Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Although they are among the heaviest of the world’s frogs, African Bullfrogs, Pyxicephalus adspersus, do well in modestly-sized terrariums. And by “doing well” I mean that they regularly live into their 20’s and 30’s…one even reached 51 years of age! These amazing creatures stretch the limit of what most people think of as “a frog” – armed with tooth-like jaw spikes, males will defend their tadpoles from lions and dig trenches to deliver water. Toughened by a harsh natural environment, African Bullfrogs are resilient beyond belief – one was observed downing 17 hatchling spitting cobras, and during droughts they can remain dormant for 10 to 12 months! Please see articles linked below for more on their astonishing natural behaviors.
The following care guidelines can also be applied to the Dwarf African Bullfrog, P. edulis.
African Bullfrogs inhabit seasonally-flooded savannas and swamps in much of Sub-Saharan Africa (please see habitat photo below). They have been recorded in Swaziland, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In some populations, cannibalism supplies much food for newly-metamorphosed individuals. I still recall BBC footage of adults taking down huge scorpions and centipedes while being bitten and stung numerous times. I’ve been chased by Kodiak bears and crocodiles, but those scenes made me wince! Invertebrates are their most common prey, but lizards, snakes, rodents and birds are sometimes taken.
African Bullfrogs are relatively inactive. A 15-20 gallon tank will accommodate an average adult, but a 30-55 gallon tank will be “appreciated”.
Important Note: Terrarium Hygiene
African Bullfrog terrariums must be kept scrupulously clean; ammonia poisoning (ammonia is released when the frog passes waste) is the most common cause of pet death. Animals that have lived in perfect health for decades can be killed overnight if forced to remain in fouled water. Please see this article.
Ease of maintenance is the main consideration when setting up the habitat. Fortunately, African Bullfrogs get along well in simple accommodations. A bare-bottomed aquarium, tilted on one side to create a small water section, is one easily-cleaned option.
Although they will happily dig into the substrate, African Bullfrogs are unusual among frogs in that they are quite content without a completely-secure hiding spot. I favor plastic plants equipped with suction cups as retreats. Simply attach the plant to the glass so that the foliage stretches nearly to ground level. Your frog will push under the plant for shelter. This has worked well for me in zoo exhibits and at home.
African Bullfrogs are notorious “substrate-swallowers”, and are prone to intestinal blockages from gravel and other substrates. Bare-bottomed terrariums or washable cage liners are safe options.
Former coworkers of mine began using coconut husk in a zoo exhibit awhile back and report that all is well. The husk seems to pass easily though the digestive tract. Several experienced private frog owners have reported the same. I’m most interested in hearing of others’ experiences…please post below.
Light, Heat and Humidity
African Bullfrogs do not require UVB light, but may benefit from the provision of UVA.
Temperatures should range from 72 F on the cooler side of the terrarium to 85 F; a drop to 68 F at night may be beneficial. Incandescent bulbs http://bitly.com/KbmGmC, night bulbs, or ceramic heaters http://bitly.com/KbmYKf can be used to warm the terrarium.
Although humidity is generally not a concern if they have access to a water bowl, overly-dry substrates may cause these frogs to burrow in and attempt aestivation.
Juveniles have insatiable appetites and invariably try to swallow even like-sized tank-mates. Same-sized adults may co-exist, but should be fed separately as bites can occur at feeding time.
African Bullfrogs, especially while growing, require a great deal of calcium. Whole fishes and, to a lesser extent, pink mice, are ideal calcium sources.
Crickets alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet. Minnows, shiners, earthworms, roaches and crickets can make up the bulk of their diet. Goldfishes may be used on occasion, but should not be a staple.
Pink mice may be offered once each 7-10 days, but are not necessary if fish are consumed regularly. While some success has been had by feeding adult mice to African Bullfrogs, over-use of rodents may lead to liver problems and fur impactions (please see the article linked below). While they certainly take the occasional rodent in the wild, invertebrates and other frogs make up the bulk of the wild diet.
Crayfishes (another good calcium source), butterworms, silkworms and other commercially-available invertebrates should also be included regularly. Feeders should themselves be provided a nutritious diet; please see these articles on cricket and earthworm care).
Canned grasshoppers, snails, and silkworms offer an easy means of increasing dietary variety. Never offer food with your fingers! Use plastic feeding tongs – frogs are “unable to control themselves” when hungry, and often suffer wounds when metal tongs are employed.
I feed cicadas, grasshoppers and other wild-caught invertebrates whenever possible. Please see this article for details and post any questions below.
If you use moss or other substrates, meals are best offered via tongs or in a separate, bare-bottomed enclosure.
Water should be changed daily and treated with a chlorine/chloramine remover.
African Bullfrogs have powerful jaws, the lower of which bears 3 (2 large, 1 smaller) sharp spikes known as odontoid structures. They are actually bits of bone that extend up from the jaw, and can inflict serious wounds. Fingers moved within reach will elicit a feeding response, and you will be bitten.
Fortunately, it is a simple matter to safely pick up an African Bullfrog by grasping it behind the front legs. Amphibians should be handled only when necessary, and then with wet hands, so that you do not remove their protective mucus. Wash well after handling any animal.
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Thanks, until next time,