Five Great Beginner Pet Frogs

These frogs are all widely available and captive bred.
American Bullfrog Lux Et Umbra Studio
American Bullfrog. Photo by Lux Et Umbra Studio/Shutterstock

Frogs (and toads) are often the very first herp that keepers interact with. Mine were toads that I caught in the neighborhood canal near my school. We held the adults until they pee’d in our hands and even grabbed the egg masses and placed them in a bucket to wait for them to hatch. Then we’d release them. Keeping frogs have come a long way from the American bullfrog or leopard frog that were the main choices. Now with captive breeding efforts well established, there are many to choose from. These five frogs are great for those who wish to keep an amphibian. Just make sure to check your local laws, as some animals such as bullfrogs may be restricted or prohibited to keep.

Amazon Milkfrog

Amazon Milkfrog Danny Ye

Amazon Milkfrog. Photo by Danny Ye/Shutterstock

The Amazon milk frog (Trachycephalus resinifictrix) is a popular amphibian amongst herp keepers that calls the Amazon rainforest its home. An arboreal species, the Amazon milkfrog can be found in the wild around tree holes in the forest canopy often perched and looking for its next meal. The frog is widely captive bred and in the wild breed in tree holes. Sizes range from 2.5 inches for males to 4 inches for females. They are a larger species with large hands and large toe-pads, which lend themselves well to their tree-climbing arboreal nature. Also called the Mission golden-eyed tree frog or blue milk frog, Trachycephalus resinifictrix was first discovered on the banks of the Maracanã River in Brazil.

Enclosure

The ideal enclosure for this species is a 20 gallon tall enclosure for one to two adult milk frogs and a 18-inch L x 18-inch W x 24-inch H for up to five adult tree frogs. Juvenile frogs should be housed in smaller, 10 gallon enclosures for easier monitoring of the species. All the major reptile enclosure manufacturers offer solutions that are ideal for housing these frogs. Provide ample cover within the enclosure as well as artificial or live plants and branches in which they can climb. Perches are also ideal as they spend most of their time off the forest floor.

Substrate

For a naturalistic look, use sphagnum moss as the substrate. This will give the enclosure a more appealing look than just a substrate of damp paper towels. Some folks forgo the substrate altogether for easier cleaning, but these frogs look much better in a naturalistic enclosure.

Temperature/Lighting

Because these frogs are arboreal, it should be easier to maintain an ideal temperature of 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7 to 29.4 degrees Celsius) near the top of the enclosure using an incandescent bulb as heat source. The cooler parts of the enclosure should maintain an average temperature that hovers around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (21.1 to 23.9 degrees Celsius). Purchase the appropriate lamp setup for your enclosure’s size and read the temperature spread on the box of the bulb to ensure the distance/wattage is ideal for your enclosure. UVB lighting should be maintained using a 2.0 or 5.0 strength UVB bulb, positioned over the screen portion of the enclosure, not the glass.
Keep the humidity around 50 to 100 percent and mist the cage daily to increase humidity when necessary. Misting water should be dechlorinated tap water or Reverse Osmosis water.

Feeding

Feed your Amazon milk frogs vitamin and mineral dusted crickets, as well as appropriately sized dubia roaches and earthworms. Fruit flies are also good for juveniles, which must be fed daily. Adults can be fed twice a week with several of the aforementioned food items.

Ideal Keeper/ Handling

The Amazon milk frog is an ideal amphibian for those who enjoy designing their enclosure for that naturalistic look and want an animal that doesn’t need handling. In fact, it is best not to handle this species, except when removing them to clean their enclosure. When you do handle them, use sterile, powder free disposable gloves to ensure your human oils and salts aren’t transferred to their sensitive skin. These frogs are noctural, so keep that in mind if you decide to acquire one or several.

American Bullfrog

American Bullfrog Lux Et Umbra Studio

American Bullfrog. Photo by Lux Et Umbra Studio/Shutterstock

American bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) are the largest native frogs in North America. Growing to about 8 inches in length, the American bullfrog is large, strong, and overall just a beast of a frog. These frogs are great swimmers with big webbed feet, and are voracious eaters, capable of eating almost anything that they can fit into their mouths. The frog is found throughout much of the United States, naturally in 36 states, and is found in many places where it is an invasive species. The American bullfrog is widely captive-bred, and bullfrog tadpoles can be purchased at most reptile shows, reptile shops and your local fish stores.

Enclosure

Because these frogs are large and seemingly always hungry, they must be kept in a large enclosure with plenty of fresh water that is cleaned via a canister filter fitted for the size of the enclosure in which you keep it. At a minimum, keep a single bullfrog in a 60 gallon aquarium with plenty of space for swimming as well as a land area for hauling out. The aquarium should be outfitted with a canister filter to ensure clean water, and make sure its output isn’t so strong as to stress the amphibian out. Cover or blackout the back and sides of the aquarium so the frog doesn’t rub its nose up against it. Conversely one of the large tubs used for turtles can also be used to house this species with an appropriate filter system and light fixture over part of it. If a filter is not used, you can change water twice a week as the water gets dirty fairly quickly, especially with multiple frogs.

Substrate

Because bullfrogs are primarily aquatic, you can choose a large gravel to over the bottom of the aquarium, add a nice piece of driftwood where the bullfrog can haul out and thermoregulate and perhaps some real or artificial plants that can grow in an aquatic environment. Conversely, to make things easier, the bottom of the aquarium could also be bare, making cleanups easier.

Temperature/Lighting

Keep one side of the enclosure on the cool side, with the warm side at around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (23.9 to 26.7 degrees Celsius). Lighting is important for this amphibian to help it thermoregulate. Employ an appropriate light for your frog’s enclosure to ensure part of the enclosure can maintain the preferred temperature, and also employ a UVB light as well, as these frogs will benefit from UVB as they do spend time basking under the sun.

Feeding

Bullfrogs are voracious eaters and in the wild will eat anything that they can stuff in their mouths. In captivity, crickets dusted with vitamins as well as mealworms, silkworms, earthworms are staples. Small pinkie mice can be fed on occasion only. Gut load the crickets to ensure your bullfrog is getting good nutrition.

Ideal Keeper/Handling

The American bullfrog is a powerful, large frog that eats heartily and makes an equally messy enclosure by virtue of its voracious appetite. The main challenge with keeping the American bullfrog is ensuring that is enclosure is clean and well maintained. The American bullfrog is ideal for experienced keepers who have learned skills in keeping aquariums clean, as you will be cleaning the water often to ensure your bullfrog’s good health. Handling of this species is not necessary. But they do tolerate handling more so than other species, just ensure you wear protective gloves for you and the frog.

Check your local laws before acquiring one. They may be illegal to keep in your state. Choose captive-bred over wild-caught, and if you want an extra special frog, acquire an American bullfrog tadpole and watch it metamorphose into a frog.

Argentine 
horned frog

Pacman Frog Arunee Rodloy

The Argentine horned frog. Photo by Arunee Rodloy

Cutely dubbed the Pac-Man frog, the Argentine (or ornate, or Bell’s) horned frog (Ceratophrys ornata) is so named due in part to its large mouth and how they stuff prey items into it. The amphibian is very popular with herp keepers, are widely-captive bred and are available in an array of morphs. These frogs grow to about 4 to 6 inches in length, and are not a really active frog, preferring to lay still and wait for its next meal to present itself.

Enclosure

You can house your juvenile Pac-Man frog in a 5 gallon enclosure and an adult in a 10 to 20 gallon enclosure.

Substrate

Substrate should be loose, like a coconut fiber-based substrate with sphagnum peat moss and fine orchid bark. Keep the depth at about 4 to 6 inches and remove your frog’s poop regularly. The deep substrate will give your frog the capability to bury itself in the substrate fully or partially. Cork bark can be provided as a hide, though they may just prefer to bury themselves in the substrate. Keep the substrate moist to help with humidity, but not to the point where it is soaking wet. Place a water dish large enough for the frog to soak in and keep the water clean.

Temperature/Lighting

Adult Pac-Man frogs frog will thrive in temperatures ranging from 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 29 degrees Celsius) during the day and 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 to 21.1 degrees Celsius) at night. Humidity should be maintained at around 70 percent. Baby frogs should be kept in temperatures ranging from 77 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (25 to 27.7 degrees Celsius) during the day and 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (21.1 to 23.8 degrees Celsius) at night. You can achieve these temperatures and a light cycle with a good quality lighting fixture and an appropriately sized ceramic heat emitter, compact fluorescent or LED heat bulb. An undertank heat pad is an even better choice to maintain proper heat for your Pac-Man frog. These are placed on the outside of your glass enclosure, ideally on the side of the tank. Invest in a high quality thermometer and hygrometer so you know the temperatures in your enclosure as well as the humidity level.

Feeding

Feed your juvenile frogs a diet of live crickets, earthworms and dubia roaches. You can also feed them pinky mice on occasion. Some folks feed live-bearing fish (guppies) as well. Dust your feeders with a good quality calcium and multivitamin supplement to ensure proper bone development. Don’t overfeed as you don’t want an overweight Pac-Man frog. They will eat nearly every time food is presented so keep this in mind when feeding.

Ideal Keeper/ Handling

The Pac-Man frog makes a great pet as long as you do your homework to properly care for them. They are fun to watch while eating but don’t overfeed them. Handle them only when you need to check their well being or when you clean their enclosure. A well kept Pac-Man frog can live close to 15 years.

White’s Treefrog

Whites Treefrog Haireena

White’s Treefrog. Photo by Haireena/Shutterstock

The White’s treefrog, also called the dumpy frog and Australian green treefrog (Litoria caerulea), is found in Northern and Eastern Australia as well as New Guinea. It is one of the most popular and widely captive-bred frogs amongst herp keepers and can be readily found at reptile shows, reptile stores and online.

Enclosure

Because these treefrogs enjoy climbing, a 20-gallon tall enclosure is ideal, though a horizontal terrarium also works. An enclosure this size can house up to four young frogs of the same size. Include climbing plants and branches so your frog(s) can move about vertically. Do not house young treefrogs with older treefrogs. Keep the humidity of your frog’s enclosure up by misting the enclosure regularly with distilled water. You can also keep a water bowl in the enclosure as well.

Substrate

A good quality coconut fiber or fine soil several inches deep is ideal for this species to help retain moisture, and the fine soil won’t cause impaction if the frog ingests some while chasing crickets.

Temperature/Lighting

Keep your White’s treefrog at about  74-78 degrees Fahrenheit (23.3-25.6 degrees Celsius) during the day, and 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit (20.00-22.2 degrees Celsius) at night. Make sure you run a lighting fixture with a 5 percent UVB bulb. Humidity should held at 50 percent and mist two to three times a day. Keep a digital thermometer/hygrometer and check it daily and mist accordingly.

Feeding

The White’s treefrog can be fed gut-loaded crickets as a staple food as well as earthworms. Adults should be fed as many crickets and earthworms they can eat in 10 to 15 minutes, two to three times a week. Juveniles should be fed every other day. 

Ideal Keeper/ Handling

While most amphibians don’t tolerate handling, the White’s treefrog is one of the exceptions. Just make sure you wash your hands with soap and water before handling one, as well as after. Their skin is the first line of defense, and it can’t be mucked up with cream or other chemicals that may be on your hands.

Tomato frog

Tomato Frog Madagascar Rosa Jay

Tomato frog. Photo by Rosa Jay/Shutterstock

The tomato frog (Dyscophus sp.) is native to the island of Madagascar and can be found in forests and fields that have high rainfall. There are three species: D. antongilii, D. insularis, or D. guineti. In the wild, when threatened, the tomato frog is known to puff its body to a larger size, and when that fails, the skin of the frog secretes a toxin that numbs the predators eyes and mouth, which causes it to release the frog. Females grow to close to 4 inches in length, while males are smaller, growing to about 2.5 inches in length.

Enclosure

Keep your tomato frog in a minimum 10 gallon aquarium— larger if you keep two same-sized frogs. Include a few hides the frog can go into when it seeks privacy. Add plants as well for aesthetic purposes. The frog is a burrower so keep this in mind when choosing plants, or leave them in a container so the growth of the plant is not disrupted by the burrowing nature of the frog.

Substrate

A clean top soil (pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer-free) is ideal substrate for tomato frogs, while coconut fiber is even better for retaining humidity. The substrate should be a minimum of two inches deep to encourage burrowing. Replace with fresh substrate every four to eight weeks.

Temperature/Lighting

If you are growing live plants in your frog’s enclosure, a daylight spectrum bulb is all you need to ensure plant growth. Otherwise, no light is needed for the tomato frog. Keep your frog’s enclosure between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 to 26.7 degrees Celsius). If the temperature falls below 65 degrees during the winter, an undetank heater controlled by a thermostat will keep the enclosure at ideal temperatures. Humidity should be kept between 50 to 70 percent.

Feeding

Tomato frogs are ambush predators and generally only eat live foods. Feed them crickets and nightcrawlers dusted with a calcium supplement and vitamins to ensure a healthy diet. You can also occasionally feed your frogs mealworms, waxworks, and phoenix worms, but they don’t offer as much nutrition as crickets and earthworms.

Ideal Keeper/Handling

Tomato frogs are not fond of handling, and they also secrete a toxin when they are stressed or unhappy, so keep in mind that these frogs are better as display animals than say a White’s treefrog, which is more amenable to the occasional handling. The tomato frog is an ideal species for those who wish to create a nice naturalistic enclosure that enables neat observations of this wonderful amphibian.

Categories: Amphibians, Frog & Amphibian Care