Feeding Pet Frogs and Toads
Susan Donoghue, VMD, Dipl
Anatomy tells much of the story about frog
and toad nutrition: large eyes for spotting prey that moves in the
night, thick tongues for securing wiggly critters, and short
simple intestines for speedy hydrolytic digestion.
Frogs and toads, quite simply, are meat eaters.
Their dinners may take the form of tiny fruit flies or
large mice. Either
way, they depend on high-quality protein, animal-source fatty
acids and minimal carbohydrate to flourish.
For every generality there are exceptions,
and the adapted anatomy of frogs and toads is no different.
Some frogs lack teeth and even tongues; a few are suction
feeders. Many are
wide-mouthed models capable of ingesting oversized meals.
Still others have narrow mouths, or are tiny in overall
size, which limits the types of prey that can be swallowed.
However, the most problematic nutritional issues in frog
culture today, in this author’s opinion, are the repeated
failures to sustain successful breeding colonies for many species
beyond F1 or F2 generations. The
nutrition and feeding management of specialized or rare species
and the problems facing breeding groups, including tadpoles, are
beyond the scope of this article.
We’ll focus instead on pets.
Frogs and toads are robust feeders when
healthy and maintained in appropriate habitats, which provide
consistently optimal light, temperature, and humidity cycles.
When working with frog and toad patients that appear thin
and underfed, check every aspect of husbandry from water quality
and substrate conditions to light and temperature.
Make certain that the client’s husbandry matches the
needs of the patient. Common
problems include cool temperatures, disrupted light/dark cycles
and foul water.
Mouths (and Bodies)
Wide-mouthed frogs and toads include the ever-popular (and
deservedly so) White’s or Dumpy) Tree frog (Pelodryas
caerulea), bullfrog (Rana
catesbeiana), horn frogs (Ceratophrys
or Megophrys spp.) and
the charming American toad (Bufo
specie readily take to invertebrates, such as crickets, and as
adults may also eat small vertebrate, such as pinky (newborn)
A variety of pet shop and backyard
invertebrate suffice for these species.
Prey can include crickets, Zophobus worms, mealworms,
nightcrawlers, red wigglers, cockroaches, silkworms, locusts,
grasshoppers, slugs and isopods.
Not every frog or toad will take every prey species listed,
so owners should note which prey items seem best for their pet.
Except for snails and perhaps nightcrawlers, invertebrate
prey need supplementation (“dusting”) with calcium as well as
other minerals and vitamins. Invertebrates
from the pet shops benefit from a few days on a good diet before
feeding out. Backyard
prey should be taken from areas free of pesticides and herbicides.
Many of the wide-mouths become tame and will
feed in the presence of their owners.
Many can be hand fed large crickets, locusts and
cockroaches. Some can
learn to take prey from a skewer, enabling simulation of movement
and the acceptance of frozen thawed vertebrates that otherwise
won’t be recognized as food because of lack of movement.
Vertebrate are generally good sources of calcium (from
bone), iodine (from thyroid), trace minerals (from liver and other
organs), essential fatty acids (from brain), and vitamins (from
ingesta and organs) and require no further supplementation or
dusting. Concerns have
been raised about the potential for vitamin A, present in rodent
livers, interfering with vitamin D metabolism and the subsequent
risk of metabolic bone disease in frogs (see Wright &
Whitaker, 2001, p 67 for a succinct review).
and Wee Ones
Certain toad species have plump bodies but
narrow mouths. Gastrophyrne carolinensis and G.
olivacea are eastern and western narrow-mouthed toads,
respectively, from the
and may be wild caught and kept by children.
The narrow-mouthed species are somewhat specialized feeders
taking termites, ants and small flies in the wild.
Owners can provide good care for these species once the
need for small prey (relative to body size) is recognized.
Most smaller species can be fed fruit flies
and springtails. The
larger narrow-mouths take small crickets (under ¼ inch)
and other small insects.
In warm months, sweeping fields with a net collects
“meadow plankton,” a variety of small invertebrate that these
toads will relish. Another
useful prey is the larvae of rice flour beetles.
A small colony of rice flour beetles can be kept for
months, providing back-up prey for owners without fruit fly
cultures. Some owners
may impulsively buy a small amphibian requiring fruit flies;
alternatively, fruit fly cultures can die off suddenly, leaving
owners without prey.
With their diurnal habits, bright colors and
ability to thrive in well planted, naturalistic vivaria, the small
Dart and Mantilla frogs are true jewels of herpetoculture.
The New World Dart frogs (Dendrobates
spp. and Phyllobates spp.)
thrive in spacious vivaria that meet their habit needs.
These species readily eat fruit flies and other small prey
such as springtails. Newly
hatched pinhead crickets are favored prey as are rice flour beetle
When I began the study of nutritional support
in amphibians, I had no idea what to expect.
What I learned was that pet frogs and toads are among the
easier species to assist feed.
They survive and maintain or gain weight on diets designed
for carnivorous reptiles and tolerate frequent handling and
For dart frogs and mantillas, I use a
22-gauge, stainless steel, ball-tipped feeding needle.
For mid-size frogs (for example, Wood frogs, (Rana
sylvatica), and juvenile White’s tree frogs), 18-gauge
feeding needles work well. Larger
amphibians tolerate large needles as well as oral tipped feeding
Nutritional Problems for Amphibians
Underfeeding from husbandry errors
Gastric obstruction from ingestion of substrate
Metabolic bone disease from feeding unsupplemented
Obesity from overfeeding
Gastric overload from excess food intake
Vitamin A deficiency
for Frog and Toad Food
Quality pet store carry fruit fly cultures and
crickets of various sizes
For mail order sources, check out the classified ads
for feeders at www.kingsnake.com
Reputable cricket companies include Southern Cricket
and Armstrong Crickets
Specialty companies (such as www.flyculture.com)
sell starter kits for raising wingless fruit flies as well as less
common prey such as rice flour beetles.
Large mail-order stores (such as www.bigappleherp.com)
sell a variety of prey in smaller (more expensive) quantities.
Springtails and meadow plankton can be found in
forests and fields respectively.
feel free to call for an appointment at 847-329-8709.
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