Earthworms are one of the most nutritious food items available for amphibians, and for those reptiles, invertebrates and fishes that will take them. Collecting them (in one piece!) can, however, be frustrating, and they are quite costly at bait stores. One trick I stumbled upon years ago has greatly simplified the task of supplying my collection with earthworms – I hope you find it useful. Read More »
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Many frogs and toads that are collected or purchased and kept as pets will greedily accept crickets and mealworms, the food items most easily obtained from pet stores. Most thrive on this fare for a time, but eventually develop nutritional disorders and expire long before they have reached their potential life-span. Following are some useful tips for those keeping American Bullfrogs, White’s Treefrogs, Budgett’s Frogs, most Toads and similar species. Please see my other Amphibian Care Articles for information on feeding Poison Frogs, Mantellas, African Clawed Frogs, Horned Frogs and others requiring specialized diets, or write in with your questions. Read More »
Seasonal Behavioral Changes
Many species, even those from regions considered “tropical”, slow down during the cooler seasons; in captivity they often respond to autumn’s arrival in a similar manner. Animals that are native to your area will be most strongly affected, especially if exposed to the local light cycle, but even exotic species may gear their behavior to local conditions. Read More »
I caution frog keepers against the all-too-common “cricket and mealworm only” diet. Today we’ll cover additional means of providing amphibians a varied diet that will promote longevity and breeding. The following information applies to the care of American Bullfrogs, White’s Treefrogs, Budgett’s Frogs, most toads and many similar species. Please see my other Amphibian Care Articles for details concerning Poison Frogs, Mantellas, African Clawed Frogs, Horned Frogs and others requiring specialized diets, or write in with your questions.
There is very little in the way of live invertebrates that hungry frogs refuse – I provide moths, beetles, sowbugs, millipedes, dragonfly larvae, grubs, millipedes, grasshoppers, tree crickets, field crickets, harvestmen, caterpillars and a variety of other easily-collected species.
Avoid using “hairy” caterpillars, spiders and other invertebrates that are able to bite or sting – a good invertebrate field guide should be part of every herpers “tool chest”. Brightly-colored insects are often toxic, as are fireflies; do not collect during times when your area is being sprayed for mosquito control.
I rely heavily upon earthworms in both winter and summer, buying or collecting them, and usually try to keep a colony going in my basement as well.
Traps and Canned Insects
The Zoo Med Bug Napper simplifies the collecting of moths and other flying insects; please see the articles mentioned in Part I for information on other collecting techniques.
Canned Insects such as grasshoppers, snails and silkworms are readily accepted from Feeding Tongs by many frogs, and are an important means of providing dietary variety when wild-caught insects are not available.
Calcium: Fish and Mice
A diet rich in pink or adult mice will cause most frogs to suffer eye, kidney and liver problems. While these aggressive predators certainly take the occasional rodent in the wild, research has shown that insects and other invertebrates form the vast majority of their natural diet.
American Bullfrogs seem to do well with a pink mouse every month or so, but do not offer adult mice – amphibians swallow their food alive, and are often injured by a mouse’s sharp teeth. Hair also leads to potentially fatal impactions.
During the colder months, or at other times when wild-caught insects are unavailable, the main portion of the diet should not be crickets, but rather a mix of earthworms (these can be used as the bulk of most species’ diets), roaches, crickets, and waxworms. Silkworms and tomato hornworms, available via internet dealers, should be offered from time to time.
I use mealworms and super mealworms sparingly, and usually select only newly-molted (white) individuals. I have found crayfishes to be an important food item for a wide variety of frogs. I remove their claws, just to be on the safe side.
You should allow insects purchased as frog food to consume a healthy diet for several days, in order to increase their nutritional value; please see the articles referenced in Part I for details.
The diets of captive Poison Frogs (Dendrobates, Phyllobates, Oophaga), Mantellas, small salamanders (i.e. Red-Backed Salamanders) and tiny, newly-transformed amphibians are usually limited to the two readily available foods of appropriate size – pinhead crickets and fruit flies. The minute, wingless insects known as Springtails (Order Collembola) are easy to procure and rear, and offer a convenient means of increasing dietary variety for small amphibians.
Natural Diets of Smaller Amphibians
Most small terrestrial frogs and salamanders forage among leaf litter, which is invariably inhabited by thousands of species of tiny invertebrates (surprisingly, the weight of invertebrates in most habitats exceeds that of all vertebrates combined!). It seems certain that these amphibians consume an extremely varied diet in the wild, and that typical captive diets do not meet their nutritional needs.
Aphids (1/8-inch-long green or red insects found in colonies on plant stems) are an option, but these are becoming scarce in many areas and, with their complicated life history (involving sex-switching and other unique twists), are difficult to maintain long-term. One can also collect ants, tiny beetles and other leaf litter invertebrates (please see article below), but of these only Springtails can be easily bred in large numbers.
Some amphibians are so small that even pinhead crickets prove too large a meal. I’ve run into this situation with Kihansi Spray Toads (Nectophrynoides asperginis), which are a mere ¾ inch long when full grown. These toads, now likely extinct in the wild, give birth to fully formed toadlets that are so small as to be barely visible. A steady supply of Springtails was essential to the successful rearing of these Tanzanian natives, the last of their kind on earth. Folks breeding other tiny amphibians, such as Strawberry Poison Frogs (Oophaga pumilio), will also find Springtail colonies an invaluable resource.
With over 6,000 species identified thus far, Springtails are common in most temperate and tropical habitats. They usually appear as tiny white “dots” jumping about below fallen leaves. You can start a colony by scooping them up in the leaf litter or by purchasing any of the several species available through commercial suppliers. Most breed well in captivity and can build up enormous populations under favorable conditions – please see Part II of this article for details.
Whenever possible, the diets of smaller amphibians should be supplemented with wild-caught invertebrates. Please see Collecting Leaf Litter Invertebrates for some useful techniques.
Strawberry Poison Frog image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Encarna Sáez Goñalons & Víctor Martínez Moll
Springtail image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Mvuijlst