Pacman Frogs Care Guide
Table of Contents
Introduction to the Pacman Frog
These frogs, named after a popular video game, can make interesting pets. They grow to about 6 inches long, with females growing larger than the males. And they are about as wide as they are long. They are not a truly aquatic species, preferring to hide under leaf mold on the forest floor and wait for passing food items to stroll by. Pretty much anything that is the right size and capable of strolling within tongue's reach is fair game to be eaten.
Although interesting, pacman frogs are not a cuddly pet, and should not be handled. If you're looking for something to cuddle, consider a porcupine. When shopping for one, bear in mind that they go by a number of other names:
- Ceratophrys ornata
- Ornate horned frog
- South American horned frog
- Argentine horned frog
- ornate Pacman frog
- Argentine wide-mouthed frog
The Pacman Frog Habitat
These aggressive and carnivorous frogs should always be housed alone due to their tendency towards cannibalism. Since they never grow to the size of Pixie frogs and other large species, a 10 gallon aquarium should be suitable for their entire lives.
If desired, juveniles under 3 inches can be maintained in a 5 gallon aquarium for a while (about a year). Some keepers find that using a non-conventional enclosure such as plastic storage boxes is less stressful for the Pacman frog due to the opaque nature of the sides. The drawback, however, is that an opaque container will limit visual access to their pet. And this will also hide specific habitat conditions that an owner should be looking for. A multitude of sins can go unnoticed when viewing an enclosure from the top only. Professional keepers prefer glass tanks where a portion is dry and a portion has a micro-pond, or shallow water dish.
The ideal substrate for your frog is one that can be kept very damp (not sopping) without falling apart, mashing down, or growing mold or fungus. Some keepers use paper towels, but they are unattractive, must be changed daily and deteriorate quickly under extremely humid conditions. Plus they give the pacman frog nowhere to burrow.
You may find that some inexperienced keepers use shredded cloth towels as a substrate. But the reality is that fabric substrates can be stressful for Pacman Frogs, because it doesn't do a good job replicating their natural environment. In the wild, they spend the majority of their time buried up to the eyes in sand or leaf litter. For this reason, towels and even sphagnum moss may be too bumpy and clumpy. While holding moisture well, these may not give your frog the sense of complete immersion that he/she requires.
Many keepers use a high humus content topsoil. If not purchased, then it must be baked in the oven at 350 degrees F for ½ hour, only then can a natural, yet sterile soil substrate be achieved. Cook 2 batches at once for efficiency. After 14 days, discard the first batch and replace with the second that you set aside.
If you don’t want your dwelling smelling like toasted compost, yet you want the best for your pet, then a commercial product such as Exo Terra plantation soil or Zoo Med Eco Earth may be the ticket. If scrupulously spot cleaned daily, a deep bedding of 4-5 inches should last a month at least.
Regardless of the choice of substrate selected, it needs to be moistened at all times with dechlorinated water. Tap water that has been dechlorinated chemically or “aged” is perfectly fine. To age water, allow chlorinated water to sit in an open container for 24-48 hours so chlorine can dissipate. Alternatively you can use bottled spring water. Misting is required only if you do not provide a bathing area.
Please note that with most amphibians, lizards, and many frogs, sand is not the best substrate. For instance, in the case of the Pacman, the tongue is folded over inside the mouth. To capture a potential meal, the frog will drop its lower jaw with considerable force, causing the tongue to flip over and out of the animal's mouth, seizing the prey. If the prey is coated with sand, or the tongue becomes coated, this ends up in the gut and over time can cause impaction that leads to illness and death.
Furniture in a Pacman Frog habitat
As mentioned earlier, very little in the way of elaborate furniture is needed for your Pacman. A hide is an important feature to include.
A nice round hide will give your Pacman a dark place disappear into for a while. Your Pacman will probably create a smaller burrow under the hide. As in the wild, they will bury themselves completely except for their eyes. Every Pacman seems to enjoy a camo moment in this fashion now and then.
The material the hide is made of is not as important as its size and shape. The hide should be a half round of cork or a reptile log. While your Pacman is growing, cork is a nice choice. The drawback with cork is that it cannot be sanitized more than about 8 times without falling apart. But that’s OK, because your young Pacman is going to outgrow it yearly anyway.
Your frog is going to need no more than an inch of clearance on each side of his/her body. Hides that are too large or too small won’t be used. The space will seem either to spacious or too small to get in and out of without getting stuck. Keep an eye on your Pacman, and if it seems to be avoiding the hide, then consider replacing it with something more appealing for him/her.
Again, this hide should be replaced as needed. Depending on their diet, your pacman frog may grow quickly until they reach maturity at about 2 1/2 years old. Which means you may need to increase the size of your hide until they mature.
If you wish to include live plants for aesthetics, many keepers recommend attaching epiphytes to the sides of the habitat. Elevating plants keeps the Pacman from smashing them flat and epiphytes are super low maintenance, which will make up for the aquarium maintenance you will need to do weekly. For potted plants, a pothos is practical and will help with humidity, while looking nice as well.
Pacman Frog Temperature
Even though these frogs are indigenous to tropical South America, they do best when the room temperature resembles the conditions underneath leaves on a cool forest floor. The mid to high 70s suits them well. Therefore, depending on your household’s ambient temperature, your frog may not need supplemental heat. If your home is kept on the cool side, then an undertank heating pad is advised. Be sure to place it under the dry side only, and not under a water dish, as this would encourage algal buildup in a swimming area’s water.
Pacmans need plenty of humidity at levels between 70 – 80%. If there is no swimming/total immersion area within the habitat, then monitoring the levels daily is essential. The best way to monitor humidity in the habitat is with a hygrometer. Digital hygrometers work best and are most convenient.
In addition to a nice wide water bowl, the required humidity can be achieved by misting the frog’s enclosure twice a day. Once in the morning and once again in the afternoon (for this species once a day is not enough). If the hygrometer shows that levels are still not being reached, just mist a few more times throughout the day. You can use any reptile fogger or mister to achieve the necessary conditions for your beloved Pacman Frog.
Consistency in misting and frequent monitoring is critical. They aren't like bearded dragons, where the room's natural humidity levels are adequate. The humidity, especially during the day for this diurnal species, must be within the comfort range mentioned above. But it's also important that it's not overly misted. Too much humidity can create standing water at the bottom of the habitat (anywhere not within a bowl or swimming area). So, while keeping the relative humidity high, you must also be very careful not to over saturate the substrate with water. This will cause the substrate to rot. Which will resultant in bad effects on your frog’s skin and overall health. Rotting substrates can provide a culture for Chytrid fungus and other pathogens that can be fatal to your Pacman. If this is an observation you noticed in your habitat, consider finding a local vet to help your beloved pet.
Pacman Frog Feeding and Diet
This species has excellent eye sight. They will ambush and consume anything that fits in their mouths. In the wild, these animals are known to eat other amphibians, small reptiles, and even birds. Therefore in captivity, the best diet is a varied one.
As a Pacman Frog owner, the diet listed above may not be easy to access. So here's a list of items that you can find online:
Because the best diet for a Pacman Frog is a varied one, these menu items should be alternated every two weeks.
Rodent Feeding Schedule
It is recommended to feed rodents to adult Pacmans only once every 2 or 3 weeks. The reason for feeding pinkies and fuzzies (mice infant mice a couple of weeks old) sparingly is that they can contribute to obesity in your frog. Also, these frogs like them so much that they can become a bit spoiled, refusing invertebrate food and even going on a pouty hunger strike for several weeks.
Dead mice are best offered by using forceps to avoid being bit. It is not recommended to feed these frogs from your hand as they have a powerful and painful bite. Placing the food in a dish or on a flat rock or dancing a dead food item with forceps is a better option.
Insect Feeding Schedule
Pacmans smaller than 3 inches in length should be fed daily whatever they can consume in under 30 minutes, generally 3-4 crickets or the equivalent. Sub-adults and adults should be fed 2-3 times a week in the same manner. When supplying prey items, it is best to leave worms wriggling in a small, very flat dish or to dangle with forceps. Crickets will provide their own motion and eventually wander into harm’s way. Three to four crickets daily are not too many and leaving them in the enclosure until consumed is alright to do.
As with any reptile or amphibian being fed a mostly insect diet, it's important to think about supplements. Calcium supplementation should be added to the food weekly and a multivitamin supplement every 2 weeks. Regular dusting of prey items with a supplement such a ReptiCal is important for young, fast growing frogs. Older Pacman Frogs that are closer to adult size need supplements less frequently.
Instead of dusting, many keepers gut load their prey items. “Gut loading” means placing the feeder insects on an enriched diet for at least 24 hours prior to being offered to your Pacman. This enhances the nutritional value of the insects substantially. A purchased supplement such as those offered by reptile hobby stores is easily available and affordable. Or, an owner can offer fresh fruits and vegetables to their feeders for additional nutrition.
The convenience of a dry gut load diet, purchased from a pet supply house, is undeniable. However, many experienced breeders and keepers have found these products inadequate, so for the really persnickety keeper (and you know you should be) the following formula for gut loading your feeder crickets or roaches is suggested.
- 24 pbw whole wheat flour (not self rising)
- 8 pbw calcium carbonate with vitamin D3
- 4 pbw brewer's yeast (Not baker's yeast).
- 3 pbw soy powder
- 1 pbw paprika (this is to provide beta carotene)
The ‘pbw’ stands for parts by weight, whatever that weight may be. Think of this formula as a table of ratios. For instance, if you begin with 24 tablespoons of whole wheat, you would add 8 tablespoons of calcium carbonate and so forth. So for every unit of whole wheat flour, you would add 1/3 as much of the same unit of calcium powder and so forth. Place your feeder insects onto this feed for 24 hours at least and then release the needed amount into your Pacman’s habitat.
Concernings mice and rats...
The size of your feeder rodents depends on how old your pacman frog is. A very young frog can only manage pinkies for quite a few months. After that they will graduate to fuzzies, and then hoppers. The terms mentioned above refer to the variation in sizes for feeder mice and rats. Here is the breakdown for those terms:
- Pinky: A pinky is a newborn mouse. Ranging from one to three grams in weight, depending on where you purchase them. They have no fur and are high in protein.
- Fuzzy: A fuzzy is a slightly older baby mouse, with the beginnings of fur. They are slightly bigger in size and weigh around 3-5g.
- Hopper: The next age stage. These are around 5-9g in weight and are fully formed, but not fully grown.
Rats have their own terminology, but can be compared to mice:
- The rat equivalent of a pinky would be a ‘rat pup’. These are slightly bigger in size, around 5g.
- The rat equivalent of a fuzzy is called a ‘fluff’. And around 10-25g in weight, so quite a substantial difference.
- The rat equivalent of a hopper would be ‘weaner’ rat, at around 25-50g.
- Adult mice and young rats are only suitable for adult females.
The size of the prey you choose will depend on whether or not the frog can both swallow and digest it. When in doubt, consider the width of the diner. That is, prey should be no wider than the widest part of the frog's body. Choosing prey that is too large, if it is actually swallowed, can result in regurgitation at the very least (if you’re lucky). More severe injuries can occur with seizures, partial paralysis, gut impactions, and death being unpleasant possibilities as well.
Should you feed only rodents and crickets?
Not really. Everyone enjoys a change of pace and an older frog can be offered day old chicks now and then.
Does the prey have to be alive?
Some keepers believe that the live prey offers the ability for the frog to perform natural behaviors. Others claim that this is nonsense and that a rich environment should provide sufficient stimulation. The advantages of pre-killed, frozen rodent dinners over live chow are:
- Live prey can be too active for young frogs.
- Sometimes dinner bites back. Attacks by live prey can permanently disfigure your frog. Injuries caused by live prey can include lacerations to the frog's mouth area and eyes. Cutting through his/her tongue is not uncommon.
- Attacks by live prey can traumatize your frog, and it can be very difficult to get that frog to feed on that prey item again.
- Pre-killed offerings can last in the freezer for up to six months. Remember to thaw it completely in the refrigerator and warm it to slightly above room temperature before feeding it to your frog. Do not use a microwave for this. Use tongs or hemostats to dangle the prey and "dance" it around in front of the frog to make it appear alive and entice the frog to strike at it.
Habitat Cleaning & Sanitation
Frequent cleaning of the tank is necessary because of the prodigious amount of feces a healthy and well fed adult Pacman frog can pass. Every other day removal of poo is highly recommended. When possible, use of forceps may prevent your frog from either being startled into hiding, or motivated to bite.
Remove and dispose of the top 1 inch of bedding and replace with fresh.
Place dishwasher safe furniture in the dishwasher every two weeks.
Remove everything, and spritz the habitat interior with 10% bleach solution. If the terrarium is glass, spray sides with vinegar after the bleach has been applied and removed and wipe down for better visibility. Do not use bleach stronger than a 10% solution and do not place your frog back inside without wiping down all damp areas after it has soaked in bleach for ½ hour.
After wiping down, wait another ½ hour, install fresh substrate and reposition the sanitized furniture. Only then should you place your frog back in. This is one time where a separate container for you frog is handy. A Tupperware box with tight fitting lid, a thick rumpled terry cloth towel in the bottom, and a warm location (or you can but the box right next to the aquarium/vivarium, remove the undertank pad from the underneath the primary habitat and slip it under the secondary holding container) are all that is needed.
If using supplemental heat beneath a Tupperware or other plastic box, be sure to slip a hand towel over the heating element so it does not come into direct with the plastic. Also, preheat the box for at least 10 minutes before placing the frog inside.
For better viewing of your pet through glass, cleaning strength vinegar on the glass sides is fine as long as used in moderation, wiped off thoroughly and then the glass allowed to dry and off-gas. This should be done for the dry side only, unless the wet side has been drained for cleaning as well. Remember, unlike fish and reptiles, an amphibian’s skin is extremely porous and sensitive. They do not drink water, but rather absorb water and sodium directly through the skin. Therefore, you do not want your friend to have to hydrate himself/herself in an acid bath, or the equivalent of lye either. So no vinegar must be allowed to remain in the habitat. Ammonia is a bad call for the same reasons.
Fish and reptiles do not share this epidermal sensitivity with amphibians, so do not make assumptions in this regard. Any objects removed from the habitat and sterilized with bleach or vinegar must, must, must be thoroughly rinsed in aged water and then allowed to dry for 2 hours before it re-enters the habitat. It is important that new keepers understand the importance of this additional step in maintaining a sterile, yet pH neutral environment for their frog. Frogs continually exposed to chemicals may display ‘toxic-out’ symptoms such as erratic jumping and spastic extensions of the hind limbs, listlessness, and cloudy eyes. If this is observed, immediately place your distressed and miserable pet in a dish of slightly warm distilled water. Leave them in there and put them back in if they jump out. Replace the water every 4 hours or so until the signs go away.