Choosing a Frog

by Eric Robillard

What Frog is Right for You?

One of the many questions we get on Frog Forum is “What type of frog should I get?” (and all of its variations). Queries like “Is a 5 gallon suitable for my new tree frog?” (no), “Will a Pac Man frog eat my baby?” (how big is your baby?), “If I lick a dart frog, will I hallucinate?” (don’t try it) and so forth. But seriously, asking yourself "what type of frog is right for me?", or even, "is a frog the right pet for me?", is an important step that will determine the well-being of your potential new friend, and/or the love/hate relationship between frog/human that might follow.

Choosing a frog can be very similar to the process of choosing a dog. Think about it, before going forward to buying/adopting a dog, you’ll certainly have a predetermined list of what you like, and like less: big or small dog, active or passive, pure bred or mutt, good with kids, can it guard my house, how much exercise does it need, and so on. If you do not want to end up posting your recently acquired frog on Craigslist for sale, try and gather as much information as you can on what owning a frog entails, what are the requirements for a particular frog species, how to properly house a specific frog, and what that frog eats. With adequate preparation, you and your frog can look forward to a long happy cohabitation.

Owning a frog can be quite rewarding, and as you will see on this forum, can become an obsession. But you should know that some frogs are nocturnal (rather disappointing for kids or people expecting a show), some are diurnal, some are aquatic, some need vertical habitats, some will eat crickets or fruit flies, some mice. And most, in my humble opinion, shouldn’t be handled. Frogs stress easily, and the less they’re handled, the happier they will be. So how is owning a frog rewarding if you can’t touch it? Well, for starters, creating the perfect setting for your new pet is in itself an exciting project: which plants to get, finding the perfect humidity rage, water to land ratio, etc. And once the frog settles in its new environment, explores his vivarium, starts croaking/chirping/buzzing (if it’s a male), you’ll know the frog’s happy. And a happy frog can live a long life in captivity… some more than 10 years!

Bringing a little piece of the rainforest into your living room is just as rewarding as the frogs themselves.

Here's a summary of great starter frogs, with a few surprises.

Fire-Bellied Toads

I am biased. I own a few. But what’s not to like? They are diurnal. They have beautiful bright colors. They are active and bold. They are easy to feed. And you can own a few in a smaller enclosure. These frogs will need lots of water in their habitat (2/3 water and 1/3 land is a good ratio). Their tank should be set up horizontally and provide cover with plants to make them feel secure. Fire-Bellied Toads are quite affordable. Their diet consists mostly of live crickets. They do well in groups and are not territorial.

What you should know: All frogs secrete toxins, but as quoted in our article Fire-Bellied Toad Care: “The toxicity of these toads dictates that you should never handle a fire-bellied toad without washing your hands afterward. Unlike poison dart frogs who get their poisons from their food in the wild but are relatively harmless in captivity, fire-bellied toads manufacture their own toxins. Just wash your hands. Their skin secretions can cause severe discomfort if you were to touch your eyes accidentally after handling [one].” You must have a very secure locking lid with these frogs. They are great escape artists.

They are comfortable at room temperatures and you don’t have to worry about humidity if they have a large water section in the tank. Avoid using gravel or certain types of substrate as they are voracious eaters and may swallow other things with their food. Males do make a soft barking sound.

Tree Frogs

A favorite amongst Frog Forum’s members, tree frogs are generally nocturnal, and are commonly available in pet shops. The most popular ones are the American Green Tree Frog, White’s Tree Frog, and the famous Red-Eyed Leaf Frog (sometimes called the Red-Eyed Tree Frog). Vertical habitats are ideal (think “tree”) as they like to climb, be as high as possible, and hide behind leaves. Tree frogs vary in price from very affordable (American Green Tree Frog and White’s for example) to more expensive depending on the species and where you are from. Their diet consists mostly of live crickets. They need to have a place at night where it will be completely dark for them or they will not have a normal active life style. A tank with a lot of branches and large leafed plants for hiding is ideal. They prefer climbing from branch to branch as opposed to walking on the ground.

What you should know: I have to stress the following: Tree frogs are nocturnal, and they will be much less active during the day and will probably be sleeping on the leaves. There are many species of tree frogs and different species should not be housed together (it’s a general rule for all frogs). A toxic secretion from one species might prove fatal to another species. And even amongst tree frogs, their habitat requirements vary in humidity and ideal plant species (not to mention they might try to snack on each other). They do require all glass enclosures with a screen lid and it should be partially covered to maintain humidity. Stagnant air is not good for these frogs. Water bowls must be provided and water changed daily. Side mounted heat mats will probably be needed to keep them in the proper temperature range. A humidity gauge and daily misting will be required. Some male tree frogs can make loud croaking sounds especially if you have a group of them so check the specifics on your particular frog before you decide to keep them in your bedroom. Again this is not true with all of them.

Ornate Horned Frogs (Pac Man Frogs)

Large, boldly coloured, unreserved; Ornates are usually diurnal frogs. For a frog of its size, they need relatively smaller enclosures (a 10 gallon would be more than sufficient for one). Keep the tank warm and make provide enough substrate for burrowing. Ornates are voracious eaters with diets consisting of crickets and an occasional mouse pinks for adult frogs.

What you should know: Ornates can stay buried and immobile for a long period of time. You will likely need to feed them live or frozen animals (i.e. mice). Do not house 2 Ornates together as it will most certainly result in a fatality. They have a strong bite, so keep your fingers away. They eat a lot of food. They will require additional heating to maintain the proper temperature. They will also require misting to maintain the humidity. A water bowl must be provided for soaking and the water should be changed daily. Avoid any deep water situations where they could drown. Do not house with any other frogs… they must be isolated even from others of their own kind. Make sure to use the proper substrate to avoid any impaction issues as they eat. Some males can make loud croaking sounds so be aware if you are keeping them in your bedroom.

African Clawed Frog

Otherworldly and lively aquatic frogs, they are extremely hardy, and can live for a very long time in captivity. Their habitat should be strictly aquatic, with lots of caves to hide in. Their diet consists of reptile sticks, bloodworms, waxworms, and feeder fish (guppies, brine shrimps).

What you should know: African Clawed Frogs are frequently mislabelled as African Dwarf Frogs in pet shops. Because they are strictly aquatic, water maintenance will be very important (you will need a proper aquarium set-up). Have a secure lid. They can and may escape.

Dart Frogs

Though I can practically hear some seasoned enthusiasts cringe at this one, yes, some dart frogs could make a great beginner frog. Beside the fact that they have beautiful colors and markings, they are diurnal, and are some of the boldest and most active frogs available. Very high humidity will need to be kept in their enclosures, with lots of plants. Bromeliads are favorites (but you should not limit yourself to these). They will mostly feed on fruit flies and pinhead crickets. Dendrobates tinctorius "Azureus" and Dendrobates auratus are good beginner dart frogs. Many are territorial so please make sure before you get your frogs that this will not be an issue. Some species can only be housed in pairs while others like the Dendrobates auratus and Dendrobates leucomelas (Bumble Bee Dart Frog) do well in groups. It is important to verify before you get the frogs.

What you should know: It is imperative to keep an extremely high humid environment for these frogs. Even though you may buy fruit flies cultures, it will be easier to culture your own. And fruit flies WILL escape. Again, do not mix different dart frogs species. Oh, some can be quite pricy, and so can building their enclosures (plants, equipment, etc). These guys are for the very dedicated beginner only. They will do fine in room temperatures. The enclosure will need to be all glass with the top completely covered to keep in humidity. Air circulation is not as important with these frogs but high humidity is key. Hand misting or a misting device or fogging device may be required to maintain humidity. Be careful not to overheat them with intense lighting in their enclosures. Accurate temperature and humidity gauges are vital. Avoid any deep water situations where they could drown. Prior setup of the tank is suggested to ensure that the owner can keep the proper humidity range that is needed consistently. Also start fruit fly cultures 10 days out.

So there you go! By no means is this list all inclusive. These are just some of the frogs you could be interested in owning, and some that require basic setups.

In general, keep in mind that:

  1. Mixing species is a big no-no. It will be fatal to your frogs.
  2. As much as possible, do not handle your frogs. If you do, wash your hands before and after handling them.
  3. Even amongst the same species, try and avoid mixing different sizes of frogs in the same enclosure… Yes, one might become a meal.
  4. Frogs can turn into a passion verging on (or totally jumping feet first into) obsession. I kid you not, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  5. If you have questions, do not hesitate: ask us! We’re passionate about frogs, and if we can’t answer first hand, we will find someone who can.