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Horned Frogs (Ceratophrys cranwelli and C. ornata )

Albino Cranwell's Horned Frog

Introduction: Horned frogs, also known as pacman frogs, are common in the pet trade. The two species that are regularly available are the ornate (also known as Bell's or Argentine) horned frog (Ceratophrys ornata) and Cranwell's horned frog (C. cranwelli). Horned frogs are named so because some species, such as the Suriname horned frog (C. cornuta), have large fleshy points above their eyes that resemble small horns. The ornate and Cranwell's horned frogs have virtually no "horns". Both species grow large, up to 5 inches (13 cm), with females being larger than males. Ornate horned frogs are usually marked in bright grass green, brownish red, and yellow blotches and spots. Cranwell's horned frogs are less colorful, usually covered in different shades of brown markings. Green and brown as well as albino Cranwell’s horned frogs are also available. Hybrids between C. cranwelli and C. cornuta are also available and are commonly sold as fantasy horned frogs.

Cage: Horned frogs are large amphibians. They are not very active though, and spend most of their time sitting in one spot waiting for food. For a small adult horned frog, a standard 10 gallon aquarium that measures 20 inches long by 10 inches wide by 12 inches high (50 cm by 25 cm by 30 cm) is a suitable size enclosure. Juvenile horned frogs do not need as much space, and a 5 gallon aquarium that measures 16 inches long by 8 inches high by 10 inches wide (38 cm by 20 cm by 25 cm) is suitable while they mature. A screen cover is recommended to prevent things from falling in the cage, and the occasionally active horned frog from attempting to escape.

Provide a substrate that is easy for horned frogs to burrow in. Coconut husk fiber (bed-a-beast, eco earth, forest bed, etc.) or other safe soil is a good option. Soil generally holds moisture well, allows horned frogs to dig, and looks natural. Do not use soil that contains vermiculite, perlite, fertilizers, or other unsafe ingredients. The mositure content of the soil is important, and it should never become waterlogged or completely dry. Moist paper towels or foam rubber can be used instead of soil, but must be replaced or washed frequently. Cypress mulch, sphagnum moss, and leaf litter are other suitable substrate options, although it’s recommended that frogs kept on these substrates be fed from tweezers or tongs to prevent them from swallowing a piece of bark or moss that could cause problems. Do not use gravel, sand, or fir bark.

Furnish the enclosure with fake plants, pieces of curved cork bark, and driftwood if desired. Hide spots aren’t needed if there is a deep substrate in which the frog can burrow. Live plants rarely last long in a cage with a horned frog because they generally get uprooted when the frog searches for a new place to sit and wait for food.

Water: A large but shallow water bowl should be available at all times. Many horned frogs end up using this as a toilet as well as a place to hydrate, so the water should be replaced regularly. Horned frogs are not very good at swimming so the water dish should be no deeper than the frog itself. If tap water is used, it should be treated with tap water conditioner to remove chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals. Bottled spring water can be used instead of tap water.

Temperature and Humidity: Horned frogs are tolerant of a large range of temperatures, but should be kept between 75°F (24°C) and 84°F (29°C) most of the time. At night the temperature can be reduced. In the wild, they experience contrasting wet and dry seasons and because of this, are not as sensitive to humidity levels as many other commonly kept amphibians. Some keepers choose to put adult horned frogs through a period of aestivation where temperatures and humidity are reduced and feeding is stopped altogether. During this period, horned frogs are dormant and rely on stored fat deposits and a slowed metabolism in order to survive. Because of their ability to aestivate for months at a time when exposed to abnormally dry and cool conditions, they are very hardy as far as temperature and humidity are concerned which is one of the reasons they make good captives. A low wattage infra-red light bulb can be used to heat the cage. Alternatively, heat pads can be attached to the side of their cage. Hot rocks and other unsafe heating devices should be avoided.

Food: The most enjoyable quality of horned frogs is their tremendous appetite. They are ambush predators and remain motionless until potential food comes nearby, at which time they lunge from their small hole in the ground and eat or attempt to eat whatever it is that’s in front of them. Juvenile frogs should be offered crickets, earth worms, silk worms, and occasional wax worms. A feeding schedule of two to six food items two or three times a week works well for growing juveniles. Adult horned frogs have very large mouths and can be fed a diet that consists of night crawlers, roaches, superworms, and silkworms. They can be fed as infrequently as once every week or every other week in large quantities, and during aestivation can go without food for over four months if fed heavily beforehand. Vertebrates, such as pre-killed rodents and feeder fish, can be fed occasionally to both juveniles and adults but should not make up a large portion of the diet. Feeder goldfish should be avoided because they are high in fat, and it’s best if mice are fed no more than once a month. Adult frogs should have their food coated in high quality reptile vitamin and mineral supplements once every two to four feedings. Juvenile’s should have their food supplemented more frequently, as often as every feeding

Last updated 06.05.05

Online Resources
Choosing A Horned Frog
Horned Frog Care Sheet by
Horned Frog Care Sheet by Frogland
Horned Frog Care Sheet by Melissa Kaplan