Imagine a frog with horns. That’s exactly what you get with horned frogs. Indeed, horned frogs are a wonder to behold and it is no doubt a unique pet animal to impress or delight with.
Horned frogs come in two main species. There is the Argentine horned frog and the Cranwells horned frog. You can find both in the wetland areas of Argentina.
Particularly, the Argentine horned frog is also widely known by their aliases – Argentine wide-mouthed frog or Pacman frog. Incidentally, they are the most common species of horned frog.
For a longtime, Argentine horned frogs were ‘home’ mostly in the rain forests of Argentina, but they have since become a common sight all over Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
One striking thing about the Argentine horned frog is that they eat anything in sight. That wide mouth of theirs never seems to tire of swallowing things. From insects, birds, lizards, and wait for this… other frogs, the horned frog just can’t have enough.
Unlike the more popular and easier to find ‘Pacman’ (got this name due to a striking resemblance to the characters in Pacman video game), Cranwells are harder to find outside Argentina.
Horned Frog Lifespan & Size
The average lifespan of horned frogs (Ceratophrys Ornata) in the wild can be anywhere from 1 – 4 years. But with proper care and attention in captivity – and as pets – they’re capable of staying on for 10 years and even more.
Horned frogs come in different shapes and sizes. The captive-bred baby Pacman is traded at about the size of a quarter. From there they can grow to adult size in about 1 – 1½ years. While female Pacmans can grow in size, reaching between 4 – 7 inches at adult stage, adult males crawl behind at a mere 2½ – 4 inches long).
Horned Frog Facts & Characteristics
Pacmans (scientific name – Ceratophrys Ornata of the class – Amphibia) are carnivorous animals. They weigh between 320 – 480g and can go as fast as 5mph. Pacmans are inactive frogs, and they usually come in green color with black or red markings – however they have several more colors up their sleeve. Pacmans have bumpy skin with a long, sticky tongue for taming their prey.
Horned frogs are relatively large and can be quite aggressive. They are rotund in shape and have a mouth as wide as their head. When under attack or if they get overly anxious, they can be seen to puff up or scream their head out. Overall, horned frogs are a popular and good choice of pets often requiring minimal care.
Pacmans do more than puff up or scream. In case you’re wondering, they have ‘teeth’ too (O yes they do), and would not hesitate to bite you with it, if you place your hand in front of them (remember, they tend to eat everything in sight).
Because their skin is very sensitive, handling should be minimal – and this recommendation is good for all classes of frogs.
You may be asking, “Are horned frogs poisonous?” Well, while they may bite hard at your finger if you ‘offer’ it to them, they are not poisonous. Unfortunately, locals kill Pacmans based on the false belief that they are.
Horned Frog Feeding
You already know Pacmans are voracious eaters. This one characteristic sets them apart from other frogs. Give them a diet consisting of crickets and roaches and they will fall in love with you. For variety, you can substitute that with warms, small mice and even fish.
How much they eat depends on their size and temperature. In fact, all that voraciousness they exhibit can be curbed if you allow them to cool down and dry out for a little while. Once they enter brumation (hibernating or inactive) phase, it is the norm for them to refuse food (can you imagine that?)
In brumation state, it’s not uncommon to interpret a horned frog’s general inaction for death. When their substrate dries off or when there’s little food to keep them busy, Pacmans encase themselves in a strong outer skin as a safety measure against drying out completely.
While there’s no hard and fast rule for feeding your Pacman, you should measure how much you feed them based on their appearance. You see, the beauty of a horned frog is in their roundness – so you want to keep them in good shape.
Hence, once you notice they’re outgrowing that natural roundness, it’s a good time to cut back on their diet. But note that Pacmans deliberately overfeed sometimes to prepare for when food is scarce. So overeating can be viewed as frog storing up food for the ‘rainy day.’ And that’s cool too.
Horned Frog Care
As mentioned earlier, caring for your beloved Pacman is not that hard a task. Because they are for the most part inactive (spending most of their days on the same spot waiting for food to arrive) they do not need an overly spacious habitat.
Compared to other amphibians, horned frogs are big animals. So for a not so big adult horned frog, a 10-gallon aquarium measuring 20 inches long, 10 inches wide and 12 inches high (50 cm by 25 cm by 30 cm) is generally a good fit.
But baby horned frogs don’t need anywhere near all of that space. In fact a 5-gallon aquarium measuring 16 inches long, 10 inches wide and 8 inches high (38 cm by 25 cm by 20 cm) is spacious enough.
You should use a screen cover to guide against objects falling into the cage or overly active Pacmans successfully executing their escape.
Burrowing is a favorite past time of horned frogs. Hence ensure the substrate you use is convenient for them to burrow in. You could use coconut husk fiber or similar soil-like substrate for best results.
Make sure the soil you use is as natural as possible, meaning no soils containing perlite, vermiculite, or fertilizers. As well, the moisture content of the substrate you use is as important. It should never completely dry out or become water-logged.
Other suitable substrate options include foam rubber or moist paper towels, only they require you to clean them up or completely replace – regularly. Leaf litter, sphagnum moss and cypress mulch are also recommended – but you should feed them from tongs or tweezers so they don’t swallow a piece of bark or moss that could lead to avoidable health issues.
Whatever substrate you settle for eventually – avoid sand, fir bark or pea gravel – like a plaque.
Embellish the horned frog’s habitat with artificial plants, chunks of curved cork back, etc. And since they prefer to burrow than hang around other kinds of hide spots, focus more of your effort on providing a burrowing-friendly living space.
Horned Frog Health
One thing to note is that bacterial and fungal infections on the skin and eyes are among the most prevalent health issues that the horned frog battles with. So once you notice any form of redness, swelling or pus – an infection is ‘in the hood.’
Also, keeping Pacman frog in habitats without enough humidity can cause a respiratory infection. This then leads to drooling, wheezing and general weakness.
Pacmans are also susceptible to parasitic infections. So, ensure tank temperatures are warm enough, and take your frog to go see an exotics vet to check for parasitic infections if you notice abnormal behaviour.
Clean your frog’s enclosure regularly too to prevent ammonia poisoning.
On a final note, when choosing your pet Pacman, go for an active, captive-bred one with clear eyes and blemish-free skin. A Pacman will probably never reject food except it is ill. So use that as a litmus test in your decision making.
Perhaps the smartest way to acquire your horned frog is through a trusted breeder who can provide a full health history on your prospective pet.