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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.

African Bullfrog or Pac Man Horned Frog: Choosing the Best Frog Pet

Ornate Horned Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by “Max Gross”

The Argentine, Pac Man or Ornate Horned Frog (Ceratophrys ornata) may be the world’s most popular amphibian pet. Beautiful and “charmingly” pugnacious, Horned Frogs require relatively little space despite their “salad bowl” size, and may live to age 20 or more. In a close second among frog fans is the massive African Bullfrog, Pyxicephalus adspersus. These brutes, which can live past age 50, are resilient beyond belief – one was observed downing 17 hatchling spitting cobras, and during droughts they can remain dormant for 10 to 12 months!


In the following article I’ll compare Horned and African Bullfrogs in terms of their habits, activity levels, and care needs, so that you’ll be able to choose the species that best suits your interests and frog-keeping skills. Detailed care information is provided in the articles linked under “Further Reading”; as always, please also post any questions or observations you may have.


African Bullfrog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Steven G. Johnson

Handling Your Pet Frog

Both Horned and African Bullfrogs have powerful jaws equipped with bits of bone that extend up from the jaw. These “teeth”, technically known as odontoid structures, can inflict serious wounds. Even after years in captivity, an instinctive feeding response will cause frogs to bite fingers moved within range.


Fortunately, it is a simple matter to safely pick up either by grasping it behind the front legs. However, they should be handled only when necessary, and then with wet hands, so that you do not remove the protective mucus from their skin. Wash well after handling any animal.


Surinam Horned Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Maarten Sepp

Activity Levels

Neither is overly active, but each has fascinating behaviors (please see articles linked below). Both will feed by day, but may become more active after dark. In order to observe them at night, you can equip the terrarium with a black or red reptile night bulb (frogs do not sense the light produced by these bulbs).


Life Span

The published longevity for an Ornate Horned Frog is just short of 15 years, but there are unofficial reports of individuals approaching age 23. African Bullfrogs are among the longest-lived of all amphibians, with a 51-year-old individual holding the record.


Breeding Potential

Both are bred by commercial dealers, but reproduction is not common in home terrariums. However, given suitable space and proper pre-conditioning, either species may surprise you with thousands of eggs…and the tadpoles are as rabidly carnivorous as their parents!



The cost of ownership of each frog is about the same. Neither requires UVB exposure, and they do fine with similar diets, terrariums and heat levels.


Horned frog habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Haroldarmitage

Terrarium Size (single adult)

African Bullfrogs and Horned Frogs are “sit and wait” predators, and as such are relatively inactive. A 20 gallon aquarium (or a similarly-sized plastic tub) will accommodate an average adult, but a 30 gallon tank will be “appreciated”. Males, the smaller sex, have been successfully kept in 15 gallon aquariums.


Light and Heat

Neither frog requires exposure to UVB light.


Both African Bull and Horned Frogs fare best at temperatures ranging from 72 F on the cooler side of the terrarium to 85 F at the warmer. Reptile heat pads are ideal as heat sources, but are best located along the sides of the terrarium. When placed below the tank, there is a chance that your frog may burrow down and come in direct contact with overly-hot glass. Incandescent bulbs, night bulbs, or ceramic heaters may also be employed, but beware of their drying effects.



Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Etrusko25

Frog Diet

The dietary requirements of the two species are identical.


Both require a great deal of calcium, especially as they are growing. Whole fishes and, to a lesser extent, pink mice, are ideal calcium sources. Pink mice may be offered once each 7-10 days, or omitted if fish are consumed regularly.


Crickets alone will not supply adequate nutrition. Minnows, shiners, earthworms, roaches, and crickets can make up the bulk of their diet. Crayfishes, butterworms, silkworms and other invertebrates should also be included regularly.


Food (other than pinkies and fish) should be powdered with Zoo Med ReptiCalcium plus D3  or a similar product. Vitamin/mineral supplements such as ReptiVite should be used 2-3 times weekly.


Health Concerns (Pet and Pet Owner)

African Bullfrogs and Horned Frogs are equally at risk from the following health issues. If proper care and diet is provided, both will prove to be extremely hardy and long-lived.


Ammonia toxicity is the most frequent cause of death. Ammonia is released with waste products and is rapidly absorbed via the skin as frogs soak in water or rest on the substrate. Ammonia can prove fatal in short order, so be sure to have someone clean the terrarium frequently when you are away from home for extended periods. Generally, water should be changed daily, and always treated with a chlorine/chloramine remover. Unclean conditions can also result in a bacterial skin infection known as Septicemia or “Red Leg”.


Intestinal impactions resulting from substrate ingestion are sometimes encountered (both species). This problem can be avoided by the use of cage liners, or by feeding your frogs in large bowls, via tongs, or in a bare-bottomed enclosure.


Calcium deficiencies and other diseases related to poor nutrition are common among frogs maintained on crickets and mealworms alone. Please post below for further information.


Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Please speak with your family doctor concerning details, and feel free to post below if you would like links to useful resources.



Further Reading

African Bullfrog Care

An Appetite for Cobras: Huge Bullfrog Meals

Horned Frog Care

Exciting New Exotic Animal Displays in our Reptile Room

In the Reptile Room section of our Lancaster, Pennsylvania retail store, our expert staff is always creating new and exciting displays.  These amazing displays rarely get the exposure they deserve – so we wanted to take a moment and highlight their extraordinary work on That Reptile Blog. Check them out below or stop by our store and see for yourself!



Mantella Tank

This display features the unique Mantella frog (Mantella ebenaui) in a 40 gallon Marineland Perfecto aquarium.  The brown variety of this rare frog is native to Madagascar.  The landscape includes river rock gravel, topped with several live plants, including creeping fig, liverwort and begonia.  The staff has also included a mini water reservoir with several small goldfish.



What makes this set up special, is that the tank is fully sustaining ecosystem that requires no filtration and little maintenance.  The system relies on the live plants and gold fish to digest nutrients created by the breakdown of uneaten food and waste.  The only maintenance required is feeding the Mantella and trimming back plants as needed.  This set up is maintained by several members of our staff, including Josh Mangan.




 IMG_0876Volcano Tank

This awesome “active” volcano was handcrafted by our Reptile Room associate Jesse Taylor.  The inventive design includes a Zoo Med Repti-Fogger surrounded by natural Eco Earth bedding.  The fogger releases a steamy mist that creates the appearance of volcanic activity.  Housed in an 18 in. x 18 in. x 24 in. Exo Terra Glass Terrarium, the ecosystem also includes an Eco Earth and live seasonal moss base, as it is prepared to hold African Reed Frogs.



IMG_0952Customized Blue Gliding Frog Terrarium

Created by Reptile Room supervisor Ryan Chillas, this great set up features two Vietnamese Blue Gliding Frogs.  To best replicate the natural environment of the frogs, Chillas created a detailed, natural set up that includes a water reservoir and waterfall.  He added a river rock base and several live plants, including creeping fig, liverwort and a peace lily.

To create the waterfall, Chillas borrowed some non-toxic expanding foam sealant from our pond section.  He used it to fashion a back wall that holds an Aquatop fountain pump.  The pump draws water from the bottom reservoir and moves it to the top of the foam wall.  Chillas also added petrified wood and rocks throughout the foam wall.  Adding live plants, it creates the perfect climbing environment that the arboreal Blue Gliding Frogs would find in their natural habitat.


If you’d like to check out these great displays, stop by our Reptile Room in our Lancaster, Pennsylvania store. In addition to these animals, we also have a large variety of lizards, tortoises and spiders to pique your curiosity.  You can check with Josh, Jesse or Ryan in person or speak with any of the members of our helpful expert staff.  We are always ready, willing and able to answer any questions you might have!





Endangered Species Notes: Missing Frogs Found, Others Feared Extinct

Indian Dancing Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by SathyabhamaDasBiju

In 2010, 33 teams of researchers set out across 21 countries to search for the hundreds of amphibian species that may have been driven to extinction in recent years. A “100 Most Wanted” and a “10 Ten” list was compiled, and the public’s help was sought. Now, 4 years later, we have both discouraging and promising news, with some lost species “resurrected”, several new ones described, and no sign at all of many.


I’ve written about the global amphibian decline, spurred by an emerging disease (Chytrid fungus outbreak), habitat loss, and other factors, in several articles (please see Further Reading, below). The current search for survivors is also covered in the recently-published book In Search of Lost Frogs. Today I’d like to summarize recent reports from the field. Most of the good and bad news centers on frogs…the status of many salamanders, which are less well-studied and harder to find, remains unknown.


Painted Hula Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mickey Samuni-Blank

Down But Not Out

To start off on a positive note, I was happy to learn that 6 frog species that had not been seen in over 20 years were found in a single week of searching on Haiti! Hopefully, surveys of other habitats that have been studied in recent years will turn out as well.


Several species on the “Most Wanted List”, all feared extinct, have also been found. Included among these are:


Ecuador’s Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad, formerly known only from drawings.

The Borneo Rainbow Toad, which had not been seen in 87 years.

Israel’s Hula Painted Frog, which was pushed to near-extinction by marsh drainage and introduced fish.

Newly-Discovered Species

Happily, a number of species new to science turned up during the worldwide search, and in conjunction with related efforts. While many are tiny and are noted only by frog enthusiasts, several have, for various reasons, also aroused some public interest:

Named due to its (perceived!) resemblance to a character on The Simpsons TV show, the Monty Burns Toad had been hidden away in Columbia. Another surprise, a neon-orange Dart Poison Frog found in Panama, measures only 12.7 mm in length – the smallest among a huge array of tiny relatives.

Display of male Dancing Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by SathyabhamaDasBiju

My favorites are the 14 species of Dancing Frogs recently found in India’s forests. Because they live near rushing streams that would drown out mating calls, the tiny males have evolved an alternative way of attracting mates. True to their name, they whip their rear legs about in a variety of “dance-like” moves (please see photo).


Still Missing

Unfortunately, many species remain undetected. Some, such as the Mesopotamic Beaked Toad, have not been found despite extensive surveys. Others that are hopefully skilled at avoiding herpetologists rather than gone forever include:



Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Arne Hodalič

Fantastically colored in greenish-yellow and jet black, the bromeliad-dwelling Jackson’s Climbing Salamander has not been observed in its native Guatemala since 1975.


Turkestanian Salamander: Known only from two specimens collected in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, this salamander has not been seen since its discovery in 1909.


Golden Toad: This brilliantly colored Costa Rican native, despite inhabiting isolated, pristine cloud forests, has been missing since 1989.




Further Reading

Public Help Needed in Amphibian Search

Rare but Unprotected US Amphibians

US Reptiles and Amphibians Need Hobbyist’s Help

Pet Toads: Best Choices for Kids or First Time Pet Owners

American toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bnski

I’ve kept toads at home and in zoos for over 50 years, yet I remain enamored of even the most common local species. Others of my generation, be they herpetologists or hobbyists, feel the same…it’s hard to dislike a toad!   As pets, toads are generally far more responsive and “aware” than are their frog cousins, and with proper care they may live into their 30’s and beyond. Perhaps because they “know” of the protection offered by powerful skin toxins, pets become quite bold, and readily feed from the hand…sounds odd, but their fearless attitudes remind me of another favorite but very different pet – the striped skunk! To date, 578 species of toads have been described (family Bufonidae), so I’m guessing that many readers will have their own “best pet” picks. Please be sure to post your choices below.


The American Toad and its Relatives

Each year, American Toads and several related species introduce scores of children to amphibian keeping. I can think of no better toad – or indeed amphibian – pet. Hardy enough for rank beginners, these stout little fellows also hold the attentions of experienced zookeepers – in fact, very few have ever been bred in captivity!


Southern toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Fice

Twenty-one similar species are classified with the American Toad in the genus Anaxyrus (formerly Bufo). Most are equally hardy and well suited to captivity, although the tiny Oak Toad (A. quercicus) may present some feeding difficulties due to the size of the insects required. Other good choices for the terrarium include Houston, Southern, Fowler’s and Great Plains Toads. Owners invariably describe each using words such as “charming”, “droll”, “friendly” and “engaging”. All are sometimes active by day in the wild; captives quickly adjust to their owners’ schedules, and will emerge from their shelters by day and night if a meal is in the offing.



I’ve covered the care of American Toads and several other species in the articles linked below. Please also post any question you may have.


Just a quick note on hygiene and diet, which are the two aspects of care that most often give rise to problems (read more in the linked articles):


Black Toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Strageser

Toads have porous skin patches on the chest through which ammonia (released with their waste products) will be absorbed. As ammonia is extremely lethal, strict attention must be paid to terrarium and water cleanliness. Chlorine and chloramine must be removed from water used in toad terrariums. Liquid preparations are simple to use and very effective.


A highly-varied diet is essential. Crickets and mealworms alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet for any species. I have observed wild Marine Toads consuming over 2 dozen insect species in a very short time, and other researchers have documented a wider range of prey for other species. Pets should be offered crickets, earthworms (one of the best foods) roaches, sow bugs, waxworms, butterworms, silkworms, lab-reared houseflies, termites, flour beetle grubs, and wild-caught invertebrates (please see cautions in linked articles) such as aphids, “meadow plankton”, harvestmen, earwigs, ground beetles, grasshoppers, and moths.


Mexican Burrowing Toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Pstevendactylus

Expanding Your Collection

Once you have some experience with the American Toad and its relatives, you may wish to branch out into some of the less-commonly kept (in some cases very rarely kept!) toads. You have nearly 600 species to choose from, and some really break the “typical family mold” set by the American Toad. Spray Toads (not available in the trade) bear tiny live toadlets while Argentine Flame-Bellied Toads are as brilliant as any Dart Poison Frog. Huge lumbering Marine, Blomberg’s and Smooth-Sided Toads rival Horned Frogs in size, while the rarely-seen Mexican Burrowing Toad looks like some sort of amphibian space alien.


US toad fanciers are fortunate to have 35-40 species resident, many of which are overlooked by zoos and hobbyists alike. Some of my favorite US natives include the Narrow-Mouthed, Red-Spotted, Spadefoot, Sonoran Green and Marine Toads.



Toads learn very quickly where their meals lie, and will soon greet you as you approach their terrarium. They will even clamber up onto your hand to feed, but should not be held unnecessarily, or “petted”. In common with all amphibians, they are subject health problems once the skin’s mucus covering is removed. Handle them – carefully, and with clean, wet hands – only when necessary.


While toads make excellent pets for responsible children supervised by adults, they do secrete virulent skin toxins and must be treated with care. Always wash thoroughly after handling them, and never touch your mouth or eyes before doing so. Do not handle toads if you have a cut in your skin. Toads that are licked or swallowed by children or mammalian pets can cause life-threatening reactions.


All amphibians should be assumed to carry Salmonella. Infections are easy to avoid if proper hygiene measures are followed. Please see the CDC website and speak with your family doctor if you require further information.



Further Reading


American Toad Care and Natural History


Care of Common and Unusual Toads


Salmonella Prevention

Butterworms as Reptile-Amphibian Food: Nutritional Content and Care


Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dicklyon

Butterworms, also known as Trevo Worms, are highly nutritious caterpillars that deserve more attention from reptile, amphibian and invertebrate keepers. They have many of the advantages associated with wild-caught insects yet lack most of the risks. Their calcium content of 42.9 mg/100g (as compared to 14 and 3.2 mg/100g for crickets and mealworms) is especially-impressive. Simple to use and store, and accepted by a huge array of species, Butterworms are in many ways superior to the more commonly-used feeders. I promoted their use throughout my long career as a zookeeper, and today would like to introduce them to those readers who may be interested in adding important nutritional variety to their pets’ diets. Please also see the articles linked below for information on other “alternative” foods such as sow bugs, sap beetles, leaf litter invertebrates, earwigs and many others.


Adult (related species)

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Butko

Natural History

Although they resemble beetle grubs, Butterworms are actually the larvae, or caterpillars, of the Chilean Trevo Moth (Chilecomandia moorei). As far as is known, they are found only in Chile, where their diet is comprised entirely of Trevo Bush (Trevoa trinervis) leaves.


Butterworms are collected rather than captive-reared, and are subjected to low levels of radiation before being exported from Chile. Irradiation prevents them from pupating, thereby addressing US Department of Agriculture concerns that the species could become established in the USA. This process, and the fact that they cannot be bred commercially, renders Butterworms a bit more costly than similar insects, but I believe their value as a food source merits the extra expense.



Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Rocket000

Nutritional Information

Being wild-caught, Butterworms likely provide nutrients absent from commercially-reared insects. They also exceed all other typical feeder insects in calcium content (please see Introduction, above), with only silkworms and phoenix worms approaching them in this regard (some find silkworms to be delicate, and phoenix worms are quite small, but both are also worth investigating).


The Butterworm’s protein content of 16.2% is on par with that of crickets, phoenix worms and waxworms, and below that provided by silkworms and roaches. Fat content stands at 5.21%, which is less than (considerably so, in many cases) that of all other commonly-used feeders.


Please Note: The nutritional needs of reptiles and amphibians vary by species and by individual age, health, and other factors. The fact that a food is “low in ash” or “high in protein” does not necessarily mean that it is a good or bad choice for your pet. Please post specific nutrition/feeding questions below.


Why Use Butterworms

In addition to their nutritional value, Butterworms are readily accepted by a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, tarantulas, fishes, scorpions, birds and small mammals. They vary in coloration through shades of yellow, red and orange, and have a distinct, “fruity” scent. I’ve not seen any research on the subject, but these qualities perhaps may make them attractive to predators…in any case, Butterworms often incite interest from reluctant feeders.


Rough Green Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Cotinis

Butterworms range from ½ inch to 1 ½ inches in size, with the average in most containers being ¾ inch. They are far plumper than waxworms, and ideally suited for both small and larger pets.


These colorful, chubby caterpillars are more active than waxworms and phoenix worms, yet can easily be confined to a shallow bowl or jar lid. I’ve found this to be especially useful when keeping certain treefrogs, geckos and other arboreal species that are reluctant to feed on the ground. Butterworms may also be used to provide important dietary variety to insectivorous snakes (Smooth Green Snakes, etc.), terrestrial salamanders and others that tend to accept relatively few traditional feeder species.



Butterworms can be kept under refrigeration at 42-45 F for at least 4, and possibly up to 6, months. I keep my refrigerator at 39 F, and have had no problems with losses at that temperature over periods of 2-4 weeks.



Further Reading

Collecting Insects for Herp Food: Traps and Tips

Earwigs as Reptile/Amphibian Food

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