'Pac-Mans' make interesting pets, with proper care

Posted: Sunday, June 15, 2003

Far from being warm and fuzzy, frogs are considered a favorite among exotic pet owners, and the horned frog is a popular pet for many amphibian enthusiasts.

Horned frogs are from South America, where they are known as "escuerzos" and have generated many tales of frog folklore among the Native people, most of which involve fear and superstition.

These tales can possibly be attributed to the short temper and insatiable appetite of these rotund amphibians.

Often called the "Pac-man" frog because of its voracious appetite, it is not uncommon for horned frogs to try and eat prey as big or bigger than they are.

They also are one of the few frog species that will attack and bite when they feel threatened. Since horned frogs are almost all mouth, have jaws like a vice and have numerous "teeth-like" studs, their bite is a formidable defense weapon.

In captivity, these frogs settle down quickly and rarely attempt to bite the hand that feeds them, unless they mistake it for their usual prey of insects and mice.

There is significant variation among the color and marking patterns of horned frogs. Most are a shade of lime green. Some are very dark brown to an almost black shade. Others are a rusty-orange to a mostly cream color. There are albino specimens as well.

There also is a degree of variation to the fleshy projections or "horns" above the eyes of this frog. Some horns are nothing more than a slightly raised nub, while other specimens have prominent peaks above each eye.

Their care in captivity is not difficult compared to some other amphibian species. Frogs can be maintained in a glass or plastic aquarium or sweater box.

High water quality is critical to horned frogs, as it would be for any species of frog since they absorb water, "drink," through their skin.

The tricky part is that the frogs urinate and defecate in the same water they drink from, so frequent water changes are essential to maintaining a healthy pet.

Tap water is generally not advised for frogs, since it usually contains chlorine and can burn or kill them. Bottled water is preferred, but never use distilled or purified water.

Frogs should be able to safely climb in and out of their water source. If the sides of the water bowl are to high, they may not be able to get in, or if they do get in, they may become trapped there. If it's too deep, they may drown.

Substrate can consist of sphagnum moss or soil. Whatever substrate is chosen, make sure it, like the water, is frequently changed since it will absorb urine and bacteria that can be harmful.

Gravel should be avoided because small amounts can accidentally be consumed and lead to a blockage in the frog's digestive system, eventually resulting in death.

One final note to remember is to house these frogs individually and not in groups. They are a sit-and-wait predator, which means they will hide or lie still until something moves in front of them, at which point they will pounce. Frogs kept together will often fall victim to cannibalism from a cage mate.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conser-vation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at clarion@alaska.net.

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