Native to South America, Pacman frogs are amphibians that are relatively common in the pet trade. As strictly terrestrial amphibians, they are very poor swimmers. Instead, they spend most of their time in a humid environment among damp leaf litter. Pacman frogs get their common name from the popular PacMan arcade game, because like the animated character, these frogs have a rounded appearance with huge mouths. Pacman frogs are not difficult to care for and they make interesting pets. However, for people who like their pets to be active or interactive may, the Pacman frog may not be a good match, as it is not the best pet for handling.
Common Name: Ornate horned frog, Pacman frog, Pac-man frog, Pac man frog, South American horned frog, Argentine horned frog, ornate Pacman frog, and Argentine wide-mouthed frog
Scientific Name: Ceratophrys ornata
Adult Size: 6 inches long (about as wide as they are long); females are larger than males
Life Expectancy: Around 6 years in captivity
Pacman Frog Behavior and Temperament
These amphibians are docile pets, but their counterparts in the wild have been known to bite if they feel threatened. A Pacman frog's appetite matches its size, and it will attempt to eat anything that moves within striking distance of where it sits on the ground. Any kind of prey that walks by is fair game for this hungry frog.
Housing the Pacman Frog
Pacman frogs do not need a large cage since they are not very active. A 20-gallon tank is fine for one of these frogs. As they will often try to eat any cage mates, they should be housed alone. A cage top is recommended to help maintain temperature and humidity but Pacman frogs are not known to be at risk of escaping.
The tank can be lined with paper or smooth rocks, as long as leaf litter or moss and some plants (live or artificial) are provided for a Pacman frog to burrow in or hide. The substrate should be misted daily to help keep the tank humidity between 50% and 80%.
A shallow bowl of water should also be provided, one that allows the frog to drink and sit in without drowning. Depending on how humid your tank is, your Pacman frog might spend much of its time in its water dish, so providing plants around the dish will help your frog feel more secure. The water dish should also be in a warmer part of the cage so that the water does not get too cold.
The temperature in the tank should be kept around 82 F during the day and allowed to drop to around 78 F at night. Heat is best supplied by using an under-tank heater as overhead incandescent bulbs can be too drying for your frog (although a red incandescent could be used if supplemental heat is needed at colder times).
For lighting, a fluorescent fixture can be used although your frog might prefer more subdued lighting; regular room light may even be enough. Maintain a 12-hour light and 12-hour dark cycle. Some owners recommend providing a UVA/UVB light for this 12-hour cycle.
Food and Water
Pacman frogs are fairly easy to feed since they are not fussy eaters. Smaller Pacman frogs can be fed insects such as crickets, or other common pet store prey insects such as mealworms, and wax worms that are gut loaded prior to feeding.
As your frog grows, it can be fed pinkie (newborn) mice and eventually larger mice. Adult-sized frogs may take a medium-sized mouse or pinkie rat. Guppies, a variety of insects, and even smaller frogs can also be fed to your Pacman frog.
While small Pacman frogs that are eating insects should be fed daily, larger frogs that are fed mice or feeder fish can be fed only every few days. The best guide is to feed based on your frog's body condition: If your frog is getting too round and fat, cut back on how often it is fed.
Common Health and Behavioral Problems
Bacterial and fungal infections of the skin and eyes are among the most common ailments of amphibians, and the Pacman frog is no exception. Any redness, swelling, or pus is a sign of an infection.
Pacman frogs also are susceptible to parasitic infections. If your tank temperatures are warm enough and your frog still isn't eating well, bring your frog to an experienced exotics vet to rule out parasitism. A yearly fecal sample should also be checked to make sure your frog doesn't have an overgrowth of common parasites.
Although less common in frogs than in other reptiles and amphibians, a Pacman frog kept in an enclosure without enough humidity may develop a respiratory infection. This is marked by wheezing, drooling, and lethargy. Also, be on the lookout for ammonia poisoning. This potentially fatal condition occurs when waste in an animal's enclosure is not properly cleaned.
All of the above conditions can be treated by a veterinarian if detected early enough.
Choosing Your Pacman Frog
When deciding on a Pacman frog as a pet, look for an active, alert animal that has clear eyes and whose skin appears free of blemishes. If you are able to watch it eat before deciding, that's ideal; rarely will a Pacman frog refuse food unless it's ill. If the Pacman frog you're interested in seems lethargic or is having trouble breathing, or if its abdomen seems bloated, these may be signs of illness.
The best bet for acquiring a Pacman frog is via a reputable breeder who can give you a complete health history on your potential pet. Captive-bred Pacman frogs are the better option because they're less likely to be exposed to parasites and other ailments that wild-caught frogs may have.
Similar Species to Pacman Frogs
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Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your pet!
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Mitchell, Mark. Tully, Thomas N. Jr. Current Therapy in Exotic Pet Practice. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2016.
Egea-Serrano, Andrés et al. Understanding of the impact of chemicals on amphibians: a meta-analytic review. Ecology and evolution, vol. 2, no. 7, 2012, pp. 1382-97. doi:10.1002/ece3.249