Horned Frogs

horned_frog

Common Names

Horned Frogs, Pacman Frogs

Size

Large females can reach 4-5 inches (10-13 cm) while males are smaller. The ornate horned frog (Ceratophrys ornata) is slightly larger than the Chacoan horned frog (C. cranwelli), and males of the latter species may only grow to around 3 inches (8 cm).

Appearance

Horned frogs are named so because some species, such as the Amazonian horned frog (C. cornuta), have large fleshy points above their eyes that resemble horns. The two most commonly available horned frogs – the Chacoan horned frog (C. cranwelli) and the ornate horned frog (C. ornata) – differ in appearance. Ornate horned frogs are usually marked in a mixture of bright green, brownish red, and yellow blotches and spots. Chacoan horned frogs are less colorful, typically patterned in shades of brown.

Horned frogs are also available in a number of selectively bred color morphs, especially the Chacoan horned frog which is offered for sale in brown, green, and even blue, as well as various albino forms which are yellow to orange in coloration. Hybrids between the Chacoan horned frog and the Amazonian horned frog are also available and are commonly sold as fantasy horned frogs.

Distribution, Habitat and Behavior

Native to grasslands of South America, including the dry Chaco region among Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. Here they are fossorial amphibians, spending a good portion of the year inactive and underground waiting for rain. When the first storms arrive they emerge from hiding to feed and breed en masse, later returning back to a relatively inactive existence in the dirt once the weather changes again and the water dries up.

Availability

Horned frogs are some of the most commonly available pet amphibians. They are commercially bred in large numbers, usually using injectable hormones to help promote a breeding response. Brown, albino, and green Chacoan horned frogs are most common in pet stores. Other color morphs and sometimes other Ceratophrys species can be found for sale from breeders and dealers.

Housing

Horned frogs are relatively big amphibians, but they are not particularly active and spend most of their time sitting in one spot waiting for food. For a small adult horned frog, a standard 10 gallon aquarium that measures 20 inches long by 10 inches wide by 12 inches high (50 cm by 25 cm by 30 cm) is a suitable size enclosure. Juvenile horned frogs do not need as much space, and a 5 gallon aquarium that measures 16 inches long by 8 inches high by 10 inches wide (38 cm by 20 cm by 25 cm) is big enough. A screen cover is recommended to prevent things from falling in the cage, and the occasionally active horned frog from attempting to escape.

Provide a substrate that is easy for horned frogs to burrow in. Coconut husk fiber or other safe soil-like substrate is a good option. Avoid using soils that contain vermiculite, perlite, or fertilizers. The moisture content of the substrate is important, and it should never become waterlogged or completely dry. Moist paper towels or foam rubber can be used instead of soil, but must be replaced or washed frequently. Cypress mulch, sphagnum moss, and leaf litter are other suitable substrate options, although it’s recommended that frogs kept on these substrates be fed from tweezers or tongs to prevent them from swallowing a piece of bark or moss that could cause health problems. Some keepers also have success keeping horned frogs on a substrate of large river rocks. Do not use pea gravel, sand, or fir bark.

Furnish the enclosure with artificial plants, pieces of curved cork bark, and driftwood if desired. Hide spots aren’t needed if there is a deep substrate in which the frog can burrow. Naturalistic terrariums with live plants are not usually suitable for burrowing amphibians like horned frogs.

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A setup for a horned frog in a 10 gallon aquarium with a coconut husk fiber substrate, water dish, and a couple plants.

Water

A large but shallow water bowl should be available at all times. Many horned frogs end up using this as a toilet as well as a place to hydrate, so the water should be replaced regularly. Horned frogs are not especially good at swimming so the water dish should be no deeper than the frog itself. If tap water is used, it should be treated with tap water conditioner to remove chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals.

Temperature and Humidity

Horned frogs are tolerant of a range of temperatures, but should be kept between 75°F (24°C) and 85°F (29°C) most of the time. At night the temperature can be reduced. In the wild, they experience contrasting wet and dry seasons and because of this they are not particularly sensitive to humidity levels. Some keepers choose to put adult horned frogs through a period of aestivation where temperatures and humidity are reduced and feeding is stopped altogether. During this period, horned frogs are dormant and rely on stored fat deposits and a slowed metabolism in order to survive. A low wattage infra-red light bulb can be used to heat the cage if needed. Alternatively, heat pads can be attached to the side of their cage.

Diet

The most enjoyable part keeping horned frogs is their tremendous appetite. They are ambush predators and remain motionless until potential food comes nearby, at which time they lunge from their small hole in the ground and eat or attempt to eat whatever it is that’s in front of them. Note that they are also cannibalistic and so only one frog should be housed per enclosure.

Juvenile frogs can be fed crickets, earth worms, silk worms, and occasional wax worms. A feeding schedule of two to six food items several times per week or even daily works well for growing juveniles. Adult horned frogs have large mouths and can be fed a diet of bigger food items such as night crawlers, roaches, superworms, and silkworms. They can be fed as infrequently as once every week or every other week in large quantities, and during aestivation can go without food for over four months. Vertebrates, such as pre-killed rodents and feeder fish, can be fed occasionally to both juveniles and adults but should not make up a large portion of the diet. Feeder goldfish should be avoided because they are high in fat, and it’s best if mice are fed no more than once a month. Adult frogs should have their food coated in high quality reptile vitamin and mineral supplements once every two to four feedings. Juvenile’s should have their food supplemented more frequently, as often as every feeding

2 Comments

  1. Hi I’m trying to make a terrarium combined with an aquarium out of a really long aquarium tank. I would have a figure eight puffer, a mono argentus, and a moray eel on the aquarium side, and a horned frog on the not-so-aquatic side. Think it would work?

    • Hi Isaac,

      This mix will not work. A big problem is that the fish (puffer, mono, eel) are best kept in brackish water, so water that has a higher salinity than freshwater. Brackish (and salt) water are dangerous for frogs.

      Another consideration is actually the species of fish. While you might see puffers, eels, and monos together in a brackish aquarium at a pet store, they are not ideal tank mates. Usually you see them kept together because the pet store only has one or two brackish setups and so they are pressed for space, but long-term it is not recommended. Puffers, monos, and eels are all really cool fish to keep on their own, but it could be challenging to keep them together.

      The last thought is the choice of amphibian. Although there are frogs that you can keep in semi-aquatic setups (more on that in a second) horned frogs are not a good choice. In deep water without easy access out they can drown. They also are not semi-aquatic, so it would kind of be a waste to have a terrestrial species like a horned frog in a nicely designed paludarium that has a large water area. Horned frogs also have large mouths and can eat fish.

      What’s an alternative? If you have a sufficiently large aquarium (ideally several feet in length, width, and height or more) focus on the water area first and consider small, hardy freshwater fish. Fancy guppies or other common live-bearing aquarium fish would be an appropriate choice. Or, if the water is cool white cloud minnows. If it is not filtered consider a betta. Once the paludarium is established with fish and has been running successfully for several months you could then decide if it might be possible to also keep a species of semi-aquatic amphibian as well. Look for a species that is not prone to drowning and will live in the conditions you have created, for example maybe a fire-bellied toad or other amphibian that will make use of both land and water. If you ended up with a more terrestrial species of frog, make sure there is easy access in and out of the water. Note that many amphibians will eat small fish if given the chance and sufficiently hungry, so it is a bit of a gamble and usually not worth it.

      All in all, creating a setup like this is challenging and not always as simple as it sounds. I would recommend setting up two different tanks instead. Make a nice aquarium and keep the frog in another setup. After keeping the two separately for some time, you could then decide if you want to try to create a large setup for both (and whether or not you want to take on the risks involved).

      Best of luck,

      Devin

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