Pixie Frogs are dicks. They don't play well with others, and they will often attack their care-givers. But they're also big, lovable, and fascinating. So despite their grumpy here are some important tips on how to take care of those dick-headed amphibians.
This Pixie Frog Care Guide will Cover The Following Topics:
- They are also known as the African Giant Bullfrog
- Can grow as wide as 10", and weigh as much as 2 pounds
- Can live up to 40 years old if properly cared for
Habitat Design & Requirements
- Pixie Frog Substrate
- Preferred Funiture
- Habitat Temperature
- Habitat Humidity
- Pixie Frog Terrarium Size
- How often to clean
- What cleaners to use
- Insect Feeding - crickets, superworms, roaches, waxworms
- Rodent Feeding - pinky mice
Pixie Frog Introduction
One of the strangest monikers for any amphibian is ‘pixie’ frogs. Their other name, the mighty African Giant Bullfrog, is more fitting because it atleast tells you where they are from. But it also clues you into how big they actually ares. And they are huge, as frogs go.
The name ‘Pixie’ comes from a shortening the scientific name Pyxicephalus adspersus. Yet there is nothing pixie-like about this large, toad like frog’s appearance, nor in their behavior. They are the second largest frog species in the world, males can be up to 10 inches long and weigh as much as 2 pounds. Both genders have teeth like projections called odontoids in their mouth which help them capture prey. When startled, they do not hesitate to puff up in a threat display and will some times bite their handlers. Therefore, as with most frogs, handling should be kept to a minimum, as they have fragile skin that should remain moist and uncontaminated.
In general, these pets don't appreciate human contact. For these reasons, Pixie Frogs are best enjoyed through the glass of their aquarium. Although not warm and cuddly, for those who want an interesting pet who is a real conversation starter, Giant African frogs may be for you. If you are really into them, be prepared for a long haul, because they can live up to 40 years old with proper care.
These remarkable animals have a fascinating survival strategy. In the wild, they occupy habitats that alternated between desperately dry and inundated. When the conditions are unfavorable, they burrow into drying mud, build themselves a mucus lined chamber and estivate until the rains come again. When their chamber is moistened by the rains penetrating the soil, they emerge to resume their above ground life with a voracious hunger. This is something to remember when feeding and caring for them.
Habitat Design for a Pixie Frog
These aggressive and carnivorous frogs should always be housed alone due to their tendency towards cannibalism. If you acquire a male, plan ahead on his large size and provide him with a 20 gallon aquarium or larger. Adult females are half the size of the males and can be kept comfortably in a 10 gallon aquarium. Juveniles under 3 inches can easily be maintained in a 5 gallon aquarium for a while (about a year).
Although some keepers find that using a non-conventional enclosure such as plastic storage boxes is less stressful for the animal due to the opaque nature of the sides, an opaque container will deprive the keeper of visual access to their pet and also hide conditions inside the habitat that may need attention. 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.
The ideal substrate for your frog is one that can be kept very damp (not sopping) without falling apart, mashing down, or growing molds and fungi swiftly. Some keepers do use paper towels, but they are unattractive, must be changed daily and deteriorate swiftly under extremely humid conditions, plus they give the frog nowhere to burrow. Many keepers prefer a high humus content topsoil. When baked in the oven at 350 degrees F for ½ hour, a sterile soil can 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.
Top soil will provide a naturalistic look to the enclosure as well as offering the frog a chance to burrow under leaving only their eyes exposed in some cases. Soil must be spot cleaned daily. If this much preparation is not to your liking and you wish a simpler routine, then moistened strips of terry cloth towels can be used. Always have sterile replacement towels on hand and the towels must be washed and dried WITHOUT fabric softener.
Many keepers feel that fabric substrates are stressful for Giant African frogs, since in the wild they would 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. So, if you don’t want your dwelling smelling like toasted compost yet you want the best for your big guy/gal, then a commercial product such as Exo Terra plantation soil or Zoo Med Eco Earth may be the ticket.
If you diligently spot cleaned daily, a deep bedding of 5-7 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 swimming area.
Please note that with most amphibians, lizards, and many snakes, sand is not necessarily the best substrate. For instance, in the case of the Pixie, 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.
How To Create An Aquatic Habitat For Pixie Frogs
There is another approach to designing a Pixie habitat that is very popular and interesting, but is much more expensive and time consuming as well. This is to create a habitat that is partially terrarium, partially aquarium. Many keepers have found great success with their Pixies in habitats that are comprised of 1/3 dry space and 2/3 pond. An arrangement like this provides plenty of humidity and which would eliminate the need for any of these reptile foggers.
However, the wet side must be treated just like any other aquarium, especially if there are little fish in that side (which your Pixie will eat, eventually). These setups are much more interesting for you and comfortable and natural for your Pixie, but the water must be kept clean, something your Pixie will make challenging for you. The aquarium side must be treated like any fish aquarium, with an adequate filtering and aeration system.
Careful design of the habitat will save a redo later. When considering the frog’s need to go in and out of the water frequently, it makes sense that a threshold of some sort will help to keep the water cleaner. A bridge of (not sharp) rocks, or a space filled with gravel in between your two ‘eco-zones’ will serve as a welcome mat to water entry. There should be nothing sharp about this transitional zone, either with the materials or with any support structures such as plexiglass separators. The effort to do this right is worth it, because even lightweight coconut fiber will get into the pond side constantly if a threshold is not provided.
If you wish to include live plants for aesthetics, many keepers recommend attaching epiphytes to the sides of the habitat. Elevating plants keeps the Pixie 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 the dry side, very little is needed. A nice round hide will give your Pixie a place to haul out and disappear into the dark for a while. Your Pixie will probably create a smaller burrow under the hide. As in the wild, they will bury themselves completely except for their eyes. Every Pixie seems to enjoy a camo moment in this fashion now and then.
For the wet side, you can use your ingenuity to build something completely custom, or buy something pre-fabricated. For a large habitat, an insert such as a Carolina Biological Supply 1.5 gallon plastic tank ($7.00) will provide the clear, water proof tank within the tank that you can use as a see through swimming pool. Alternately, you can purchase something along the lines of a Viquarium for approximately $50.
As mentioned earlier, very little in the way of elaborate furniture is needed for your Pixie. Features not already mentioned include flat rocks somewhere in the habitat. This can be a slab bridge your frog must cross from the dry side to the wet side, or just a corner piece that you use to lay insects on. A rock terrace that graduates into the wet side will allow your frog easy exit when bath time is over, and it looks great too.
The hide should be a half round of cork or a reptile log. While your Pixie is growing, cork is a nice choice. Although these cannot be sanitized more than about 8 times without falling apart, that’s OK, because your young Pixie is going to outgrow it yearly anyway. Your frog is going to need no more than two inches clearance on each side of his/her body and no less than ½ inch per side. Hides that are too large or too small won’t be used because the space will seem either to spacious for genuine refuge or too small to get in and out of without getting stuck. Keep an eye on your Pixie, and if it seems to be avoiding the hide, then consider replacing it with something more appealing to him/her.
Again, this hide should be replaced as needed, because depending upon diet and calories, your frog may gain a good deal of mass every year (true for humans as well, unfortunately). The material the hide is made of is not as important as its size and shape, as it must be a half round only, not a tube.
Being indigenous to southern Africa, these frogs thrive best in temperatures above room temperature. The mid to high 70s and even low 80s suits them well. This can be achieved through use of a low wattage red heat bulb lamp on top of the screen on the dry side, or through an under tank heating pad. This pad should be placed under the dry side of the habitat as well, to help reduce algal buildup in a swimming area’s water. However, heat bulbs can often dry out the air and substrate, therefore the use of heat pads is most recommended for this humidity loving species.
Pixies need plenty of humidity. Humidity levels should be 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 thoroughly twice daily; 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 a reptile mister or if you need to be gone throughout the day a lot or just like a fancy shmancy setup, an automatic mister can be purchased for around $70.
Consistency in misting and frequent monitoring is everything here, just as it would be with any other amphibian or even arboreal geckos. The humidity, especially during the day for this diurnal species, must be within the comfort range mentioned above without creating 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 with the resultant 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 Pixie.
Pixie Frog Diet & Feeding Schedule
- Earth worms
African bullfrogs have 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.
Pixies will consume earth worms, crickets, super worms, waxworms, silkworms, hornworms, roaches, night crawlers, and mice. Because the best diet for a Pixie Frog is a varied one, theses menu items should be alternated every two weeks.
It is recommended to feed rodents to adult Pixies 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 bullfrog.
Pixies 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 large insects and worms on the rocks for them. Dead mice are best offered by using forceps to avoid being bit. Again, it is not recommended to feed bullfrogs 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.
As with feeding any reptile or amphibian a mostly insect based diet, thought must be given to nutritional 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 most important for young, fast growing frogs - older animals 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 Pixie. 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. 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 Pixie’s habitat.
How To Clean a Pixie Frog's Habitat
Bull frogs are shit-machines, and will require frequent cleaning of the tank. Daily removal of poop on the substrate is highly recommended. When possible, use of forceps may prevent your frog from either being startled and stressed into retreat for a period of time, or startled and motivated to bite.
The dry side of a duo habitat will need to be re-surfaced monthly. This means removing the lighter material that sits on top of the heavier base (such as aquarium gravel or large pea gravel). The fibrous substrate will need to be disposed of monthly if your Pixie is a mature adult. The reason for this is that their weight and size mashes the fecal matter thoroughly down into the substrate. Eventually it becomes impossible to clean satisfactorily. For juveniles and young adult females, you may be able to wait a little longer, if you diligently spot clean daily. If your bad-boy weighs more than 1 pound, you will definitely need to remove and refresh the substrate monthly.
When the time comes to perform this maintenance and the substrate is out, before replacing it with fresh, be sure to remove the gravel base and sanitize. A one inch gravel base provides many useful functions, from preventing the frog from burrowing right down onto the glass adjacent to the heating pad, to providing an air space against compaction of the bedding. If there are any moisture issues due to over-misting, then this air space can help prevent rot. It will, however, need to be removed entirely on a monthly basis and soaked in a 10% bleach solution for ½ hour, then rinsed thoroughly and allowed to air dry for 2 hours. Allow the drying to take place outside of the habitat. In fact, before allowing your amphibian friend back onto that side of his/her habitat, at least 2 hours should pass and no strong chemicals should be used.
Straight 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. Otherwise, you may need to take your bloated friend to a local veterinarian. 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. When you clean the aquarium side of a duo habitat, bear this in mind. 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.
These measures will help to ensure that your personal Jabba the Hut remains happy and healthy for several decades.