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Contains articles and advice on a wide variety of amphibian species, including frogs, toads, salamanders and caecilians. Answers and addresses questions on species husbandry, captive status, breeding, news and conservation issues concerning amphibians.

Amphibians as Pets: Care of Common and Unusual Types of Toads

European Green Toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by H. Krisp

Children the world over are often introduced to amphibians when they come across their first toad.  Far bolder than typical frogs (and much easier to catch!) most take the indignity of capture by grubby little hands in stride, and leave all who encounter them with a favorable impression.  With few exceptions, however, these droll, long-lived amphibians are relatively ignored by pet-keepers and zoos alike.  After a lifetime of working with dozens of species, I find this hard to understand.  Toads of many species (there are almost 600!) take well to captivity, and often become as responsive as do turtles.  Nearly all feed readily from the hand, and they are frequently described as “charming” by owners.  Many are active by day, while others are quick to discard their nocturnal ways.  I still find American Toads and other common species as fascinating as Kihansi Spray Toads (which produce tiny toadlets rather than eggs!), Blomberg’s Toads and the other rarities I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

 

Classification

Toads and frogs are classified in the order Anura, which contains 6,396 members.  The world’s 588 toad species are placed in the family Bufonidae.  Toad taxonomy is now in a state of flux, so I’ll mainly stick to common names here…please post below if you would like the Latin name for any species.

 

Asiatic toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia commons by Visviva

Range and Habitat

Toads are native to every continent except Australia and Antarctica, and have adapted to rainforests, deserts, grasslands, meadows, temperate woodlands, cold mountain streams, farms, cloud forests, suburban gardens, city parks, coastal sand dunes and many more.  Despite lacking native species, Australia hosts enormous populations of Marine or Cane Toads.  Released to control cane beetles (a task at which they failed miserably!), Marine Toads now threaten the future of animals ranging from insects to large monitors.

 

Toad Diversity

The USA’s toads are incredibly diverse.  Included among the 35-40 native species is one of the world’s smallest, the inch-long Oak Toad (one of our regular readers is now attempting to breed them; I’ll post updates).  The massive Marine Toad is also a native, but is limited to the lower reaches of the Rio Grande in extreme southern Texas; the Florida population is introduced.  Sharing the Marine Toad’s Texas range is the fabulously-bizarre Mexican Burrowing Toad (Rhinophryrinus dorsalis).  Other US natives that deserve more attention include the gorgeous desert-dwelling Sonoran Green and Red-Spotted Toads, the minute Narrow-Mouthed Toads and the subterranean, gnome-like Spadefoots.

 

Narrow Mouthed Toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Eugene van der Pijll

The toad family contains the only live-bearing Anurans (Nectophrynoides and Nimdaphrynoides spp.)   One of these, the Kihansi Spray Toad, was declared extinct in the wild not long ago.  I worked with wild-caught individuals at the Bronx Zoo, and was astonished at the size of the youngsters produced by the females, who themselves did not reach an inch in length!  Happily, they thrived in captivity and have now been re-introduced to the wild; please see the article linked below.

 

Vying with the 9-inch-long Marine Toad for the title of world’s largest species are the striking Blomberg’s and Smooth-Sided Toads.  Species that “break the mold”, in terms of appearance and behavior, include the Argentine Flame-Bellied Toad, which rivals the colors of any Poison Frog, and the long-limbed Climbing Toad.  I’ve had the good fortune to work with each of these, and many other unusual species; please post below for detailed care info.

 

The Terrarium

Your toad’s natural history will dictate the type of terrarium it requires; please post below for specific information.  Terrariums for most should have large land areas and a water bowl.

 

Substrate

Sphagnum moss or, for planted terrariums, a mix of moss, dead leaves and topsoil, works well for forest and meadow adapted species.  Toads may swallow substrate with their meals, although they rarely launch the suicidal lunges typical to many frogs.  In order to limit the possibility of intestinal blockages gravel should be avoided.  Tong or hand feeding is also useful.

 

Climbing Toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Daderot

Light

Toads seem not to require UVB radiation, although some keepers believe that low levels may benefit certain diurnal species; the Zoo Med 2.0 UVB Bulb would be a good choice for these.

 

Heat

Temperatures for tropical species should range from 75-82 F.  Toads from temperate regions fare best at 66-74 F.  However, specific needs vary, especially regarding those native to deserts or rainforests; please post any questions below.

 

A fluorescent light may provide enough heat – if not, try a 25 watt incandescent bulb or ceramic heater; these can dry out the substrate, so additional misting may become necessary.

 

Humidity

Humidity needs vary, but even desert dwellers should have access to a moist retreat and easily-exited water bowl.

 

Water Quality

Toads have porous skin patches on the chest and elsewhere and will, therefore, absorb ammonia (released with their waste products) and other harmful chemicals.  As ammonia is extremely lethal, strict attention must be paid to terrarium and water hygiene.

 

Chlorine and chloramine must be removed from water used in toad terrariums.  Liquid preparations are simple to use and very effective.

 

Feeding

Toads are carnivorous and stimulated to feed by movement.  The one surprising exception is the Marine Toad.  In Costa Rica, I came to know one huge individual that would visit our field station each night.  After pushing open the screen door, she would eat table scraps that had been left for a dog!

 

A highly-varied diet is essential.  Crickets alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet for any species.

 

The following should be offered to tiny species such as Narrow-Mouthed Toads and to newly-transformed individuals: fruit flies, 10 day old crickets, springtails, termites, flour beetle grubs, aphids and “field plankton” (insects gathered by sweeping through tall grass with a net).

 

In addition to crickets, earthworms (one of the best foods for most) roaches, sow bugs, waxworms, butterworms, silkworms, houseflies and other invertebrates should be provided.  Insects should themselves be fed a nutritious diet for 1-3 days before being offered to your pets.  Many will accept canned grasshoppers, snails, and silkworms from tongs.

 

Please ignore the You Tube videos of Marine Toads consuming mice. Even in rodent-rich habitats, wild Marine Toads feed primarily upon insects.  While a very occasional pink mouse will do no harm, furred rodents should never be offered.

 

Food should be powdered with Zoo Med ReptiCalcium plus D3 or a similar product.  Vitamin/mineral supplements such as ReptiVite may be used 1-2 times weekly.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

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.

 

Further Reading

American Toad Care & Natural History

Nutritious Diets for Frogs & Toads

2014 is Named “The Year of the Salamander”

 

Japanese Giant Salamanders

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by V31S70

Salamanders and newts, often overlooked by pet keepers, zoos and environmentalists alike, are getting some much-needed exposure this year.  Led by the Partnership for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, a consortium of environmental groups has designated 2014 as the Year of the Salamander.  I’m very pleased, as past efforts, including the Year of the Snake and the Year of the Lizard, have done much to advance reptile conservation.

 

Even among my Bronx Zoo colleagues, I was considered somewhat strange when I began writing a book on newt and salamander natural history and captive care some 17 years ago.  But I have been very lucky, salamander-wise.  Perhaps because so few people were interested, many fascinating opportunities came my way.  Whether crossing the USA and Japan in search of my favorite species or caring for those in my home collection – several of which are now aged 25 to 35 – I’ve never tired of learning about them, and remain as passionate today as I was in childhood.

 

Salamander Central

Salamander enthusiasts based in the USA are quite fortunate, as more species live here than anywhere else on earth.  In fact, the southern Appalachian Mountains, a salamander hotspot, are home to 10% of the world’s known species.  And the sheer diversity of their sizes, lifestyles and behaviors is beyond belief – colorless cave-dwellers that never see the light of day, yard-long eel-like species armed with sharp teeth, tiny lichen-colored rock dwellers, colorful beauties, terrestrial giants large enough to raid mouse nests and so many more.

 

Fire Salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Lior Fainshil

My zoo-keeper and hobbyist friends in other countries are astounded that those living in the epicenter of salamander diversity do not devote more of our efforts to these amazing creatures.  I’ve written about some of our species in other articles…please post below and I’ll send links.

 

Year of the Salamander Activities

The Year of the Salamander effort is spearheaded by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), and was preceded the Year of the Turtle, Snake and Lizard. This year, PARC will be joined by the Center for Conservation Biology, the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, Amphibian Ark, and other notables.  In addition to field research and captive breeding programs, public education will be a major component of each group’s activities.

 

I’m happy to see that input from interested non-professionals will be solicited.  This is an all-too-rare step, despite the fact that professionals with financial resources cannot begin to address the conservation needs of the world’s threatened amphibians.

 

Olm

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Arne Hodalič

Salamander Populations Plummeting Worldwide

Frog extinctions have been very much in the spotlight in recent years.  Fueled by emerging diseases (please see below) that have exacerbated the threats posed by habitat loss and other long-standing concerns, frog declines have been documented around the globe.

 

Salamanders, which are usually harder to find and study (after all, none advertise their presence by croaking!), are likely in just as much trouble as frogs.  In fact, the IUCN classifies 49.8% of the world’s salamanders as threatened or endangered, as compared to 31.6% of the world’s frogs!  Considering that salamanders are so poorly studied, the conservation picture could actually be far bleaker than the IUCN’s frightening statistics indicate.  Hopefully, the Year of the Salamander effort will divert much needed interest and funds to salamander conservation.

 

Specific Threats

The future of the world’s salamanders and newts is put in jeopardy by many of the same problems that afflict frogs – habitat loss, road mortality during the breeding season, pollution, invasive species (especially fish) and others.  Unique threats also exist – for example, Tiger Salamanders, classified as endangered in some US states, are legally used as fish bait in others (please see article below)!

 

While the devastating effects of Chytrid and Ranavirus infections on frog populations are well known, related salamander studies are in short supply.  However, in 2013, a new strain of Chytrid was found to be killing Fire Salamanders in Europe…I fear that this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

 

Help and Input Needed

Please check out my salamander conservation articles, some of which are linked below, and share your thoughts and observations by posting in the comments section of this article.  A book I’ve written, which addresses both natural history and captive care, may also be useful to those interested in helping these amazing amphibians.  I’ll be sure to highlight your feedback here, and will get right back to you concerning any questions you may have.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

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.

 

Further Reading

Salamander larvae Still Being Used as Fish Bait in the USA

New Population of Endangered Axolotls Found…in Mexico City!

Twelve Rare US Amphibians in Need of Protection

 

 

 

 

The Most Astonishing and Bizarre Newly-Discovered Frogs

 

Mimic Poison Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Gabsch

Be it the discovery of a new species in the middle of NYC or the revelation that Mimic Poison Frogs are monogamous, frog enthusiasts are accustomed to surprises.  But those revealed in the last few years have been especially interesting and unexpected…frogs with sheathed claws, tadpoles that feed upon their father’s skin and on tree bark, bird-eating, bird-voiced and lungless frogs, fanged tadpoles and much, much more.  Were I new to this field, I’d consider much of the following article as pure fantasy…but even after a lifetime of working with amphibians, I’m still shaking my head.

 

Note: please see the linked articles for further information on the frogs introduced here.

 

 

Read More »

The Best Live Foods for Pet Salamanders – Ensuring Dietary Variety

Hi, Frank Indiviglio here.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career of over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo. 

Although many salamanders will eagerly gobble-up crickets and mealworms, a diet restricted to these food items usually leads to nutritional disorders and reduced life-spans.  This holds true even if supplements are used.  A varied diet is essential if you are to have success in keeping salamanders long-term (my 32 year-old Red Salamander, 25 year-old Fire Salamanders and numerous others can attest to this!).  Following are some useful tips for those seeking to vary the diets of their terrestrial salamanders.  While most newts and aquatic species (Axolotls, Amphiumas) accept dry foods, they too will benefit from invertebrate meals.  Please post below for detailed information on individual salamander species.  As there is an endless supply of useful live foods for pet salamanders, please also post your ideas and observations.

Dusky Salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Stanley Trauth

Earthworms, Red Wigglers, Nightcrawlers (Lumbricus terrestris and relatives)

If you need to rely upon a single food item as a dietary staple for your salamanders, it should be earthworms, not crickets. I cannot recall a single salamander species that does not fare well on an earthworm-rich diet.  Earthworms and their relatives reproduce rapidly when kept properly (please see article below) and can be stored for weeks under refrigeration.  Their nutritional profile can be improved by a diet of leaf litter, corn meal, fish flakes and calcium powder. Read More »

Holiday Gifts for Reptile and Amphibian Keepers, Young or Experienced

Hi, Frank Indiviglio here.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career of over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.  Today I’d like to offer some gift suggestions for the herp enthusiasts on your holiday shopping list.  I’ve made my choices with younger folks and novices in mind, but all are useful to long-term keepers as well (indeed, we dinosaurs often stick to “ancient” products and ignore new innovations!).  I believe that the products I’ve highlighted are important because they will start hobbyists thinking about concepts that are often overlooked early-on, such as water quality, temperature gradients, UVA, dietary variety and reading materials.  Some of my recommendations will need to be fine-tuned to fit individual species.  Please post below and see the linked articles for further information, and be sure to add your own thoughts and gift-giving suggestions.

 

t255193Hygrometers and Thermometers

When I first began using sophisticated testing equipment in zoos, I was surprised to discover how widely humidity and temperature levels can vary within even small exhibits.   Back then, hobbyists were pretty much limited to aquarium thermometers and the like.  Today, pet owners have a wide assortment of professional-quality hygrometers and thermometers from which to choose. Read More »

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