C. cranwelli and C. ornata
By Ren Weeks
[Pics - Lot's of 'Em - Coming Later Tonight!]
Common Name(s): Pacman Frog, Horned Frog, Argentine Horned Frog, Cranwell's Horned Frog, Cranwelli, Ornate, Ornata
Scientific Name: Ceratophrys cranwelli and Ceratophrys ornata. Note that other horned frog species do exist, but this care sheet pertains only to these species.
Description: A large, rotund frog most noted for its large, broad head, wide mouth, and fleshy protuberances over the eyes. Adult specimens may reach a snout to vent length of 4-5" in males and 5-7" in females, with some very large females reaching nearly one pound in weight. Pacman frogs have a squat, girthy body with short, stubby legs; the feet are not webbed but are instead designed with digging in mind (strong for their short length). The skin has a coarse, pebbly, toad-like texture on the dorsal surface but is smooth on the ventral surface. Coloration varies but tends to include a brown or green base with dark symmetrical mottled markings and a pale underbelly (albinos are a yellow with reddish markings). Oranta frogs tend to have more exuberant coloration and fanciful markings, whereas Cranwelli frogs typically fade to a brown color at maturity. Ornatas are best distinguished by single symmetrical dark markings behind the eyes. The sexes are similar in appearance, but may be distinguished by a few physical markers that become more prominent after sexual maturation. Males tend to have a steeply sloping muzzle, very dark spotting under the throat, and dark nuptial pads on the forelegs.
Lifespan: With proper care, lifespans average 10 years, with 20+ years recorded for well bred and cared for specimens. Many websites indicate lifespans of ~5 years, which is usually due to improper husbandry, poor breeding, or the stress experienced by wild caught individuals.
Range: South America, primarily Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.
Habitat: Leaf litter on tropical forest floors.
Diet: Insectivore/Carnivore; young frogs eat a diet of invertebrates, but mature specimens occasionally feed on vertebrates.
Reproductive Habits: Pacman frogs reach sexual maturity at around 1.5-2 years and mate readily, however captive breeding is not considered simple. In the wild, pacman frogs breed after a cool dry season, and captive breeding is thus encouraged by carefully putting the frogs through a two month period of low humidity and temperatures, then introducing to a warm, shallow water environment with simulated rain fall. Males may need to be stimulated by hearing calls of other males, or even have a second male in the breeding tank to compete with. The smaller male with mount the receptive female from behind and grip her firmly using the forelegs (which have specially designed gripping pads for mating). The female releases eggs which the male inseminates, after which the pair should be removed and more water and plants added to the breeding container for the tadpoles to hatch in. Depending on the temperature, hatching should occur in 2-4 days. See "Breeding" for specific details on captive breeding and tadpole rearing.
Conservation Status: Stable/Non-Threatened
Captive Bred/Wild Caught: Both, but increasingly captive bred.
Housing: The minimum tank or bin size for a fully grown pacman frog is 10g (or roughly 10x20 floorspace); although large, they are ambush predators, and as such are minimally active and spend much of their time in burrowed in one location. Width and length are more important than height as this is a ground dwelling species. Larger housing may be provided but is not essential. Some suggest keeping young frogs in smaller containers to ensure that food crosses their path, but this is not necessary if fed with tongs (which is recommended).
Lighting: Pacman frogs should have a 12h/12h day and night cycle. UVB lighting is not essential if the diet is supplemented with D vitamins, and is often considered to be a gratuity as the frogs spend much of their time hidden and are most active at dusk. There is some anecdotal evidence suggesting that brighter UVB lights may also cause undue stress. However, it is noted by many keepers that providing UVB does generally promote feeding response, improve color, and reduce the chance of metabolic bone disease. It is therefore still up for debate and considered a matter of personal preference. **However, UVB lighting should never be used in tanks housing albino frogs; it is damaging to their eyes and skin and may stress them to the point of death. Ambient room lighting is more than sufficient for these sensitive frogs.**
Temperature: Day time temperatures should be between 78 and 82 degrees, with roughly 80 ideal. Night temperatures may dip into the low 70's. Day time temperatures consistently below 75 may result in loss of appetite, lethargy, illness, or prolonged aestivation. Heat can be maintained by a heating pad or heat tape affixed to the side of the aquarium; bottom-placed heaters are generally recommended against although they are more efficient as this species burrows to escape heat and may be burned. Red light heating lamps or ceramic heating elements may also be utilized, but be mindful that these sources often dehydrate the substrate (and potentially the frog!) rapidly.
Humidity: Higher humidity (~75%) is preferred, but both species tolerate a range between 50-80%. What is more crucial is a constant source of clean water and consistently damp substrate. Misting with dechlorinated water is an effective way to maintain substrate humidity in most instances. Covering half of the tank with saran wrap or glass may also help, but be mindful to maintain adequate ventilation.
Substrate: At least four inches of moisture-holding fine particulate such as organic potting soil or coconut fiber is essential to permit burrowing and prevent dehydration. Avoid substrates like moss (which may result in impaction, especially in young frogs), wood chips, and gravel (which does not maintain adequate humidity and may also result in impaction). The substrate should be soaked using dechlorinated water, and the surface soil should gently turned at least weekly to prevent the proliferation of anaerobic bacteria.
Décor: Pacman frogs have a minimal need for décor, but a large, shallow water dish that can easily be entered and exited by the frog is essential. The water level should be well below the frog's nostril height (half an inch or less in depth is normally perfectly sufficient for all but the largest of frogs) and must be cleaned regularly (daily is best) and re-filled with dechlorinated water. Younger frogs may appreciate a hide made of wood, smooth plastic, or terra cotta. Live plants are usually uprooted quickly, so only very hardy deep-rooted species should be utilized if at all. Fake plants, while non-essential, can also be used, but silk is suggested over plastic as some plastics are hard and may harm the frog's delicate skin.
Diet: Pacman frogs are primarily insectivores, consuming a wide variety of invertebrates as the bulk of their diet. Mature frogs, however, will consume small vertebrates such as mammals, fish, lizards, and even other frogs and may be fed such items sparingly in captivity.
Young frogs should be fed a varied invertebrate based diet; popular staples are crickets or cockroaches. Earth worms are also considered a quality prominent nutrient source. It is healthiest, however, to supplement your staple with a wider variety of foods, such as superworms, phoenix worms, butter worms, "river shrimp" (crayfish), silkworms, horn worms, soft-bodied caterpillars, grasshoppers, dragonfly larvae, red wigglers (E. foetida), de-shelled snails, etc. Because pacman frogs accept most foods offered by tongs, you can feed pre-killed foods, which is convenient if locally available live foods lack variety. Tong feeding is generally recommended for younger frogs especially to reduce substrate consumption and impaction.
Mature frogs can have live or pre-killed vertebrates introduced to their diet, preferably fed no more than monthly. Popular live foods include pinky or fuzzy mice, anoles, tree frogs, and livebearer fish. Exceptionally large specimens may even be able to consume small chicks or finches. Larger prey should always be fed pre-killed or at least stunned and tong fed only to prevent serious bite and scratch injuries to the frog. Anoles or tree frogs should be sourced from a captive breeder; most pet stores sell wild caught specimens that often come with parasitic infestations harmful to your frog. Coldwater egg laying fish like goldfish and bullhead minnows should be avoided; in addition to having minimal nutritional quality and being loaded with protozoal parasites, these fish are rich in thiaminase, which inhibits vitamin B absorption in amphibians.
Supplimentation: Due to their exponential growth rate, pacman frogs require supplementation with vitamins and minerals. It is generally suggested to provide calcium, calcium w/D, and a multi-vitamin; HerpVite is one of the most acclaimed brands. Young frogs should have calcium and D3 supplements offered every other feeding or as often as daily if rapid growth is being observed, and vitamins weekly. Older frogs require supplementation every few feedings. Over-supplementation can be as harmful as a lack of supplementation, so be mindful to avoid dusting every meal in adults or dusting excessively at any age. Gutloading all prey items is suggested for better nutrition.
Feeding Schedule: Pacman frogs are prone to obesity in captivity, and over-feeding growing frogs results in fatty, weak adults. Opinions vary on the frequency and quantity of feeding, but a general rule of "smaller meals more frequently or larger meals less frequently" tends to work well. Young frogs do best fed small quantities of food (1-3 items) daily or every other day. Adult frogs are can be fed larger meals weekly/bi-weekly, or smaller meals more frequently. As long as a healthy body condition is maintained, feeding schedule and quantity can vary considerably.
Breeding: Disclaimer: Pacman frogs breed readily at maturity, however, breeding is risky and tadpole rearing is labor-intensive and immensely expensive. It is not something that should be done casually and is best left to qualified captive breeders of the species. If you did not source your frogs from a reputable breeder, breeding is not advised.
Pacman frog breeding demands a good deal of planing ahead. You can expect to invest nearly three months from initial conditioning to tadpole hatching. First, you must select and properly select an adult pair, or a two male to one female trio. These must be healthy, mature specimens with good conformation, and you must be absolutely certain of the gender prior to breeding! One of the few sure-fire ways to accurately sex a male is the appearance of nuptial pads on the forelegs; they will manifest as a thickened melanoid area on the inside of the forelegs and innermost fingers. Facial slope, size, and even throat spotting are not always accurate indicators. Croaking is another marker, but if you have multiple frogs, it can be tricky to determine who is making the sound. If you are having trouble sexing frogs yourself, try asking a breeder, qualified amphibian veterinarian, or educated members of a reputable web forum.
Assuming you've passed the hurdle of sexing, the next step is to condition your frogs. Feeding a high quality, varied, insect-based diet with plenty of supplementation for at least two weeks is suggested, though some argue that any frog being properly cared for should be in good enough physical condition to breed. It is advisable to at least ensure that the female receives plenty of protein in the weeks leading up to breeding, but it is not suggested to feed large amounts of fatty mammalian protein since the following "cool season" slows digestion significantly.
Regardless of if you've conditioned via feeding or not, the next step is inarguably expensive: you must re-create the cool, dry season. There is some debate as to how one should go about this, but the general consensus is that for a period of two months, the frogs must be on a substrate they can burrow deeply into, there must be lowered humidity, and temperatures should be held at roughly 70 degrees. Some sites suggest deep sphagnum moss, other suggest that this risks impaction and dehydration and thus suggest the standard coconut fiber substrate; either way, this substrate should be permitted to slowly dry over the period of two months. Water should be provided through a soaking/drinking bowl rather than misting, though it is noteworthy that the frogs typically burrow deeply and become inactive during this period, so do not be alarmed if you do not observe them drinking. Food can be offered if the frogs are active above the substrate, but may or may not be eaten. Live food should not be left in the tank as feeders may injure the less responsive frog.
After the period of dryness, the pair should be placed together in a large shallow tank of warm (standard day-time temperature of 75-80 degrees) dechlorinated water; the water should not be deeper than the jaw as these frogs can not swim, and there should be easily accessible land in the form of a gently sloping rock or log so that they may leave the water if they please. At least a few soft live or silk plants should also be available as an anchor for the eggs. Rainfall must be simulated; hand misting is generally less effective, but misting systems work well. You can also use an aquarium pump rigged to a spray bar providing the spray bar has fine holes; this method is favorable because it re-cycles the water rather than adding new (unlike misting, which may require draining excess water frequently). If you have elected to use two males for this breeding, both should be placed in the tank with the female; if you have one male, you may need to play recorded calls to encourage his competitive mating drive.
Monitor the frogs closely for fighting or cannibalism, but do so as unobtrusively as possible. Displaying is common, but biting can cause great bodily harm. If all goes well, mating and egg laying normally occurs within a few days; a lack of breeding may indicate that your frogs are not mature, were not conditioned properly, or are stressed (loud noises and bright lights sometimes trump breeding efforts). It is likely that you will not observe the mating act, but generally a release of eggs means that the female was mated. All frogs should be removed from the tank once eggs are observed, as they may eat the eggs. At this time, the water level should be increased using temperature stabilized, dechlorinated water. The "rain making" can also cease, but it would be advisable to maintain high humidity in the tank buy covering the top most of the way with saran wrap. Do not forget to tend to your bred pairs in all of the excitement of egg tending - frogs who have just been bred will need quality nutrition in the weeks following, as the hibernation and mating act is taxing.
If the eggs were successfully fertilized, tadpoles should emerge within a few days providing temperatures are adequate. From the start, they will be time consuming to care for; broods may number nearly 2,000, are highly cannibalistic, need to eat live foods several times per day, and require a rigid cleaning schedule to avoid illness. Tadpoles may be raised together in a large tank if plenty of cover and food is provided, but you can expect to lose as much as 1/4 of the tadpoles to cannibalism in the first weeks. Large tanks will also need partial water changes daily, sometimes twice daily depending on the size of the tank and brood and amount of food being offered. Individual jarring is a common practice and is recommended as the tads start to grow larger, but is also very labor, resource, and space intensive if you attempt to salvage the entire brood from the start. (Please note that once the tadpoles become little tailed froglets, you should separate them; cannibalism becomes rampant at this age and frogs may even choke to death attempting to eat a similarly sized sibling.)
Pacman tadpoles should be fed live blackworms, blood worms, or other small aquatic invertebrates during growth. Feeding should occur at least three times daily, preferably more, but tadpoles can over-eat to the point of harm; perfecting quantities is a game of trial and error. If properly fed, the tapoles should grow rapidly; two weeks after the spawn, most already have small hind legs and have grown exponentially larger. Within a month of spawning, the tadpoles will bear the appearance of tiny, tailed frogs, will need access to land, and should be separated to reduce cannibalism. By two months of age the froglets can live in soil or coconut fiber so long as they have plenty of access to a wide, shallow soaking dish, and should be feeding readily on terrestrial invertebrates such as crickets, small roaches, and small worms. For excellent photos of growth and development, please refer to (roughly) page 10 onwards of this topic at Fat Frogs Forum. Froglets, though slightly more sensitive and demanding of feeding and supplementation, have similar care needs to adults and can be kept in a similar fashion; from this point onwards, the husbandry advice noted in this sheet is applicable.
Again, I must stress that the financial, spatial, and time demands of pacman breeding are vast. Purchasing a high quality captive bred mature pair with a desirable color type may run near or over $100, and purchasing younger frogs less expensively demands the cost of rearing (not to mention the ambiguity about the gender at such an age!). Feeding the tadpoles from hatching to two months of age typically costs somewhere in the range of $500-800 depending on the size of brood - and that doesn't include the cost of feeding and supplementing growing froglets until they are sold! Conditioning and breeding tanks, grow-out tanks or cups, misting systems, etc. all cost money as well, and if you go the route of individual jarring you may need to invest in a barracks system to hold and help maintain the jars. In short, it is a major financial investment, and unless you are a well acclaimed breeder with extremely desirable stock, breaking even may be a challenge in and of itself. This is a job for a serious hobbyist, not someone looking to make a quick buck.
Health & Illness: A healthy pacman frog may not follow the typical conventions of health for other species, such as high activities levels and a fit muscular body. However, a sickly pacman frog should be easy to distinguish from a healthy one. A pacman frog in good health should have a full and somewhat hefty but not obese body with a large head, alert eyes, bright, damp skin, sturdy legs, and a voracious appetite (though note: cranwellis tend to eat less frequently than ornates and have a less marked feeding response). Healthy pacman frogs tend to stay partially burrowed with their head and eyes protruding but should not be weakly wallowing with eyes closed. The body posture should remain composed even at rest (no loosely splayed legs or a drooping jaw). Bowel movements should be firm, well formed, and free of any large debris or undigested matter.
Prolonged anorexia with loss of mass is typically the first sign of a sick pacman frog. It is common for adults to periodically go off food for two weeks (or even slightly more) at a time, but mass is typically maintained during this time. It also tends to be associated with aestivation (a hibernative period of rest during which the frog remains burrowed under the substrate). Other signs of illness include thinness or obesity, dry skin, sunken or closed eyes, drooping or malformed jaw, leg weakness or deformity, laying limply on the surface of the soil, unresponsiveness, swollen joints or limbs, redness, sores, growths - the list goes on! It is unfeasible to cover everything, but below are a few common ailments, their causes, and possible treatments.
- Red Leg Syndrome - "Red leg" is the most common ailment in pacman frogs and amphibians in general. The condition is marked by swelling and redness around the upper hind leg and urogentital area. The condition is a manifestation of a serious systemic infection (usually, but not always, bacterial in nature) and is often fatal, though treatment with broad spectrum anti-biotics may be effective if the condition is caught early on. It is strongly suggested that you take your frog to a vet to determine if the condition is bacterial, fungal, or viral in nature.
Red leg is common in frogs who are exposed to unsanitary conditions such as soiled bedding, dirty or stale water, or spoiled food left in the tank. Sometimes, feeding food contaminated by bacteria may cause red leg as well. It is best avoided by tong feeding only fresh and live foods, checking the bedding daily for feces, cleaning the water bowl every day, and stirring up the substrate a few times weekly to prevent the growth of anaerobic bacteria.
- Edema - Often referred to as Dropsy, Edema is a subcutaneous build-up of fluids resulting in frogs with a bloated appearance. It may be localized to the body or may manifest in the extremities as well. In extreme cases, the bloat will become so severe that the frog's breathing and organ function are interrupted. Normally, however, the edema is not the cause of death; the underlying condition creating the fluid retention is. Reasons for edema vary greatly but often include renal failure, bacterial infection, or lymphatic disease. In young frogs, acute disease is more apt to be the culprit. In aged frogs, organ failure is more commonly implicated.
Treatment success weighs heavily on the cause. Symptoms can be reduced through a combination of coelomocentesis (aspirating the subcutaneous tissues) and soaks in a hypertonic solution, but the dropsy will likely persist unless its root cause is addressed. With causes ranging from malnutrition to infection to organ failure, a veterinary diagnosis is vital to proper treatment, so frogs with dropsy should always be taken to a qualified exotics vet.
- Metabolic Bone Disease - MBD is a condition resulting in a wide range of symptoms depending on the severity. Early stages of MBD may include vague symptoms like limb weakness and ataxia, slow growth, and lethargy. Advanced MBD may include joint swelling, bone (esp. jaw) deformities, inability to walk, twisted spine, and death. If the MBD is secondary to hypocalcemia (insufficient calcium), symptoms like seizure or tremor. MBD is easily avoided with a varied, nutrient-dense diet and proper dusting schedule, which you can read about under "Diet."
MBD causes lasting physiological damage to the afflicted animal. There is no way to correct skeletal deformities and other complications of advanced MBD, so prevention is the best medicine. However, early cases can be improved and possibly even remedied with a proper diet, supplementation, and UVB lighting (non-albinos ONLY!). Frogs with advanced MBD may have improvements in bone density with proper diet, but severely deformed animals with a low quality of life should be euthanized.
- Impaction - Gastrointestinal blockage or impaction is common in pacman frogs and is almost always related to husbandry. Frogs with blockages will not pass feces and display a loss of appetite, distended stomach, lethargy, and in some cases a palpable mass in the abdomen. While soaks in warm water or treatment with laxatives may work for frogs who are only moderately constipated, most cases demand surgery. Frogs not treated inevitably die from the blockage, either from the build up of waste in the system or from tissue death in the digestive organs. Inappropriate substrate is the primary cause, followed shortly by dehydration; frogs should never be kept on anything but coconut fiber or soil, should be tong fed to reduce substrate ingestion, and should be kept on the higher end of their acceptable humidity range with 24 hour access to a clean water source.
Other common conditions include: internal parasites, chytridiomycosis, anal or rectal prolapse, and physical trauma from being dropped or being injured by live prey. Use this link for in depth information on disease diagnosis & treatment as well as triage care, but please consult a vet first and foremost if you suspect your frog is ill.
Other Considerations: Uh... coming soon? Sorry, this thing is freakishly long and my hands will fall off if I type another word right now.
Fat Frogs Forum
The Frog Forum
Frog Freaks Forum
Amphibian Emergency Care
Text © Ren Weeks
Images © Ed Clark
This care sheet is free for use on forums and webpages under the following conditions:
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