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Your Guide to Selecting an Amphibian

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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For people able to provide a semi-aquatic environment, amphibians can make interesting pets. As long as you can provide the proper setting and don't cave in to your desire to touch them, amphibians are great additions to a home, adding color and beauty. As with other pets, they can add a calming space to your home. Since most don't do well when housed together, deciding which amphibian to get can be tough.

Fire-bellied toad. Fire-bellied toads make attractive, undemanding, lively, long-lived pets – but they are a species that should be kept only with other fire-bellies. When sheltered among the plants of the vivarium these small pop-eyed pond denizens sit nearly unseen, camouflaged by their mottled black, green, and gray backs. But it's the underside of these frogs that makes them so popular: a boldly patterned bright orange belly with contrasting black reticulations that signal that fire-belly toads release toxic skin secretions that can sicken or kill animals that might try to harm them.

Green treefrog. The green treefrog is a small common aboreal frog. It is normally beautifully colored in bright green dorsally but is capable of changing to olive-green or even brown. It is an active frog that can leap long distances, but often sits quietly for long periods – days sometimes. Green treefrogs are quite easy to keep as long as their terrarium is kept clean.

White's treefrog. White's tree frogs, also known as dumpy treefrogs, are placid, large bodied frogs whose mouths appear fixed in perpetual smile. They are fun to watch as they proceed along their branches, hand over hand, and show obvious satisfaction as they use their tongues to lap up crickets. Because of their simple housing and food needs, long lives and attractive appearance, they make easily maintained pets.

African clawed frog. African clawed frogs are voracious aquatic creatures. They eat all manner of smaller pond-dwelling creatures and can reach about 4 inches in body length. Although entirely aquatic, clawed frogs have lungs and periodically rise to the water surface to gulp a breath of atmospheric air. Their water must be clean and chemical free. Almost all in the pet trade are captive bred.

Ornate horned frog. The ornate horned frog is one of the largest frog species and is commonly known as the "Pac-Man" frog. This name aptly fits the horned frog since, as with the computer icon, it gobbles up everything in its path. It is ready to bite anything and few cage-mates, including its siblings, are safe. The horned frog has strong jaws equipped with sharp tooth-like processes, and a bite can be unpleasant.

Fire salamander. Fire salamanders are perhaps one of the prettiest of all salamanders. Their shining black bodies, splotched with bright yellow, look like masterpieces of jeweler's enamelwork. Adults range in size from 8 to 12 inches in total length, and they adapt well to terrarium life. Like tiger salamanders, they seem to anticipate their owner's approach (or recognize the footsteps), and once acclimated, will emerge even during daylight hours to accept a plump earthworm or waxworm.

Spotted salamander. Spotted salamanders are ideal inhabitants for the intricately planted woodland terrarium, for they disturb almost nothing. These 6-inch long salamanders eat earthworms and burrowing grubs, and if their terrarium is set up to best advantage, you will seldom see them. They should not be handled except for moving them when the terrarium substrate is being replaced.

Tiger salamander. The tiger salamander is the world's largest land-dwelling salamander. Growing to an impressive 13 inches, this attractive salamander is easy to care for – even for children if they are supervised. It has a wide face, seems always to be smiling and, when fattened on earthworms, can take on the appearance of a sumo wrestler.

Mexican axolotl. Axolotls are entirely aquatic but periodically rise to the water surface to gulp a breath of atmospheric air. Their water must be clean and free of chemicals. Although not brightly colored, axolotls are interestingly colored. Those in the pet trade are captive bred, and they are readily available in the normal olive coloration as well as albino, leucistic, gold, and piebald morphs. A tank containing specimens of four or five colorations is quite pleasing. Axolotls attain 7 to 8 1/2 inches in length.

Aquatic caecilians. The aquatic caecilian is an undemanding creature that is often mistakenly called an eel. It breathes air, and periodically rises to the water surface to gulp in a fresh breath. The caecilians are tropical amphibians, distinct from frogs and the salamanders.

Waterdog. Waterdogs are aquatic salamanders that transform themselves through metamorphosis – if conditions are right – into land-dwelling terrestrial tiger salamanders. They are relatively easy to care for and provide their owners with the experience of observing an animal evolve from living underwater to spending much of its life burrowed underground.

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