Frogs and Toads
Frogs and toads are unique animals that lend themselves to being good pets because of their small size, docile temperament, and minimal needs. Both frogs and toads are amphibious, meaning that they can breathe underwater (by absorbing oxygen directly through their skin) and in the air (through their nostrils and lungs). Because of this ability, they have adapted to a wide range of habitats throughout the world; from deserts, to rainforests, to rivers. Although the difference between frogs and toads is not always a true taxonomic classification, in general, terrestrial species with dry or warty skin are referred to as toads, and aquatic or semi-aquatic species with smooth or moist skin are referred to as frogs.
Although frogs and toads can make fascinating pets, most species are not very active and can become boring for children or owners hoping for an interactive companion. Most pet species will live from 5-15 years in captivity (large toads may live even longer), so buyers should be aware that they are making a long-term commitment. Many species are sold as small juveniles at pet stores, and some will grow quite a bit larger as they age. In addition, individual species may have quirks such as hibernation, special food requirements, or night-time vocalization that owners may want to research ahead of time.
Due to their sensitive, absorbent skin, frogs and toads need a habitat that can be cleaned thoroughly and frequently – usually an aquarium or terrarium – to remove waste and contaminants. All water must be treated to remove chlorine or heavy metals, and hands should be washed thoroughly before handling the animals to avoid irritating their skin. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, most frogs and toads are stressed by handling and prefer to be observed rather than touched. Some species may also produce toxins on their skin that can be harmful to humans (as well as curious dogs, cats, or other pets), so hands should always be washed thoroughly after handling, as well.
Pet frogs and toads are carnivorous: they eat insects, worms, and smaller animals. Crickets are cheap and easy to buy at pet supply stores, but since they are not nutritionally complete, they need to be dusted or gut-loaded (fed ahead of time) with nutritional supplements. Mealworms, silk worms, red worms, or other larvae are also commonly used. Some species will eat flies or moths. Large toads may even eat mice (usually purchased frozen from a pet store). Aquatic and semi-aquatic species might eat small fish, if they are available.
Amphibians, like reptiles, are ectothermic (cold blooded): their body temperature depends on the temperature of the environment. All species have a preferred optimal temperature range (POT) within which they will be healthiest and most active. Many pet species will do well at room temperature, but some may require a heater or lamp. Heated habitats should always contain a cool or shady area.
With the exception of desert species, most frogs and toads require a relatively humid environment. This is usually achieved by spritzing or misting the habitat regularly (daily or several times a week) and keeping the tank covered. Even if there is plenty of water available to submerge in, frogs may become too dry if the air in their tank is not humid enough. All species require a constant source of water, but not all species need enough to fully submerge – some, such as Pacman Toads and White’s Tree Frogs, may drown if their water is deeper than “wallowing” depth.
Reptile bark, soil, or moss may be used as a substrate in the tank, with round, smooth gravel in aquatic or semi-aquatic areas. Most terrestrial or semi-terrestrial species need a substrate they can burrow into, and sharp or rough gravel can injure their skin. Sand or fine gravel might be eaten and cause intestinal blockage. Live or silk plants, large smooth rocks, and wooden or ceramic ornaments can provide enrichment and shade for the animals.
The Aquatic Tank
Some frogs live their entire life underwater, and their habitat can be set up similar to a simple goldfish tank. Aquarium filtration systems are often used, but there is some controversy about whether the constant vibration is stressful to the frogs. If no filtration is used, the water needs to be changed frequently. Aquatic frogs can be escape artists, so their tanks should always be well-lidded.
African Dwarf Frogs make excellent starter aquatic frogs, as do their much larger cousins the African Clawed Frogs. Juveniles of these species can be difficult to tell apart, so some caution should be used when buying them at pet stores.
The Semi-aquatic Tank
Most species of frogs and toads are semi-aquatic, and prefer an environment with about half land and half water. This can be achieved with large dishes or by placing a divider in the bottom of a tank, with a wood or gravel ramp leading out of the water to a dry bark or soil area.
The Oriental Fire Bellied Toad is a colourful and active species that doesn’t grow too large and is popular among beginners. Fire Bellied Toads can be toxic, so hand-washing after handling is a must. Leopard Frogs are another popular semi-aquatic species. Leopard Frogs will hibernate for a few months in the winter, during which time they will slow down, eat less, and prefer slightly cooler temperatures.
The Terrestrial Tank
Some species spend almost their entire lives on dry land. For these species, a single dish of fresh water, just deep enough to sit in, is sufficient. The substrate should be suitable for burrowing.
The Sonoran Desert Toad is a terrestrial species that is prohibited in some areas due to the toxin it produces. When stressed, it secretes enough venom to kill a dog or a cat. It is also a very long-lived species, and has been known to live almost 40 years.
The Arboreal Tank
The most popular arboreal (tree-dwelling) species are the tropical tree-frogs. The Green Tree Frog is a commonly sold and very popular species. Although they are much hardier than the more colourful Poison Dart Frogs, they are still very sensitive to handling and do best as a display-only pet. White’s Tree Frogs are less active but by far some of the hardiest tree-frogs available, and more suitable for a small amount of handling.
High humidity is essential for these species, and although a dish of fresh water should always be available, they often “drink” only by licking droplets of moisture from the glass tank and plants. The tank set-up consists mainly of vertical foliage (often, wooden branches with silk or live plants), and, as with all frog tanks, care should be taken to ensure the animals cannot escape.
By Jennifer Perret – Pets.ca writer