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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.

Holiday Gifts for Reptile and Amphibian Keepers, Young or Experienced

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 »

African Bullfrog Care, Feeding and Terrarium Design

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 bullfrog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Steven G. Johnson

Natural History

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.

The Terrarium

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.

Adult male

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dawson

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.

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.

If you use moss or other substrates, meals are best offered via tongs or in a separate, bare-bottomed enclosure.

Flooded savanna

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mehmet Karatay


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.

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

African Bullfrog Eats 17 Young Cobras

African Bullfrogs: parental care of tadpoles

Feeding African Bullfrogs and Horned Frogs: Mice

How to Breed Dwarf African Clawed Frogs

Dwarf African Clawed Frogs, also known as Dwarf African Frogs (Hymenochirus boettgeri and H. curtipes) are very popular pets, yet few hobbyists attempt to breed them in captivity. Reproduction sometimes occurs spontaneously, but unless one is prepared, the eggs and tadpoles rarely survive.  As both a lifelong frog enthusiast and career herpetologist, I find this to be a sad state of affairs.  For these tiny aquatic frogs can be easily induced to breed and exhibit some of the amphibian world’s most amazing reproductive behaviors – including a circular egg-laying “dance” that may go on for 7 hours!  The bizarre tadpoles are equipped with tubular mouths and swim in a head up position at the water’s surface, propelled by rapidly-beating tails.  Looking somewhat like tiny skin-divers, rearing a tankful of these charming little amphibians is a most interesting and pleasurable undertaking.


Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Quatermass

Distinguishing the Species and the Sexes

Hymenochirus boettgeri and H. curtipes are the only species regularly available in the pet trade.  Hymenochirus boettgeri has proportionally longer rear legs than H. curtipes, and its skin appears more granular.  The tadpoles are easy to distinguish (please see below).

Females are larger than males, and they are positively rotund when carrying eggs.  Males can be distinguished by their postaxillary glands, which appear as a tiny white bump behind each forearm. Read More »

Mantella Care – Keeping Madagascar Poison Frogs in the Terrarium

Often compared to the Dart Poison Frogs in size, appearance and behavior, Mantellas are among the most highly desirable of all amphibian pets.  Most are spectacularly colored – so much so that I’ve often had visitors to my exhibits at the Bronx Zoo ask if they are real!  Indeed, many frog enthusiasts consider the ruby morph of the Golden Mantella (M. aurantiaca) to be the world’s most beautiful frog.  Several of their colors, including some of the greens and oranges, are not seen in the more popularly-kept Dart Poison Frogs.

Mantella bernhardi

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Devin Edmonds

You can expect to see many interesting behaviors from Mantella Frogs, as they are active by day, quite bold, and are always foraging, exploring, interacting and otherwise “on the go”.  Once considered delicate captives, several species are now regularly bred in captivity, and we are learning more about Mantella care and fascinating natural histories (including how they acquire their famous skin toxins…please see below) each year.The following information can be applied to most available species, including Painted, Golden, Green, Brown and Saffron Mantellas.  However, details vary; please post below for information concerning individual species. Read More »

New Species – Poison Frog Inhabits a “Lost World” in Guyana Rainforest

Researchers working in a little-studied rainforest have uncovered a minute Poison Frog that seems restricted to a tiny range within a very unique habitat.  Labeled a “micro-endemic”, the newly-described frog may be threatened by plans to encourage ecotourism in the area.  Its species name, “assimibilis”, means “that may disappear”.  The region in which it lives, northern South America’s Guyana Shield, is home to 148 amphibian and 176 reptile species…and herpetologists believe that many more await discovery

Allobates femoralis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Alessandro Catenazzi

A Biodiversity Hotspot

The term “lost world” was first applied to the Guyana Shield (please see photo) in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic 1912 book of the same name, and biologists find it equally appropriate today.  Home to 25% of the world’s undisturbed tropical rainforests, the area supports a mind-boggling array of unique animals and plants.

Included among herps described so far are 11 caecilians, 4 crocodilians, 4 amphisbaenians (worm lizards, please see photo), 97 snakes and 56 lizards.  Many of the 137 resident frogs are endemic (found nowhere else), as are approximately 15% of the reptiles.  Some are known from only 1-5 specimens, and it is assumed that many have yet to be seen by herpetologists. Read More »

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