By Cheryl Lock
If you’re looking for a fun amphibian friend that doesn’t require a ton of care, a frog may be the right pet for you. That’s not to say that all frog species are easy to care for — some do require more upkeep than others — but with a little research and forethought, you can find a frog type that is fun for families and requires minimal work.
“Most frogs available within the pet industry generally don’t require the constant care that many other non-amphibian pets demand,” says Sam Sundberg, owner of BackwaterReptiles.com and TheFrogRanch.com. “They also usually don’t need much space and usually don’t need to be fed every day. Their demeanor is often docile and tractable, and they can make ‘calls’ that are sure to entertain.”
This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Dipl ABVP.
In general, while the initial set up for your frog friend can be expensive, when it’s done properly, much of the day-to-day maintenance can be automated, says Sheila RiceWatkins, DVM, of Crow Hill Pet Hospital, in Baily, CO, and a member of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.
The cost of proper UVB lighting can add up, said RiceWatkins, since these bulbs need to be replaced every six months. But, she added that “day and nighttime heat lamps, UVB bulbs, and humidity maintenance, through the use of misters, all can be automated. Natural environments, like vivariums, can reduce the frequency of cleaning requirements, too.”
If you’re convinced a frog will be the perfect fit but haven’t decided which frog suits your style, consider the following species. According to RiceWatkins, these frogs are known for being docile and for not needing a lot of attention like a pet mammal would require.
With its awkward, colorful, and squatty appearance, the Pacman frog, or Argentine horned frog, is a real crowd pleaser. “They come in a litany of colors and patterns, from bright greens to albinos, and everything in between,” said Sundberg. “As babies they’re about the size of a quarter, but they can grow quickly to the size of a softball.” If size is a factor in your decision, females are considerably larger than males, Sundberg said. While Pacman frogs may sometimes be kept together, it’s not recommended because they can be cannibalistic, he added.
Be prepared for a long-term commitment. “These are strong frogs that make hardy captives,” Sundberg said. “We’ve got some Pacman frogs that are nine years old and going strong, and it’s believed their lifespan can exceed 15 years.”
This otherwise docile breed can be excitable — if they think you have food they might even bounce against the sides of their enclosure to try to get to it — and they’re capable of nipping. However, they typically only bite when they confuse your finger for food or if they feel threatened. When they want to be left alone, they’ll let you know by puffing their bodies up with air.
Care is relatively minimal. This species only requires a small enclosure, like a 10-gallon aquarium, with 3-inch deep substrate such as peat moss or coconut fiber. They’ll also need a source of clean water, simple fluorescent lighting, an ultraviolet light, and an under-tank heater to keep the temperature in the low 80s. The heater needs to be made specifically for reptiles, otherwise accidental burns can occur. Pacmans, like all other frogs, are carnivores. The diet for a growing Pacman should consist of various insects and worms, and as adults, they also can consume small pinky mice.
“Big, colorful, exotic, comical, undemanding, and long-lived — these are a few of the reasons why Pacman frogs are so extraordinarily popular around the world and why they’re a great first-pet frog,” Sundberg said.
The Pixie frog, or African bullfrog, is the second largest frog species in the world. If you can handle their larger size, Sundberg highly recommends this species as a first pet frog, since they’re so long-lived and hardy. Sundberg says the species does exceptionally well in captivity and is among the toughest of all frog species. “We have some that are 15 years old and doing well,” Sundberg said, adding that some owners believe 20 years is achievable. Males of this species reach snout-to-vent lengths of up to 10-inches and weigh between 2 and 3 pounds. Females are generally half the size of males. Both genders are olive green on top, with throats that can be white, tan, and yellow. Their backs have distinct ridges running lengthwise.
While Pixies can be kept together in the same terrarium if they’re given plenty of food and space, they can be cannibalistic when hungry, so it’s best to keep them separate.
“Pixies can have wild personalities,” said Sundberg. “They’re such aggressive eaters that they tend to eat first and ask questions later, meaning keep your fingers away from their mouths!”
Because of their voracious appetites, beware of overfeeding, Sundberg advises. Pixies are always willing to eat and tend to become obese.
As their name suggests, this species is big, round, and bright red. They have white bellies with short black stripes behind their eyes. Females can attain a snout-to-vent length of about four inches; males are a bit smaller at about three inches. Shy and gentle by nature, Tomato frogs don’t tend to be aggressive, although they should not be handled frequently, because their skin can secrete a sticky mucous that can be irritating if touched. Like the Pacman, the Tomato frog will puff up when it is stressed and wants to be left alone. “Tomato frogs can make good pets, as they can be relatively low maintenance,” said Dr. RiceWatkins. “They require feeding only as little as every other day. Their diet consists of gut-loaded crickets, nightcrawlers, waxworks, mealworms, and roaches.”
In terms of lifespan, you can expect to have your Tomato frog for many years. “If their general care requirements are met, Tomato frogs can thrive in captivity,” said Sundberg. “In fact, lifespans of 5-7 years are not uncommon, and 8-10 years is possible.”
Setup for the species is similar to that for the Pacman and Pixie, with a substrate that is deep enough to burrow into and with an additional low level UV light. This species, however, can be kept communally without the risk of fighting, aggression, or cannibalism, as long as the frogs housed together are the same size.
“These frogs are extremely popular because of their beautiful appearance, calm demeanor, large size, and ease of care,” said Sundberg. White’s tree frogs are massive frogs, with females reaching nearly five inches. Indeed, the White’s tree frog, or Australian green tree frog, isn’t for someone looking for a smaller species of frog. Specimens of this species from Australia are also called “blue” White’s tree frogs due to their bluish color.
“Tree frogs, as a rule, are not for handling,” said Sundberg, “but White’s tree frogs are one of the exceptions — they’ll tolerate handling for short periods. They’ve got passive personalities and are fairly inactive most of the day.” Their calm nature means that multiple White’s tree frogs of the same size can be kept together in the same enclosure, as long as they each have ample space of their own.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a tree frog hardier than a White’s, said Sundberg. “Their lifespans can reach 15 years, making them one of the longest living tree frogs in the world.” They also don’t require much by way of setup — a tall glass aquarium tank and a water bowl to bath and drink from. The tank needs to be kept at a range of about 80-85F during the day and 70-75F at night. Low level UV lighting is recommended for these nocturnal frogs.
“They can be kept slightly drier than most frogs, which helps reduce potentially harmful bacteria,” Sundberg said, “but a nice, damp substrate of peat moss or coconut fiber is advisable and will be appreciated by the frogs, as it helps raise in-tank humidity,” he added.
A moderately sized frog, the American green tree frog reaches snout-to-vent lengths of 1.5 to 3 inches. Their iridescent green color and definitive white stripes along their sides make them beautiful to look at and a great choice for a vivarium pet.
Green tree frogs don’t love to be handled, but they make excellent display pets and are much more active than many of their tree frog cousins. “Feeding time is a flurry of jumping acrobatics, but there’s never any aggression,” Sundberg said. In captivity these frogs can thrive with minimal care requirements – some living in excess of six years.
“Setup can be as simple as a 10-gallon glass tank, a water dish, and a substrate that will hold humidity, like sphagnum moss, peat moss, or coconut fiber,” said Sundberg.
Sundberg suggests misting the enclosure once daily to help boost humidity, and feeding them a few crickets, mealworms, or superworms every other day to keep them healthy. They live well together; you can generally keep one frog per 2-gallons of space.
As with the White’s tree frog, low level UV lighting is recommended for the green tree frog, said Laurie Hess, DVM, of Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics in Bedford Hills, NY.
“Most people feel that low level UV light helps, despite their being nocturnal,” said Hess. This is owing to the fact that “they don’t live underground during the day, even if they are sleeping.”
With big beady eyes that protrude from above the water’s surface for watching prey, the Budgett has a comically unique appearance many will recognize. Their base color is grey with some yellow or brown mottling, and their mouths are nearly as wide as their bodies. Adult snout-to-vent size can reach 4-6 inches.
These frogs are mostly motionless throughout the day, unless it’s feeding time, when they’re happy to wrestle just about any swallowable prey item below the surface to consume. “It’s best to keep your fingers away from their mouths, as they treat a disturbance in the water as an active prey item,” warned Sundberg. “If threatened in the water, they’ll simply swim away, but on land they’ll puff up with an open mouth and will sometimes even make shrieking noises at you.”
Under good conditions, they can live 15 years or more, said Sundberg. “There are few frogs as easy to keep as Budgett’s,” he added.
The health of a Budgett relies on clean water and sufficient food, including live fish, roaches, earthworms, and crickets. “They require clean water at a depth of 4-8 inches, heated to approximately 80F, and that’s it.”
Hess says that adding a filter is advised, as Budgett frogs produce large amounts of waste, but it’s an optional tank addition as long as frequent partial water changes are performed every couple of days. And as with the other nocturnal frogs, low level UV light is recommended, says Hess.
Both doctors caution that Budgett frogs don’t play well with others, so keeping them together or with other species of frogs isn’t recommended.