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

Why Do We Need Insects? – Some Amazing Facts and Figures

WATER SCORPSome might answer “as food for our reptiles, amphibians and arachnids”, while others would perhaps offer the standard “pollination” reply. Legendary entomologist E.O. Wilson, however, simply states: “If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos”. He adds: “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago”.


Yes, it is true – despite our technological advances, life would grind to a halt were insects to disappear. The reasons for this are staggering in both their simplicity and complexity. Today I’d like to highlight few fun facts that have surprised me – for example, can you believe that the weight of insects in typical central African rainforests exceeds that of all vertebrates combined? Think about that –taken together, these tiny creatures outweigh the total mass of all resident forest elephants, gorillas, birds, reptiles and other animals with backbones!


How Many Actually Trouble Us?

Estimated at 30 million species, insects comprise 80-95% of all living creatures. A single tree in Panama has yielded 163 beetle species, 100 of which were new to science, and their abundance is not limited to the tropics – an acre of Pennsylvania soil may hold 425 million individual insects. Barely 1% qualify as being harmful to people.


Robber fly

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jkadavoor

Helpful Roaches, Flies and Termites (Its True!)

Say “insect pest” to most urbanites and the word “cockroach” comes to mind. Yet only 12 of the 4,500+ known species – or 0.3% – are household pests. The rest are important pollinators, decomposers, predators, and prey. Roach research has led to advances in understanding human molecular and cell biology, neuron function, heredity, pharmacology, epidemiology and hormone activity.


Most people are displeased to learn that 1 in every 10 animal species is a fly, but most of the estimated 250,000 species are innocuous or even helpful. Hover flies are important pollinators, and their larvae are used in biological control measures against agricultural pests, while North America’s 1,000+ robber fly species prey upon injurious fellow-flies. Certain shore fly larvae live in the hot (112 F) waters of geysers, while others happily swim about in crude oil; their unbelievable adaptability may hold secrets of medicinal or industrial value.


Contrary to popular belief, not all termites spend their time eating our homes – only 10% of the world’s 4,000+ species attack wood structures. Others eat dead grass, lichens and leaves, and some actually “farm” fungi as a food source. In Australian savannas, termites limit the severity of fires by removing dead grass in quantities equal to that processed by grazing mammals elsewhere.


Weevil Trachelophorus giraffa

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by AxelStrauss

They May Eat Dung and Rotting Fruit, But…

We may be repulsed by the fact that the world’s 7,000 dung beetles feed upon feces, but by burying dung they render it unavailable as breeding site for disease-bearing flies. And they bury quite a lot – in Australia, a single beetle population can process 1 ton of cattle manure each day!


Fruit flies appear as different from people as can be, but a number of their genes correspond in form and function to ours. In fact, fruit fly studies led to the all-important discovery genes are located on chromosomes. This tiny insect has contributed immeasurably to our understanding of cancer, birth defects, cardiovascular disease, aging and other health concerns.


New Medicines and Promising Research

Insects produce compounds that kill cancer cells and viruses, prevent blood clots, and function in ways that cannot be mimicked by synthetic drugs. Cyclosporine, isolated from fungus that lives on beetles, prevents organ transplant rejection (I’ve used it for 20+ years on my cornea transplant), the defensive spray of cathedral termites contains novel antibacterial agents, and wasp venom shows promise in the treatment of degenerative neuronal disorders.


Tufted long-horned Beetle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Flickr upload bot

Drug resistant micro-organisms are being encountered with ever-increasing frequency, especially in hospitals. Medications modeled after the darkling beetle’s peptides may be effective in preventing the development of these “super germs”. Darkling beetle larvae, or mealworms, also have a long history as laboratory animals (and reptile food!).


The silkworm moth (Bombyx mori) is entirely dependent upon people for its survival…after 5,000+ years of captive breeding, it has lost the adaptations necessary for life in the wild. Each cocoon is comprised of a single silken thread measuring up to 3,000 feet in length. The moth’s value is not limited to silk production…genetic engineering techniques have yielded caterpillars that produce human medications instead of silk!


These tidbits of information do not even qualify as “scratching the surface” of this fascinating topic…please post your own favorites below!




Further Reading

Water Scorpion Care

Stag Beetle Conservation and Care

Insect Pets: Praying Mantis Care




American Museum of Natural History: A Visit to the Live Spider Exhibit

I’ve crisscrossed every inch of the American Museum of Natural History – unquestionably the world’s greatest – innumerable times since childhood (and once tried to scale its walls, to capture bats…long story!). Friends working there have kindly taken me behind-the-scenes in several departments, and my 6-year-old nephew is more familiar with the institution than are many adults. But despite having spent a lifetime working with animals at the Bronx Zoo, I am still thrilled each time a new, temporary live animal exhibit opens at AMNH – all are very well done, and perfect for adults and children alike. The current exhibit, Spiders Alive!, is no exception. Although I’ve collected and cared for hundreds of Arachnid species, and my little sidekick has also racked up some impressive experiences, we have visited several times so far, and enjoyed as much as did any novice!


spiderdisplay1The Displays

As with all similar AMNH exhibits, Spiders Alive! features interesting specimens in large, beautifully-designed exhibits along with state-of-the art graphics, huge photos, hands-on interactive opportunities and even a giant anatomically-correct spider sculpture for kids to swarm over (some held back…I guess it was very realistic to them!). Friendly, well-informed volunteers and staff are always on hand to answer questions and help with using the interactive displays. Entry is timed, so there are never crowds or long waits to see or use anything, and visitors are generally well-behaved and polite.


One display lets the visitor move a magnifier over a live spider to portray an enlarged view on an overhead screen; my nephew gave that one – and the very nice attending AMNH staffer – a workout! Happily for the budding artists among us (please see photos), spider hideaways and exhibit furnishings are arranged in a way that allows all exhibit specimens to be easily viewed.


Learning about Spiders

The species exhibited are used to highlight a number of topics, all of which are well-explained by the graphics. Most obvious is diversity, with arboreal, burrowing, local, exotic, desert-adapted, rainforest-dwelling and other spiders with varying lifestyles being on view now. Other aspects of Arachnid natural history that are illustrated include defense, anatomy, venom, and the uses and structure of silk.


scorpThe Animals

Following are notes on several of the spiders currently on exhibit. Spider relatives, such as scorpions and the bizarre vinagaroons and tailless whip scorpions, are also featured.


Fishing Spiders: these large running spiders are for some reason ignored by spider enthusiasts and zoos alike. The local species here in the NE USA, Dolomedes tenebrosus, is an impressive hunter of small fishes and tadpoles (please see photo of a female with eggs, currently in my collection). My nephew readily tackles snakes exceeding his own length, but when I asked him to swim under a dock and capture this spider, he quickly replied “No way, man”!


Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula: perhaps the world’s largest spider, this species is a favorite of private and professional spider keepers. Field reports indicate that they prey upon small rodents, snakes, frogs, lizards and other vertebrates in addition to insects. Certainly, those under my care startled me with their voracious appetites.


Ornamental Tarantulas: Beautifully-colored but rather aggressive – and very fast moving, I can assure you! – these SE Asian spiders are highly arboreal.


Black Widow and Brown Recluse: known to many folks here in the USA, the habits of these two potentially-dangerous spiders are well-explained.


Orb Weavers: Several species are on view, each in the center of a large, intricately-woven web.


Funnel Web Spider: the species displayed is not the highly venomous Australian spider of the same name but rather a harmless and very common US native (Agelenopsis sp.). I’ve often kept these interesting spiders…but until now believed I was the only one to do so! Vertical “trip lines” knock flying insects onto a sheet-like web, whereupon the spider rushes out and drags its hapless victim down the funnel-shaped retreat. Always happy to demonstrate their talents to onlookers, I find funnel web spiders to be fascinating captives.


Several of the other species featured are well-known or common, but their habits are revealed in a way that cannot help but cause one to appreciate these maligned but fascinating little beasts. Some others that you can see include Mexican Red-Kneed Tarantulas, House Spiders, Trap-Door Spiders and Wolf Spiders.



Further Reading

Keeping the Fishing Spider

Spider Hunting Methods – Beyond Webs

 Spiders Alive!

Spotted Turtle Care: Is This Beauty the Perfect Small Turtle Pet?

Spotted turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Howcheng

The Spotted Turtle measures only 4-5 inches when fully grown, and is brightly-colored, alert, friendly and hardy…small wonder it is esteemed by turtle keepers worldwide. Although the days when I could count on finding several each summer are long gone (it is now rare in the wild), captive-bred individuals are readily available – if quite expensive! But those who give this endearing little turtle a place in their collections become instant fans, and never regret the price they paid. Shallow water specialists, Spotted Turtles are infinitely easier to care for, and require far less space, than do Sliders, Painted Turtles or any of the other more commonly-kept semi-aquatic species.



The Spotted Turtle inhabits a large area of North America, but it is unevenly-distributed, and nowhere to be found in abundance. Its range extends from southern Ontario and Quebec south along the Atlantic Coastal Plain to central Florida and west through Pennsylvania to northern Indiana and northeastern Illinois.


Spotted Turtle habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Valerius Tygart


This unique turtle is a true habitat specialist, being restricted to the shallow, thickly-vegetated waters of bogs, swamps, sloughs and other marshy wetlands. Hatchlings are highly aquatic, but adults spend some time in moist fields and woodlands. Over-collection and habitat loss have decimated populations, which are now protected; please be sure to purchase only captive-bred individuals.



The bright to light yellow spots that mark the black carapace render the Spotted Turtle nearly invisible among duckweed, yet startlingly conspicuous in an aquarium. Among the world’s smallest turtles, adults measure a mere 4-5 inches in length.



Spotted Turtles are small but quite active, always foraging and exploring their environment. They should be provided with as much room as possible. A well-designed 20 gallon long-style aquarium is adequate for a single adult, but additional room is always appreciated.


The water in the aquarium should be of a depth that allows the turtle to reach the surface with its head without needing to swim. Floating plastic or live plants should be provided as cover for the always-shy hatchlings (they are on the menus of predators ranging from giant water bugs to bullfrogs, and naturally-wary!). Adults become quite bold, but still prefer aquariums with cover, driftwood, and caves to bare enclosures.


The aquarium should be equipped with a dry basking site, UVB bulb, heater, and powerful filtration. A water temperature range of 68-76 F, with a basking site of 88-90 F, is ideal.



Wild Spotted Turtles feed upon fish, tadpoles, snails, carrion, insects, crayfish, shrimp, salamanders, frogs and aquatic plants. Pets should be offered a diet comprised largely of whole animals such as minnows, shiners, earthworms, snails, crayfish, and prawn. Some adults will also accept dandelion, zucchini, collard greens, apples and other produce. Roaches, crickets and other insects may also be provided. A high quality commercial turtle chow can comprise up to 60% of the diet.


Spinach and various cabbages may cause nutritional disorders. Goldfishes should be used sparingly, if at all, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other species.


A cuttlebone should be available to supplement the calcium provided by whole fishes and similar foods.


Feeding Note

Turtles are messy feeders, and quickly foul even well-filtered aquariums. Removing your pet to a plastic storage container at feeding time will lessen the filter’s workload and help to maintain good water quality. Partial water changes (i.e. 50 % weekly) are also very useful. Filters designed specifically for turtles, if serviced regularly, are usually preferable to those marketed for use with tropical fish. Some folks find it easier to maintain their aquatic turtles in plastic storage containers that can easily be emptied and rinsed.



Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Davepape


Spotted Turtles are as hardy and responsive as the more commonly-kept sliders, and are now being regularly bred by hobbyists. Although somewhat shy at first, most soon learn to rush over for food when approached. Spotted Turtles must be watched carefully if housed in groups. Males often harass females with mating attempts, and may stress or bite them in the process. Males should not be kept together, as they will usually fight.



Mating and egg deposition occurs from April-August. Breeding behavior may be stimulated by a winter resting period at reduced temperatures, but this should not be attempted without expert guidance (please post below for further information).


Females produce 1-2 clutches of 1-8 eggs. Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. The eggs may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 82-84 F for 50-85 days.


Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection known as egg peritonitis. It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if unmated, and that captives may produce several clutches each year.


Useful Spotted Turtle Care Products (please post below for further information)


Commercial turtle docks 


Turtle filters


Zoo Med 10.0 UVB bulb


Mercury vapor bulbs


Incandescent (heat) bulbs


Aquatic turtle diets


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

Bearded Dragon or Leopard Gecko? Comparing the Ownership Costs

Both Bearded Dragons and Leopard Geckos are about as close to “perfect” as a reptile pet can be, and either is a great choice for new and experienced owners alike.  But the costs of ownership, both short and long term, do vary between the two.  Novice reptile enthusiasts sometimes obtain their first specimens without fully investigating this point, and may be surprised (or delighted!) at the expenses involved in their care – especially as each can reach 20 or even 30+ plus years of age!  In the following article I’ll compare the start-up and long-term costs of owning Bearded Dragons and Leopard Geckos.


There are also major differences in the habits, activity levels and care needs of Bearded Dragons and Leopard Geckos.  Please see the articles linked under “Further Reading” for a comparison of their habits and husbandry, and for detailed care information.  As always, I welcome any questions or observations that you may wish to post.



Bearded Dragon or Leopard Gecko?


Start-Up Expenses


Purchase Price

The cost per animal is similar for individuals that exhibit natural coloration.  A huge array of uniquely-colored “designer morphs” of each species has also been developed. Prices for such animals vary greatly, but are in similar ranges for both geckos and dragons.


Verdict: Similar for natural coloration – varies based on color morphs


Terrarium and Cover (single adult)t255908

Bearded Dragon: 30-55 gallon aquarium and cover

Leopard Gecko: 10-20 gallon aquarium and cover (larger is preferable)


Verdict:  Bearded Dragons require larger, more expensive habitats


UVB Fixture and Bulb

Bearded Dragon: Full length florescent UVB fixture and bulb

Leopard Gecko:   UVB exposure not required


Mercury vapor fixture and bulb


Verdict: With their UVB requirements, Bearded Dragons cost more.  




Bearded Dragon: Incandescent fixture and bulb for basking site

Red/black bulb or ceramic heat emitter (night)

Leopard Gecko:  Incandescent fixture and bulb for basking site

Heat tape or ceramic heat emitter (night)


Verdict: Bearded Dragons require higher temperatures, but the cost is negligible for the equipment.


Other Supplies

Both will also need a substrate or terrarium liner, caves, and driftwood or rocks upon which to bask.  The costs for these items are similar for each species.


Verdict: Other supplies are similarly priced across species




Bearded Dragon (adult): 36-48 insects per week

Leopard Gecko (adult):  15-25 insects per week


3 bowls salad per week


Please note that these figures are meant to provide a general idea of expected food intake.  The actual amount of food your lizard will consume is influenced by temperature, the type of insect offered (i.e. 1 cricket vs 4 sowbugs vs 2 butterworms, etc.), general health, age, and the animal’s individual metabolism.  Please see the linked articles and post any questions about your pet’s specific needs below.


Verdict: Bearded Dragon adults consume almost twice as many insects as leopard geckos – and also require salads. Juvenile requirements can be even greater. Bearded Dragons cost considerably more to feed.



Ongoing Expenses Unique to Bearded Dragons


Bearded Dragons grow significantly larger than do Leopard Geckos, and will need roomier terrariums (please see above) as they mature


UVB bulb and fixture replacement will also be necessary (Leopard Geckos do not require UVB exposure).


Ongoing Expenses Common to Both Species


200px-Leopard_gecko_with_new_tailVeterinary Care

Although both lizards are quite hardy if properly cared-for, occasional veterinary visits can be expected. The costs for such are comparable to those charged for cat or dog care.  Intestinal impactions (from swallowing substrate) and diseases related to poor nutrition may be encountered by geckos and dragons alike.


If a moist shelter is not available, Leopard Geckos may suffer retained eyelid linings when shedding, while Bearded Dragons that are denied proper UVB exposure will develop metabolic bone disease and related afflictions.


Atadenovirus infections, which are increasing in captive Bearded Dragon populations, are as yet incurable.


Verdict – Veterinary expenses are basically the same for both species


Other Expenses

Substrate replacement and vitamin/mineral supplement costs remain similar for both species over time.  Electrical expenses will also be in the same range, although Bearded Dragons require higher temperatures than do Leopard Geckos (75-110 F as opposed to 72-90 F).


In Conclusion


Overall, a Bearded Dragon is the more expensive pet to maintain, due to this species’ needs for spacious living quarters, access to UVB radiation, and large, frequent meals.  However, veterinary care needs cannot be predicted – as few visits by a relatively “inexpensive” gecko can level the field!



Scroll To Top