African bullfrogs, also known as pixie frogs, are not your everyday White's tree frog or dwarf clawed frog, but their care is quite similar. These are large, classic-looking frogs that are native to Africa but found in homes around the world. They're primarily an olive green color with a lighter belly and orange around the limbs. They aren't cuddly pets; African bullfrogs have a well-earned reputation for being ornery. So if you want a pet you can handle and play with, this probably isn't the option for you. However, they are entertaining to watch and good for people new to keeping frogs, as their care is relatively easy. Just make sure to get their housing setup and diet correct, and they can live for many healthy years.
Common Names: African bullfrog, pixie frog
Scientific Name: Pyxicephalus adspersus
Adult Size: Males are 10 inches long and 4 pounds or more; females are 6 inches long and around 2 pounds
Life Expectancy: 15 to 25 years
African Bullfrog Behavior and Temperament
African bullfrogs are only moderately active, but they can be fun to watch in their tanks. Overall, they’re generally easygoing, low-maintenance animals. Expect to feed them roughly every other day and clean their tank once or twice a week. Also, note that males shouldn’t be housed together as they can be territorial. Male bullfrogs also will guard—and sometimes eat—their tadpoles in the wild.
Some African bullfrogs will tolerate a bit of handling for short periods. But you still must use caution when holding them to protect their delicate skin. Plus, they can easily use their powerful legs to spring out of your hands and potentially injure themselves. Moreover, these frogs have sharp teeth and have been known to bite humans who are handling them. They'll typically croak loudly to let you know when they're feeling stressed. But if you respect their boundaries, you should have a laid-back pet.
Housing the African Bullfrog
Pet frogs are fairly simple to care for, but you must ensure that your habitat is set up correctly. The larger your frog, the larger your tank needs to be. A medium-size African bullfrog should have at least a 10-gallon tank; bigger is better.
You can use small, smooth rocks for the bottom of the tank. Fill it about a third of the way with dechlorinated water and then use progressively larger stones to build up one side of the tank to create a beach. This will give them something they can easily climb onto and allow them some time out of the water when they want to dry off. Tank cleanings should occur one to two times per week or more to keep the water fresh.
A container of dirt can also be provided in the event your bullfrog wants to burrow. In the wild, African bullfrogs burrow their entire bodies into the dirt and hibernate for up to two years to escape the dry season. In captivity, though, we can control the temperature and humidity that our frogs live in, making it unnecessary for them to hibernate.
A room that doesn't drop below 75 degrees Fahrenheit should be appropriate for your bullfrog. If you find the frog isn't very active or isn't eating much, try increasing the temperature. Simple water heaters designed for fish tanks and heat lights made for reptiles can be utilized to create an ideal environment for your African bullfrog.
African bullfrogs require a cycle of around 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness each day. Keep them out of direct sunlight. A UVB light isn’t essential, but it’s often recommended to promote nutrient absorption.
Humidity is very important when caring for amphibians due to the nature of their skin. Bullfrogs require a damp tank and plenty of water to swim in. The humidity level should be around 70% to 80%, which you can monitor using a hygrometer. If you need to raise the tank's humidity level, mist the inside with clean water a few times a day.
Substrate is the material that lines the bottom of your bullfrog’s enclosure. It helps to maintain humidity in the environment, and it can make the tank feel more like the animal's natural environment. Coco fiber, made from coconut husks, is a good option for substrate. Peat moss is another option. The ideal is an organic product that retains some heat and moisture. Avoid using any soil that has been treated with insecticides or other chemicals. Be sure it's clean, and change it frequently. African bullfrogs are known to eat the substrate in their cages, so any material lining the enclosure should be easily digestible.
Food and Water
These large frogs are quite the carnivores. A healthy bullfrog diet consists of gut-loaded crickets (crickets fed nutritious foods that pass to your pet), mealworms, and other available insects. It also includes small rodents, such as mice and baby rats called fuzzies, and even other smaller amphibians. Stay away from grocery store meat like chicken and beef. This muscle meat does not provide bullfrogs the same nutritions that the whole-prey items offer.
Young bullfrogs generally eat daily or every other day, and adults have meals two to three times per week. Place the food in a shallow dish or on a flat rock. It’s best to change what’s on the menu at each feeding for a varied diet that mimics what they would get in the wild. Also, avoid overfeeding these voracious eaters. Consult your veterinarian for how much to feed at each meal based on your frog’s age and size. Finally, you may offer a shallow water dish in addition to the tank water if you wish.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
Although these frogs live for many years, they don't need much in the way of health care. If the environment is warm and damp enough, your frog shouldn't have any skin issues. However, bacterial and fungal infections of the skin and eyes are common in pets that live in less-than-ideal conditions.
Intestinal parasites also can be an issue with pet bullfrogs. If your tank temperatures are warm enough and your frog still isn't eating well, bring your frog to an experienced exotics veterinarian to rule out parasitism. A yearly fecal sample should also be checked.
Moreover, be on the lookout for ammonia poisoning. This occurs when the frog is left in an enclosure with too much waste. Symptoms include lethargy, uncoordinated movements, and cloudy eyes. Death can occur within a few days. Clean the tank as soon as possible, and call your vet.
Choosing Your African Bullfrog
Acquire your African bullfrog from a reputable breeder or rescue organization. Look for reptile and amphibian groups online or consult your local pet shop for recommendations. Expect to pay around $25 to $75.
A healthy African bullfrog will have the typical olive green skin without any abnormal bumps or lesions, as well as clear eyes. Cloudy eyes can indicate disease. Males grow to be much larger than females, so if you prefer a smaller frog, you might want to choose a female. But don't expect a petite, docile pet; the females are just as voracious and sensitive to being handled as the males.
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