tank and stalk spiders or what ever catches its attention. i noticed at first she didnt feed with her toung or was verry inaccrate but now you see the toung shoot 3 inc and there is allmost nofail. i encourage them to hunt food thats hidden but i know i need some food soruces to give vitimans where the crickets come in i was going to get mealworms but some people say mealworms have a hardto digest husk that can lead to stomach problems. Sorry for getting offtopic there. Thanks for the bullfrog info im glad that i now know you cant tell till maturity these are the details that google doesnt provide. I knew i should write you for info i just couldn’t find anywhere else or that was differd on the internet. your posts from along time ago have even helped me for pumpkinseed and bass which i still house my largemouth today. rember “the famous bass yawn”I will get right on buying the filter i relly want to buy one for them but couldn’t find a good one that worked in about 4-6inc of water long enough to hang down my 55gal. I will defiently check out those basking areas and all those links. I am a fan of your posts and your fb posts too.
    I feel as if i am forgetting sompthing but my mind is a blank.

    thank you for you’r time and knowlage.

  4. avatar

    Hi Cody,

    Thanks for the kind words…write in anytime…great observations, most people do not pick up on learning aspect of hunting..good for other readers to see your comments. Let me know if you need links to specific subjects..blog search engine not very accurate; or you can use google – search term +thatreptileblog.

    Nice to experiment with native plants…floating gen work best for bullfrogs, but let me know what you come up wth. if you need to use commercial plants, pothos is ideal…floats, lives in water/wet gravel; peace lillies grow as emergents, can secure to glass with suctuion cups, etc, both have useful root systems. On land, can use potted if need be…best to avoid substrate on land. Java moss will grow on damp land..lokks great on cork bark, dead wood. Grows under water, but also traps wastes, complicates cleaning. As frogs grow, keep an eye on ammonia..test kit useful.
    This filter hangs in tank, pumps from low level. Submersibles may be easier, but both will work.

    No need for mealworms, can keep a colony and feed only newly molted grubs, but not worth the trouble since you’re using so much variety . Good idea to let them hunt..”behav enrichment” now a part of all zoo protocols, keeps frogs active, interested.

    Keep on working with native fish, we need to learn more about them.

    Enjoy, Frank

  5. avatar

    Hi frank.

    Thanks for all the replys! it means alot to me to be able to share info with you and recive info from you i bet you are a buisy man so i am allmost done with your’e time. I would enjoy any and all articals about Rana catesbeiana (american bullfrog) and pyxicephalus (african bullfrog) and some more of your favrot aquarium plants. One of the reasons im house and raiseing american bullfrogs is because im increaseing my skill level of frog and amphibian care to apoint where i can get a pixie frog. Doing all your’e reaserch isnt enough all the time and you have to learn trew trial and error. I would have done these projects so much sooner but for the past 4years i’ve been into nateive and non native fish keeping and breeding. I recently turned 18 and hope to soon get a job with a local petstore. Where i can share my knowlage of minnow breeding and even exotic fish keeping. Reason why i am starting to keep amphibians is because last summer i created a pond about 10 foot long and 8 foot deep for my large mouth bass and pumpkinseed/bluegill “bye shovle” was hard work but 3hours a day for a month was not bad. Anyways offtopic again amphibians are alot of maitness in there own way. But alot less then keeping largemouth bass and alot of fish speices. I am allso learning that it can be alot more enjoyible
    I allso had to wait to become 18 allthough my parents support my love for animals they didnt quite support me haveing them and this isn’t because they didnt want me to have these animals it’s cause there setups ushaly cost money to make but these hobbies have kept me away from alot of the other things kids my age are doing nowindays. and i hope to get a job to where i can make more for keeping exotic creatures. i am the kind of guy why goes outside allday with a net slumped over at his swamp all day spooking residint bullfrogs and catching just the right quantites of everything to make a small eco system. At a young age i lived in okinawa japan and i loved the zoo’s there i guess you can say thats where my love for animals started soon i was realiseing igunas and grass lizards and hundredss of butterlys all over my room haveing my mom go crazy.

    Thank you last post Cody.

  6. avatar

    Well, you sound alot like me at your age; I started with inverts, living in the Bronx..space and all, and have had a lifelong interest in Japan, through my mom and cousin; long story but wound up going there to do some work with zoos/aquariums, have many friends; hope to get to the south to work with giant salamanders. The insect exhibits and aquariums there are beyond belief…some pet stores rival public aquariums I’ve visited! One had 60 tanks devoted to catfishes (favs of mine). Let me know if you need career info in future, maybe you can avoid some of my mistakes (no complaints, I’ve been lucky); questions help me in my work as a consultant for the blog supporter, so write as often as you wish; other readers will appreciate also.

    African frog notes (need to check fro Am Bullfrogs, not sure if I have many):

    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2009/02/25/feeding-pet-african-bullfrogs-pyxicephalus-adspersus-part-1/

    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2009/02/27/feeding-pet-african-bullfrogs-pyxicephalus-adspersus-part-2/

    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2008/04/16/an-appetite-for-cobras-huge-bullfrog-meals/

    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2008/11/05/the-african-bullfrog-south-african-burrowing-frog-giant-bullfrog-pyxicephalus-adspersus-the-worlds-heaviest-frog-is-also-a-devoted-parent/

    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2009/03/13/keeping-the-african-bullfrog-pyxicephalus-adspersus-the-importance-of-cleanliness-in-assuring-a-long-life-for-your-pet/

    Enjoy, Frank

  7. avatar

    Hello frank.

    I can totaly relate japan was a magical place as a young kid, and i was totaly self impowerd with the whole rainforest right behind my house im lucky im alive to this day… I dream of going back to japan one day and after visiting the seattle zoo from going to japan zoos semi often i wasn’t totaly impressed as you said youreself they have amazing exibits i still rember so clearly today. But the nature was so diverice i was constantly outside in the 110deg tropic weather.

    My knowlage of amphibians is wide and constantly growing, expecily thanks to your articles.

    I am still aways away from houseing a pixie frog.

    and would like to know if you know a website to ordor frogs with good susscess.

    I tried to ordor a pacman frog awhile ago off a legit looking reptile webiste and they took my 70usd but i never got the frog. For added reason i read that it is deciently hard to get a frog that hasnt been stressed out relly bad which i can deal with. But ones that come with fungi allredy so i would just like to know if you have had any luck from any cerntant websites.

  8. avatar

    I bought some from a private guy for an exhibit last time I needed a few, I’ll look into it…please remind me when you’re ready, I’ll check over my notes from when i was building exhibits for an aquarium here.

    I need to get to that part of Japan, a friend from the Aomori is coming in next month, hopefully I can plan then.

  9. avatar

    Dear frank

    Thank you so much

    I’ve studyed the african bullfrog more then anything for a good month and half finding nature documenterys and perfected setups. I have any tank i could need sense amphibians don’t need so much room i have 1x 75gal tank 1x100gal tank 2x 29gals and a 55gal tank. The only reason i haven’t gotin one of the african bullfrogs was cause of the pacman frog incident i hear is verry hard to get a legit site and you can spend big money before finding a legit one which is no problem but when you do i read reviews and people say the frogs that they got from there had fungis includeing one story of a frog ariveing dead… However being shipped afar disntance and being held somewhere i don’t doubit it and didn’t think it was quite possible to get a pixie frog. There is no rush but if u can help me find a person i can buy all the stuff needed right away then ordor the frog 1-2weeks after totaly setup

    thanks for the help you’re my hero frank!

    Youre’s truely Cody.

  10. avatar

    I hope I can help…I’m not sure about the pacman incident you mention…lots of problems indeed. It may take me some time, but I’ll look over my dealer info, and will send out a few emails for advice from contacts, best, Frank

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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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