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American Bullfrog - Rana catesbeiana

Bullfrogs are usually green to greenish-brown. Sometimes, particularly when found in the South, they are spotted. Their eyes are gold or brown and they have a broad flat head and body. They are native to the eastern United States, ranging from as far north as Nova Scotia, all the way down to central Florida. They also live as far west as Wisconsin and the Rockies and were introduced widely throughout Colorado, British Columbia, California, and other western states.

In the wild, they may be found in and around vegetation along the edge of large, slow moving, bodies of freshwater. Where they occur naturally, bullfrogs help keep down the mosquito and insect population. But in some places where they have been introduced, they eat so much that they can destroy local populations of native frog species and other small animals. Their populations can bloom out of control because they don't really have many natural predators.

Due to their size and dietary needs, I would consider this an intermediate amphibian to keep as a pet. These are not communal frogs - they are territorial and will even eat tank-mates.


Average Size  - Bullfrogs average 3 and a half to 6 inches long in body length, legs add another 7-10 inches to length.

Life Span - About 3 -5 years, however it is possible for them to make 7 years in captivity.

Diet  - Anything that fits in their mouths is fair game. They will eat small rodents (mice), insects such as crickets roaches etc, reptiles, frogs, turtles - get the picture. They will even resort to cannibalism at a moments notice.

Feeding - Bullfrogs have teeth in the roof of their mouth and a muscular tongue capable of flipping prey into their mouth. Large insects and worms should be left on the rocks. Dead mice are best offered either by hand using forceps. Feed them every other day when adults, less so if the surrounding temperature drops. Young can be fed every day. Make sure to remove all uneaten food.

Housing - A ten gallon tank is sufficient for a single frog (if keeping more frogs the tank size must increase, keeping in mind that floor space is more important than height). Bullfrogs are semi aquatic and need a land area as well as a large enough body of water that they can submerge their bodies. A half land/half water tank is a good choice for bullfrogs and these can be set up a number of ways It is easiest in the long term to separate the land and water areas with a piece of plastic or Plexiglas placed across the aquarium and sealed with aquarium grade silicone sealant. This allows the use of soil on the terrestrial side to allow the frogs to burrow. A dense piece of wood (e.g. driftwood) can be placed partly in the water and partly on land to provide an easy transition from water to land (this also provides a nice basking spot). Alternately, gravel can be sloped in the aquatic side to provide a ramp out of the water.

Substrate - a combination of soil and peat moss, covered with a commercial reptile bark substrate and sphagnum moss can be used on the terrestrial side. The depth should be at least 3-5 inches to allow burrowing. Gravel can be female bullfrog - notice the tympanic membraneused on the aquatic side. It is extremely important to use smooth gravel only (to prevent skin abrasions and injuries), and ideally the gravel should be large enough not to be swallowed.

Temperature - the tank can be kept at room temperature 68 - 80 degrees F, although a temperature drop at night is a good idea (down to about 60 F).

Lighting - No special lighting is required. You can use a UVA/UVB fluorescent light which may be beneficial. Just make sure the frog can't jump onto the lamp. Avoid making the enclosure too bright however as the frogs may just hide if the tank is very brightly lit. A light cycle of about 10 hours light to 14 hours dark is recommended by some keepers.

Water - the water used must be dechlorinated. Use a product from the pet store designed to remove chorine (and chloramine, if your water supply is treated with chloramine) to be safe. Filtration is not a necessity, but doing a 50% water change on a regular basis (at least twice weekly, perhaps more) is necessary. (In fact, some experts believe that the constant water vibrations from the filter is a sensory overload to frogs). 

Normal Behavior and Interaction -  It is generally recommended that you house these frogs alone (except for breeding) in order to avoid cannibalism. Bullfrogs are the "jumpers" of the frog group, they can easily jump 3 to 6 feet.

Bullfrogs are territorial and protect their territories by calls, displays, chases, jump attacks, and even wrestling. Male bullfrogs chorus at breeding ponds. Females also give aggressive calls and they respond to the breeding calls of the male frogs.

Determining the sex of bullfrogs - The shape of the tympanic membranes, the circles that are where the “ears” should be can help determine the sex of a bullfrog. Females and males have differently shaped ears (tympanic membranes). In males the tympanum is clearly larger than the eye, while in females it is about the same size. The males in this species also have a yellow throat, in females it is white like the belly.

Recommended Supplies:

  • Habitat with secure lid
  • Basking rock or log
  • Humidity gauge
  • Substrate/commercial mulch
  • Book about frogs
  • Canister filter
  • Fish net or scoop
  • Incandescent light or ceramic heater
  • Thermometer
  • Vitamin/mineral supplement

Habitat Maintenance Change at least 1/2 the water twice weekly. Thoroughly clean the tank at least once week: set frog aside in a secure habitat; scrub the tank and furnishings with a 3% bleach solution; rinse thoroughly with water, removing all smell of bleach; dry the tank and furnishings; and add clean substrate
Grooming and Hygiene Don't handle unless necessary; wear latex gloves; do not allow frog's skin to contact with eyes, mouth, or open wounds. Wash your hands after handling the habitat contents to help prevent Salmonella and other infectious diseases.

Signs of a Healthy Pet: 

  • Active and alert
  • Healthy skin
  • Clear eyes
  • Eats regularly
  • Clear nose and vent
  • Hopping and swimming

Common Health Issues and Red Flags:

  • Lethargy
  • Skin lesions
  • Loss of appetite
  • Distressed breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Weak leg movements
  • Bloated abdomen

If you notice any of these signs, please contact your exotic animal veterinarian.

As with all pets in this category, it is important that you find a veterinarian that practices in EXOTICS – this is critical.

The typical small animal practitioner may not have sufficient knowledge in this area. Even this guide is general in nature and should not be used to diagnose your pet.

Page Last Updated: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 21:29 EST
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