Pacman Frog Care Sheet
This Pacman frog care sheet contains the verified information from the various sources, including the author’s practice and 20+ years of experience as an aquarist and exotic pet owner. Nonetheless, it is not a complete description of all aspects of Pacman frog care, so I encourage fellow owners to make their research, it always a good idea.
I especially recommend to read a very detailed article by Sam Sundberg of The Frog Ranch, it is the most comprehensive article from the professional breeder that I ever read. Pacman frog care is not a rocket science, but some aspects are tricky.
Cell phone users and those who are in a hurry can enjoy the summary for their convenience.
The Pacman Frog scientific name is Ceratophrys, a genus that belongs to the family Ceratophryidae. There are eight species of South American horned frogs of the Ceratophrys genus. In captivity, the most popular species are Ceratophrys cranwelli (Cranwell’s horned frog), Ceratophrys ornata (Argentine horned frog) and Ceratophrys cornuta (Surinam horned frog).
The albino Pacman frog is a captive-bred hybrid between Ceratophrys cranwelli and Ceratophrys cornuta.
The common trade name “Pacman frog” stems from the well-known maze arcade game Pac-Man. The frog’s body shape is just a pretty much accurate resemblance of the game’s protagonist.
Depends on the species, South American horned frogs are known as Pacman frog, Pac-man frog, Pac man frog, Ornate horned frog, South American horned frog, Cranwell’s horned frog, Argentine horned frog, ornate Pacman frog, and Argentine wide-mouthed frog, Brazilian horned frog, Colombian horned frog, Surinam horned frog, and Stolzmann’s horned frog.
There are even more names, but these are the most common ones.
Pacman frogs are endemic to South America, and they proudly share all the amazing colors of their native grasslands and rainforests. As there are 8 species in the genus Ceratophrys, colors vary, but most of them are sharing the camouflage-alike green pattern with red, yellow, and brown colors. An albino form boasts the bright yellow-to-orange main color with a touch of green spots.
Females: 6.5″ (16.5 cm) SV, males: 4.5″ (11.5 cm) SV. With the proper care, they should reach the adult size in one to one and a half years.
6 to 7 years in the wild, 10-15 years in captivity. Some sources are reporting that South American horned frogs can live up to 15 years in captivity.
Hunting Behavior and Diet
Pacman frogs are voracious carnivores, so veganism is definitely not their cup of tea. Sit-and-wait predators, they burrow into the substrate, remaining motionless, and waiting for prey.
The Pacman frog will attack and eat anything that fits in its mouth and moves within a striking range. A natural diet includes insects, small rodents (mice, rats), and even spiders. In captivity, It all depends on the size of your frog and your ability to provide it with diverse nutrition. But it is easy to recreate their natural feeding habits.
Pacman Frog Terrarium Setup
The appropriate enclosure size for the Pacman frog is 10 gal (~37 l), at that the bottom space is more important than the height of the enclosure. Pacman frogs rarely move, but, being nocturnal, they could explore the surroundings, which is important for animal well-being.
I use an ordinary Aqueon 10 gal. glass aquarium (measures 20-1/4″ X 10-1/2″ X 12-9/16″) with a black metal terrarium mesh lid. Some sources state that small plastic enclosures can be used for juvenile Pacman frogs, but I don’t think it is convenient for both the owner and the frog, also the aesthetic of the plastic enclosure is questionable.
The most popular substrate for Pacman frogs that is readily available on the market is the coir, also called coconut fibre. I use Zoo Med Eco Earth Compressed Coconut Fiber Substrate, a 3-pack is more than enough for 10 gal. enclosure. It is cheap, hygienic, has no odor, and it is great for burrowing.
You can experiment with other substrates, but DO NOT use anything that might be ingested by your frog: gravel, wood corks, or similar substances, no matter if it is a fine or coarse fraction. The Pacman frogs are eating everything that fits their mouth, and be assured that sooner or later they will swallow the rock or a wood cork. It could lead to a serious health issue or even death (Brent R. Whitaker, Kevin M. Wright, in Mader’s Reptile and Amphibian Medicine and Surgery (Third Edition), 2019). No substrate is 100% safe, but the coconut fiber is one of the safest available options.
The bedding should be kept moist to prevent the frog from dehydration, but never make it sopping wet. The substrate layer should be thick enough to allow the frog to burrow. Always consider the substrate as one of the most important aspects of the Pacman frog care.
A 12 hour light / 12-hour dark cycle is a goal because we have to emulate the tropical day/night cycle near the equator. It could be a good idea to use the timer. Any type of the light can be used for lighting in the Pacman frog terrarium, just be careful with the incandescent bulbs as they emit enough heat to change the temperature or even burn the frog’s skin.
As for UVA/UVB light, it seems to be debatable whether it is really needed. Opinions vary, but many hobbyists agree that the UV light is not necessary for the Pacman frogs. The horned frogs are tropical rainforest bottom dwellers, and in their natural environment, they barely see the direct sunlight. Some researches believe that the horned frog’s metabolism is not tied to the UV light at all. Moreover, studies show that the UV-B light can be dangerous for the amphibians due to its harmful effects (Andrew R. Blaustein, Professor of Zoology, Oregon State University, 2004).
Currently, I do not use the additional light, because the terrarium is located near the window, and the room itself is well-lit all day long. But I consider adding the plant light with the timer to create a bio-active, planted terrarium.
Heat and Humidity
The humidity in the Pacman frog habitat should be between 60% and 80%. Some sources (like PetSmart) are indicating 50-80%, but as the Horned frogs came from the humid grasslands and rainforests of South America, they accustom to the high humidity levels. Hence, let’s assume that the 60-80% range is preferable.
For both the heat and humidity monitoring I use Zoo Med Economy Analog Dual Thermometer and Humidity Gauge, which is backed up by the Helect Non-Contact Digital Laser Infrared Thermometer. The IR thermometer is a great tool to check the temperature zones, very convenient!
The most controversial point is the Pacman frog temperature requirements: according to the various sources, it ranges from 75-85 °F (24-29 ºC) to normal room temperatures of 65 to 85 °F (18.3-29.4 °C).
As the Horned frogs are tropical animals, let’s assume that 75-85°F range is closer to their natural habitat conditions.
For heating the Pacman frog terrarium I use a combination of a side-mounted heat mat (Fluker’s 29050 Heat Mat for Reptiles and Small Animals, medium size, 11 x 11 inches, 12 Wt), and a ceramic heater at the top of the mesh lid. Both of the heaters are connected to BN-LINK Digital Heat Mat Thermostat, which is set at 82°F.
The reason why I did not put the heat mat under the tank is that it heats the substrate to 95ºF, which is way too much for the frog that loves to burrow into the substrate.
“Not all frogs are equal”, and the biggest difference is between the terrestrial and the aquatic species. Pacman frogs are terrestrial ones. Which means, they do need the water in their environment to absorb it through the skin, but they don’t swim. Moreover, they can drown as they are exceptionally bad swimmers.
The best way to supply the water is the shallow dish sunk, made of the material that can be easily cleaned. The material should not be slippery and make sure that your frog can get out of the dish easily. For juveniles, use 1/4″ (~0.6 cm) depth, and for adults, it could be around 1-1 1/4 inches (2.6 – 3.2 cm). Make sure that the dish is wide enough, as the Pacman frog’s shape is pretty much rounded.
The water dish should be cleaned and rinsed thoroughly on a regular basis, depends on how often your frog is using it. Do not use chlorinated or contaminated water, because — let me remind it again — amphibian’s skin is very sensitive. And yes, they don’t drink water.
Feeding and Handling
What Does Pacman Frog Eat?
Well, basically, they eat everything that fits their enormous mouth. The natural diet depends on the size of the frog and includes insects, small mammals, fish, small reptiles, and even other frogs. Yes, they are cannibalistic, and they should be housed alone.
In captivity, the menu depends on the age of the frog. Gut-loaded crickets, pinkie mice, mealworms, roaches, and waxworms are the most common choices for the small frogs. For fully grown adults, a medium thawed mouse can be offered every three weeks. Professional breeders (more on that here) suggests using a thawed mouse instead of a live one because the live mouse can bite the frog. But many owners feed live mice, and Youtube is full of videos about that quite entertaining process.
Supplements for Pacman Frog
The supplements are playing an important role. Each animal needs a diverse, rich diet, period. But even with the best possible diet, the owner should use supplements to ensure that the frog is getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Yes, the amphibian’s metabolism is slower than the metabolism in mammals, but these frogs are growing fast. They need calcium for the enlarging bone structures and the vitamins for the proper development.
I use Rep-Cal SRP00200 Phosphorous-Free Calcium Ultrafine Powder Reptile/Amphibian Supplement with Vitamin D3. It is reasonably priced and the package lasts very long. Professional breeders also recommend Miner-All Calcium/Mineral Supplement, and many other options are readily available on the market.
Keep in mind that the gut-loaded insects are better than just dusted by the supplements. I feed the crickets with Fluker’s 71300 Orange Cube Complete Cricket Diet, as it contains food, vitamins and water in one diet.
If you decided to dust the feeder insects just before the feeding, be wise and do not overdose the supplement.
Frogs and toads are highly visual predators. Their vision is movement-based, which means that they recognize the prey only if it moves. Therefore, if the prey doesn’t move, Pacman frog won’t eat it. While it is not a problem with crickets, worms and other live food that moves actively, you will have to use tongs to “animate” a frozen mouse or a pinkie to provoke a frog’s attack on it.
Another safety precaution measure is that you should never use wild-caught live food. It can be contaminated with insecticides, pesticides, heavy metals, and hell knows what else.
The size of the prey should not exceed 50% of the frog’s body volume. Remember, they don’t think about their ability to eat, so they can just chock and eventually die of the over-sized prey.
And yes, handle them with care or, even better, do not handle or pet them at all. Amphibians are tolerated to it, but they do not like it as it is unnatural for their species. Mammals, birds, and some reptiles are socializing by touching or grooming each other, but amphibians are loners and it is stressful for them.
Health and Deseases
The Most Common Issues
Yes, your frog might need to be seen by a veterinarian from time to time. The most common Pacman frog health issues are the following:
- bacterial and fungal infections (also called “red legs”),
- water edema syndrome,
- toxic out syndrome,
- metabolic bone disease,
The obesity is easily preventable by maintaining the feeding regimen, and it is not a problem to prevent your frog from an impaction by using the appropriate substrate. Using the calcium and vitamin D supplements is necessary to prevent metabolic bone disease.
The rest of the list is a little bit harder to diagnose and prevent. While an owner can recognize the redness on the legs as a sign of the infection, sometimes the disease is not so obvious.
If your frog does not eat and its behavior is changed, the very first step is to make sure that all the parameters (humidity, temperature, light, water) are in range. Both the water in the dish and the substrate are supposed to be changed on a regular basis.
Frogs absorb water through their skin, and if the water (or a substrate) is contaminated, it will affect the frog’s health dramatically. Those who are familiar with the aquariums and their water parameters would remember the ammonia testing. So yes, the amphibians are vulnerable to ammonia poisoning, too.
If everything looks good, but it does not eat for a week (for juvenile frogs) or more, the best way is to ask for professional medical advice. Keep in mind that it is not so easy to find a good veterinarian who is qualified to deal with the amphibians, so prepare your list of the available veterinarians in your area in advance.
There is a very useful article on Pacman frog diseases called “Common Illnesses in Pac Man Frogs“, written by Whitney at pethelpful.com. That is definitely worth reading for any Pacman frog owner.
If you like the amphibians and think you will enjoy watching a motionless, angry-looking (when visible) frog, then go for it. Buy a Pacman frog.
Despite the length of that Pacman frog care sheet, this frog is one of the easiest small animals to care for. My decades-long experience with the various pets, ranging from newts to dogs, cats, and of course fishes, confirms that too.
As the biology itself, and the applied biology, in particular, are fast-evolving sciences, our knowledge is constantly expanding as well. If you have found something incorrect in that care sheet, or just want to add something from your own experience, please share your opinion in the comment section below, or contact the author directly.
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