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Choosing an African Giant Bullfrog

By: R.D. and Patti Bartlett

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Even though they are known as "pyxies," don't let the name fool you. The African giant bullfrog is not a small creature. Far from it, these are heavy-bodied and potentially immense frogs – and they are grumpy looking to boot. Even so, the African giant bullfrog does not require a great amount of space to thrive. Their needs, in fact, are modest.

The African giant bullfrog, Pyxicephalus adspersa, is relatively easy to care for. A simple tank, adequate water and some substrate will suit them nicely. Unless prodded or otherwise provoked, they are slow moving and almost lethargic. They eat standard fare eagerly, but here a word of caution is in order. They are almost always ready to eat, can overcome prey of quite considerable size - and most are not at all reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. Their strong jaws are equipped with sharp tooth-like processes, and a bite can be unpleasant.

The African giant bullfrog derives its familiar nickname from its generic name, Pyxicephalus. It is adapted to life in seasonally semi-arid regions, but captive bred metamorphs (babies that have just left the ponds after transforming from the tadpole stage) and juveniles of the pyxie are usually readily available in the pet trade. Occasionally adults are available as well. Typically, the babies of this species cost about $15 while the largest examples cost up to $75.

Pyxies eat all manner of invertebrates, such as worms, crickets and cockroaches, as well as frogs (including smaller examples of their own species), and other small vertebrates that they can overpower. Because they are very predatory, they should be kept singly, or, if kept communally, in same-size groups.

Those kept in a bare aquarium with only an inch or so of clean water seem to fare equally as well as those kept in more natural conditions. Terrarium cleanliness is the key to good health and long life for these frogs.

Origin and Lifespan

African giant bullfrogs are native to eastern and southern Africa. Properly cared for, African giant bullfrogs have lived for more than 16 years.

Appearance

For many frogs, it is the females who are the larger sex. Not so for the African giant bullfrog. Males may be huge - close to 10 inches in snout-vent length (SVL). That's from the tip of the nose to the anus (excluding the tail). Females are about half that size.

Hatchlings and the adults share similar qualities of size and coloration. The ground color of both is olive-green dorsally and laterally. There have very conspicuous elongate dermal skin ridges. The adult male has a yellow throat; the throat of the female is white or grayish. Juvenile bullfrogs have a diagonal yellow lateral stripe on each side and an intense yellow vertebral stripe. These markings fade and obscure with advancing age.

Housing

These large frogs are quiet and do not require a great amount of space to survive - even thrive - in captivity. Don't forget, these frogs are predators. They should be kept singly, or, if kept communally, in same-size groups.
A metamorph can be kept in a terrarium of only the size of a plastic shoebox. An adult needs a 15-gallon to a 20-gallon long terrarium. The tank may be simple in the extreme: bare except for a little clean, chemical-free water, and gently sloped to keep that water on the low end.

The terrarium may also contain a substrate of unmilled sphagnum with only a shallow dish of fresh water. The dish should be of large enough diameter to allow the frog to sit comfortably within. Since frogs quickly absorb impurities through their skin, it is imperative that the water and/or the substrate be kept immaculately clean.

The best terrarium temperature range for a giant bullfrog is in the mid-70 to mid-80 degree Fahrenheit range.

Feeding

The diet of giant bullfrogs consists of earthworms, crickets, freshly killed minnows, and a very occasional pre-killed mouse. The pre-killed items should be offered from forceps. As mentioned earlier, a bite can be very painful!

Fast growing baby bullfrogs need considerable calcium. Insufficient vitamin D3 can result in improper calcium metabolizing resulting eventually in metabolic bone disease (MBD). An overabundance of D3 can result in over-metabolizing of calcium, resulting in gout and other diseases of the viscera. Insufficient calcium can also result in MBD. Monitor your fast-growing frogs carefully.

Insects such as crickets, grasshoppers or mealworms can simply be tipped into you pet's cage. Earthworms can be added to the cage one at a time. As the bullfrog gobbles up one worm, another can be added. These toads can eat a lot of earthworms. Fish can be added to the water bowl, but only two to three at a time. More than that will deplete the oxygen supply in the water and the fish will die.

Depending on the size of the meal, you'll need to feed your pet once a week to almost daily. If your pyxie has eaten a mouse, it won't need food for at least a week. Lighter fare, such as crickets, will need replenishing two to three times a week. Put in 20 crickets at a time and see how rapidly they disappear into your pyxie's mouth.

Behavior

In the wild, these frogs spend a goodly part of each year burrowed beneath the ground awaiting the onset of the rains. They are capable of forming a moisture-retaining cocoon around themselves to prevent desiccation. If terrarium conditions permit, they will often sit with only their head exposed, or may burrow completely from sight

Probably because of the great size and feeding habits, these frogs have become popular with hobbyists. Since they can and will bite, keep your fingers out of reach of these powerful jaws.

Handling

These frogs should be handled gently and sparingly. If you must handle yours, wash and rinse your hands thoroughly before you touch it. Its permeable skin will absorb any impurities from your hands, and the residue of many items that humans occasionally have on their skin -- perfumes, cleaning agents, sunscreen, insecticides -- can be injurious or fatal to your frog.

These frogs are best lifted in a net (take precautions that they can't jump from the net and injure themselves) or, if necessary, by grasping them firmly around the waist with your hand.

Finally, wash your hands thoroughly after handling your frog to protect yourself from the possibility of contracting salmonella, bacteria that is often carried by reptiles and amphibians and which can cause illness in humans.

Medical Issues

  • Metabolic bone disease may be caused by an inability to metabolize calcium or insufficient dietary calcium.

  • Redleg (Aeromonas, etc. infections) is caused by poor water quality or inadequately cleaned substrate.

  • Absorption of insecticides through the skin can be almost immediately fatal to this frog, or any other amphibian.

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