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 »

New Studies on Reptile Intelligence – How Smart is Your Pet?

A key indicator of intelligence is said to be behavioral flexibility – the ability to modify actions to fit new situations.  Long thought to rely mainly upon instinct, reptiles have not been credited with much “brain power”.  However, recent research revealed that many reptiles are capable of solving complex problems that are not “covered” by instinct, and can use what they’ve learned in the future (see NY Times; Nov. 18, 2013).  Although reptiles diverged from warm blooded creatures at least 280 million years ago, some meet or even exceed the problem-solving abilities of birds and mammals.  This will not surprise reptile owners, of course!

I’m often amazed by what I observe among the reptiles under my care, and would like to summarize some of that, and several interesting experiments, here.  I hope you will post your own experiences below.  This is a new area of research, so please feel free to boast, and remember that each new observation, however fleeting, has value.

Red-Footed Tortoise

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by H. Zell

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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, night bulbs, or ceramic heaters 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

The Best Small Turtle Pets for Reptile Enthusiasts with Limited Space

The world’s most popular pet turtle, the Red Eared Slider, is a poor choice for those lacking space for a huge aquarium and filter.  A number of smaller, less active turtles are easier to accommodate in homes and classrooms.  Today I’ll cover some of my favorite aquatic, semi-aquatic and terrestrial species, all of which are being bred in captivity.  Unless otherwise stated, all can be kept in a 20-30 gallon aquarium or similarly-sized plastic bin.  This list is by no means exhaustive, so please be sure to post your own choices and share your experiences below.  Please see the linked articles and post below for in depth information on care and breeding.

Common Musk Turtle, hatchling

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Karlwj1985

Common Musk Turtle, Sternotherus odoratus

As I type this article, I’m being watched by a Musk Turtle that I acquired in 1969, so I can vouch for their hardiness!

Found across a wide chunk of eastern North America, females rarely exceed 4 inches in length, while males average 3 inches.

As turtles go, these engaging little guys are quite simple to care for.  Reptomin can comprise 50-60% of the diet, with the balance being supplied by other aquatic turtle foods, earthworms, freeze dried shrimp, and minnows. Read More »

Reptile News – Surprising New Study on Snake Eyes and Vision

Herp enthusiasts are a lucky bunch, as we never need to wait too long for the next new discovery.  I’m especially thrilled by those that are completely unexpected, and which change “what we know” about animals and their lives.  The past few years have been especially productive, with news of Reticulated Pythons that regularly attacked people (Philippines), skin-feeding tadpoles, communal skinks, lung-less frogs and so much more (please see the articles linked below).  Recently, a Waterloo University researcher was startled to discover that snake spectacles (eye-caps) contain a maze of blood vessels.  These would seem to interfere with vision.  Intrigued, he investigated further…and made discoveries that broke new ground in snake biology.

Diamond Python shedding

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Peter Ellis

Eye Caps Gain New Respect

Snakes view the world through fused, transparent eye lids known as the spectacles, brille or eye-caps.  Perhaps because they are shed along with the skin (please see photo), hobbyists and herpetologists alike have long considered them to be mere “goggles” that protect the eye while allowing for vision.  But we know have evidence that the spectacles are dynamic structures that assist in vision, and change according to the snake’s needs. Read More »

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