The ornate horned frog (Ceratophrys ornata) is one of several species
of horned frogs native to the tropical and montane rain forests; a few
species of Ceratophrys can be found in more arid regions. Native
to Northern Argentina, Uruguay and the Rio Grande do Sul region of Brazil,
these carnivorous amphibians become very large. Their current popular
name of "Pac-man Frog" eloquently describes their appearance
when they lunge at prey: they appear to be all mouth. These frogs have
exceptionally fast growth rates: within two weeks of hatching they have
metamorphosed into their adult frog form. They then continue their rapid
growth rate: often sold when they are about the size of a silver dollar,
cornets will reach 6 inches within five months. Their upper eyelid is
pulled up into a little point over the eye, thus giving rise to its name.
Ornates have round,
plump body shapes with little demarcation between their wide head and
body. Their mouths are as wide as their heads and are equipped with strong
gripping jaws and a wide, pink fleshy tongue. Although it may be difficult
to believe, their warty green, white and yellow skin, touched with red
and black, effectively camouflage the ornate as it lies half buried in
the leaf litter on the forest floor, waiting for prey to walk by. As soon
as something comes into reach - another frog, lizard, snake, rodent, bird
or large insects - the ornate moves its body slightly forward by pushing
with its thin, short legs, grabbing and killing its prey. It takes only
a gulp or two to swallow the prey whole.
Ornates are usually
diurnal frogs; some may be crepuscular. Like all frogs, they sleep with
their eyes open. Frogs are not animals that can be handled. Their skin
is very sensitive, acting as a supplemental breathing organ. The oils
found naturally on human hands can in fact be harmful to frog skin. Ornates
are not particularly discriminating about what they attempt to eat - your
fingers look much like naked baby rodents and birds, too tempting to resist.
At least one book on amphibians states that ornates are "vicious
and aggressive;" in fact, they are always interested in food, and
will go for whatever comes within an inch or two of their faces. A natural
human reaction upon being grabbed by an animal is to pull quickly away.
When an ornate happens to be attached to your thumb, it is too easy to
send it flying across the room. As frogs aren't meant to fly, this is
not usually good for the frog. If you do get nabbed, stop your jerking
reaction. The ornate have no teeth to speak of, and will spit out unappetizing
food items; it will generally let go in a second or so.
Choosing a Frog
Look for an alert frog with clear skin. Skin that looks clouded may be
a sign of a sick animal; it may also be a sign of natural skin shedding
(frogs periodically shed and eat their skin). Look at the environment
in which it is being kept. Many pet stores keep their ornates in an completely
aquatic tank - just water and gravel. If this is the case, the water must
be clean - no debris or feces floating around. When approached, or when
a hand is passed in front of or over the top of the tank, a healthy frog
reaction is the rapid movement of the sac under the bottom jaw; you may
also hear a mild vocalization (kind of like a cow mooing, but shorter
in duration). An apathetic frog is probably a sick frog.
Unless you have several spare tanks around, start off with the size tank
you will need when your ornate is full grown - about a 10 gallon tank.
It doesn't have to have a cover as ornates are not jumping frogs - they
will not be able to escape. However, you do have to keep them warm, and
heat will escape more easily from an uncovered tank.
Keeping more than one
ornate in a tank is risky, especially if they are of different sizes:
the bigger one may well eat the smaller. They do need to be together to
breed, however, and can be bred during periods higher temperatures and
a simulated "wet season."
Avoid stress; if you
have to move your frog (transfer to a bigger tank, remove from water bowl
to clean), be gentle and quick: frogs stress easily and need time to recover.
Set up a vivarium -
an aquatic/terrestrial tank. In the wild, ornates spend their time on
the forest floor, but the rain forest floor is very damp and the air very
humid. In our temperate zone, it is more difficult to keep the humidity
up, so your frog will spend much of its time in a shallow bowl of water
- a glazed saucer that fits under a flower pot makes a nice pool. If you
are starting out with a small frog and a large saucer, securely fit a
pile of smooth stones together to make a ramp for the frog to get into
the saucer from the dry part of the tank. Put aquarium gravel in the saucer
to raise the bottom level, making it easier for the frog to get out. As
the frog grows, you can do away with the gravel and stones (or keep them
to decorate the tank).
The rest of the tank should be set up for easy cleaning; your frog will
come out of its pool for a day or so when it needs to defecate. The tank
can be lined with paper towels or Astroturf, and furnished with clumps
of sphagnum moss and artificial or live plants. The moss and plants can
be sprayed daily with water which will help humidify the tank. You will
have to refill the water in the saucer every day, more often in warmer
weather. Artificial plants can be washed, and the moss replaced as necessary.
In the wild, ornates bury themselves in the leaf litter; in captivity,
we have to provide them with something they can hide under. You will also
find that they will manage to half bury themselves under the clumps of
moss and sprigs of artificial plants when they are out of the water. Place
live or artificial plants so that they overhang the water saucer; this
will increase the frog's sense of security and reduce stress.
Heat and Lighting
Ornates are tropical animals, and need a warm environment. Place a heating
pad under the tank, and leave it on 24 hours a day. During the daytime,
use an ultraviolet-B producing fluorescent over the tank. During the colder
months, you will need to supplement the heat by using a red incandescent
bulb during the night and, if necessary, during very cold days. The tank
air temperature should be kept around 81 F. Buy an aquarium thermometer
and stick it to the outside of the outside of the tank about 1" above
the bottom of the tank. The saucer of water should be placed in the warmest
part of the tank, as this is where your frog will spend most of its time.
Feeding Your Ornate
Start small ornates on crickets, putting 4-6 in the tank each day. When
feeding out crickets, you must provide something for the crickets to eat
if they themselves do not get eaten right away - crickets are known to
snack on their predators if no other food is around. Put some oat bran
mixed with reptile vitamin powder (such as Reptical) in a small jar lid;
place this inside the frog tank. Some crickets are able to get under the
substrate and hide there; take an occasional look, and clean out the dead
crickets and cricket parts. As your frog grows, you can begin feeding
mouse pinks, then mouse fuzzies, moving on up to small, then medium-sized,
adult mice or rat pinkies. Buy your rodent prey at a pet store - do not
feed out wild-caught rodents. Use a forceps or tongs to hold the rodent.
When they move, ornates are very fast, and you may find your finger included
as part of its lunch!
Keeping and Feeding
Crickets should be nutrient loaded before they are fed out to any insect-eating
amphibian and reptile. Food such as poultry mash, iguana vegetable and
fruit salad, tropical fish flakes, dog chow or flaked high protein baby
cereal are suitable base foods. Mix your choice of food with reptile vitamin
powder and offer this mixture in a large jar lid. A piece of pulpy fruit
or vegetable (apple, potato, pear, squash) should also be offered to provide
water. As the fruit rots, it will draw a crowd of fruit flies; these will
pretty much stay where the fruit is, although some will venture out. An
alternative to fruit is to cut a piece of new sponge to fit inside a small
animal feeding bowl or custard-size cup. Soak the sponge with water and
place it inside the tank with the crickets; they will crawl up on the
sponge and extract the water from it. Always keep something in the water
bowl. Crickets will drown themselves in a bowl of water if there is no
sponge or rocks on which they can climb on to hop out of the bowl. If
you use a sponge, remember to keep it soaked with water.
Periodically during the year, your frog may go into a period of partial
hibernation. During this period they will neither eat nor drink. They
will not stay in their water bowl but instead bury themselves as much
as possible beneath the foliage and substrate. Instead of shedding their
skin, they retain it. It will harden up, giving your frog the appearance
of being encased in plastic. Between this protective skin layer and the
frog will be a thin layer of moisture; your frog will actually be taking
in oxygen through his skin rather than breathing through its plugged nostrils.
Do not disturb your frog when it is in this state. Estivation is done
when the temperature becomes too hot or too cold for the animal's comfort.
With ornates, it also happens for reasons we don't know about! Just keep
the frog covered with his plant materials, keep fresh water in its bowl,
and, as long as it is not losing any body mass, be patient. Eventually,
when the ornate feels it is time, it will begin softening and shedding
it protective covering, hop into its water, and be ready for a meal.
Amphibians should be handled as little as possible as the secretions from
our skin are harmful to them.
While many human and
veterinary drugs and topical solutions are safe for use with reptiles
and amphibians, amphibians do present a problem due to their extremely
sensitive, permeable skin. Be sure to rinse out tanks and furnishings
completely before replacing the amphibians. Do not use disinfectants or
cleaners that may be toxic or are known to be toxic to other animals.
Betadine (povidone-iodine) and hydrogen peroxide, which are frequently
used on reptiles, are toxic to amphibians and must not be used on them.
Instead, when the need for a topical antiseptic arises, use Bactine®,
a liquid antiseptic for people.
The General Care and
Maintenance of Horned Frogs, Philippe de Vosjoli (1990). Lakeside CA:
Advanced Vivarium Systems.
Keeping and Breeding
Amphibians, by Chris Mattison (1992). NY: Sterling Publishing Inc.
I am by no means an expert on amphibians. Compared to many people out
there, I'm barely knowledgeable about their biology, natural history and
captive care. So, please do your amphibs a favor and post your questions
to the Amphibian forum at Kingsnake.com,
or the many amphibian email lists available on the net.