Pacman Frog

Pacman Frog

Also known as South American Horned Frog (Ceratophrys)

Caring for a Pacman Frog is easy. They are great for beginners and one of the most popular frogs kept as pets. This is mostly due to their unique appearance and eating habits, but also because they’re so easy to care for. That is exactly what this guide is for; how to care for a Pacman Frog.

Before we get into the guide, it’s important to know what a Pacman frog is and where the name came from. Well, the common-name “Pac-Man Frog” actually represents 8 different species from the Ceratophrys genus. Each species is slightly different, mostly in colors and patterns. As far as where they got the common name; they look remarkably similar to popular arcade game character Pac-Man; especially while eating. They have large a mouth and a plump, round body.

Another interesting aspect for these frogs is their color morphs. As of writing this article, I was able to find at least 18 popular color morphs ranging from a strawberry color, to red and yellow, a mint green, albino, and more.  Depending on the particular species, they can grow to nearly 8 inches in length and live up to 10 years or more.

In the Wild

Ceratophrys can be found all over South America. From Venezuela to Colombia and Peru, and the surrounding areas. They’re found in tropical and subtropical grasslands, marshes, shrublands, lowland forests, ponds, and freshwater marshes.

They’re ambush predators, spending most of their time lying and waiting for prey to pass by them. Being nocturnal, they are mostly active at night.

Pacman Cage Setup

Setting up an enclosure for a Pacman frog is fairly easy. They don’t have many requirements and don’t need a lot of space. An adult female can reach lengths nearing 8 inches which is big compared to most frogs. Even so, their enclosure can be relatively small. A 12″ x 12″ x 12″ Exo Terra or Zoo Med terrarium will work nice. Something 18″ x 18″ x 18″ works too but you really don’t need something that big. Also, if you want something really cheap, get a 10-gallon Zilla Critter Cage or something similar. Just be sure it has a screen lid.


Here are some of the supplies you need:

  1. 10-gallon Terrarium
  2. Hygrometer Thermometer (for checking humidity/temp)
  3. Coco-husk Substrate
  4. Water dish
  5. Decoration for Hiding
  6. Live or fake plants

I think that list covers just about everything you need except food. Setting up their enclosure isn’t a monumental task. They will spend most of their time below the substrate anyway; make sure their substrate is 3 – 4 inches deep at least. So long as they can burrow without hitting bottom.

Having said all this, you can get as crazy as you want. I’ve seen people build bioactive vivarium setups for their Pacman frog. It’s entirely up to you, so long as the basics are provided.

Terrestrial Frog Terrarium Setup

I created a step-by-step guide for setting up a terrarium for terrestrial species, which would work great for a Pacman Frog. Click here to learn how to set up this terrarium →

Lighting

These frogs are nocturnal, which means they’re more active at night. Not only that, it means they don’t require special lighting. They do, however, require a day and night schedule. If you’re keeping your frog in a room with little or no natural light from a window, then you need to provide lighting. A minimum of 12 hours of light each day is recommended.

Another reason you might need special lighting is if you have live plants in the terrarium. Some plants require low-powered grow lights. Do some research on each plant’s requirements to see what exactly you need. Again, Pacman frogs don’t require special lighting, it’s only for live plants or to replicate a day and night schedule.

Temperature

The recommended temperature for Pacman frogs is between 75 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit; This temperature should be held during the day but at night-time, it can fall between 65 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The best way to check the temperature is by use of a thermometer. I recommend a digital thermometer hygrometer combo for checking to both temperature and humidity.

Unfortunately, this is just shy of what most consider “room temperature”. To increase the temperature in their terrarium, you can utilize under-tank heaters or a basking lamp. Out of the two, I would encourage you to try a reptile heat mat. Now, most of these heaters are designed to slide nicely under your terrarium but don’t do that. Instead, stick the heater on the side. The reason I say this is because Pacman frogs like to burrow. While burrowing, it’s possible for them to get close enough to the heat mat to burn themselves. Since they spend most of their time burrowed into the substrate, it’s best not to disrupt this behavior.

By placing the heating pad on the side of the terrarium, you can create a nice temperature gradient from one side of the enclosure to the other. Not only that but if you add a nice pile of sphagnum moss on the side with the heater, it creates a “humid hide”.

Substrate

Pacman frogs are known for burrowing. They spend the majority of their time in the substrate, which is why it’s important to get this part right. Not only should the correct substrate be provided, it should also be slightly damp; your frog will benefit from the moisture.

Eco Earth Substrate

The most popular and common substrate used for Pacman Frogs is coco-husk fiber. Something like eco-earth or plantation soil is excellent. The substrate should be 3 – 4 inches deep.

One important part of the substrate is the moisture; it should remain moist at all times. This doesn’t mean it should be soggy. Don’t pour in a gallon of water and call it good. Coco-husk fiber is extremely good at retaining moisture but frequent mistings after the initial setup are required to keep it moist. Mist the enclosure as often as you need to keep the substrate moist, but not soggy.

Water Quality

As with all amphibians, clean water is essential. Due to their semi-permeable skin, toxins like chlorine, fluoride, chloramine, ammonia, and other chemicals will have a harmful effect on them.

Tap-water is often the easiest way to provide water. It’s okay to use tap-water, so long as you treat it with a water conditioner like ReptiSafe. These agents remove chemicals and make the water safe for frogs. Spring water is another great option but, compared to using a water conditioner, it gets expensive. Distilled water is fine for misting but should not be used as the main source of water because it lacks natural minerals.

Having said that, provide your Pacman Frog with a small, shallow water dish filled with clean water. The water should be deep enough for them to soak their skin but not so deep that they have to swim. You will need to change the water occasionally to keep it clean.

Humidity

Try to keep the humidity level somewhere between 60% – 70% as much as possible. Remember, they’re going to spend the majority of their time in the substrate; which should be moist at all times. A misting system or fogger probably isn’t needed, unless you’re going on a trip or can’t seem to keep their enclosure’s humidity high enough. You may need to cover part of their enclosure with a piece of plastic or custom-cut glass to help increase the humidity in the terrarium.

One thing I do recommend is to create a “humid hide” by placing a large clump of sphagnum moss in the side of the tank where their heater is. Doing this gives your pet frog the option to move from one spot to another, should the humidity level be too much or not enough on either side of the terrarium.

Pacman Diet

A diet consisting of a variety of insects is recommended. They are ambush predators which feed on crickets, roaches, waxworms, mealworms, and the occasional pinky mice. In captivity, it’s hard for a Pacman frog to obtain all the nutrients they need from just crickets, roaches, and worms you find at the pet store. Due to this, you should always gut-load and dust crickets with supplements before feeding them to your pet. Calcium is very important for healthy bones. I recommend dusting with a calcium supplement at least 2 – 3 times per week.

Crickets Mealworms WaxwormsPinkie Mice

Once your Pacman Frog is big enough, they can eat pinkie mice. Try not to make common-practice of this. Yes, it’s fun to watch them eat. After all, this is why they are named after Pac-Man. But pinkie mice are high in fat and should only be used occasionally.

As for the number of insects you should feed them, it depends on their size and age. I recommend watching them eat and adjusting the amount of food based on how much they consume and by their overall appearance. If they look too fat, cut back their food a little. If they’re too small, give them more food. Start by feeding them a few, appropriately sized crickets every other day. Make sure they’re getting plenty to eat but remove anything left over several hours after feeding.

Another important thing to note: These frogs can be cannibalistic. They’ve been known to eat their mates sometimes. So, this should go without saying but, keep your Pacman Frogs separated. Any prey up to half the size of your pet can easily fall victim. Sometimes they will attempt to swallow prey more than half their size, which can result in choking and death.

Reproduction

Breeding Pacman Frogs can be a tricky task considering they can be cannibalistic. There is always the danger that you might lose a pet if you’re not careful. For this reason, you should always make sure your frogs are well-fed, especially before placing them in the breeding container.

In order to get your pets to breed, you’ll need to mimic the winter and springtime weather conditions. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds but it does require time and a clever breeding tank. Most people recommend a rain chamber while others opt for using a simple storage container with a shallow water bottom. Whatever you decide, it needs to be mostly water as the goal is to replicate a heavy, springtime rain.

Sexing

Determining whether or not you have both male and female frogs is the first step. This is relatively easy to do, especially with these species. A male is smaller in size and they have a black pad on their front legs, near their pads (fingers). The pads are on the inside of their arms. Also, most males will croak or “chirp” while females usually will not. Females, on the other hand, are much larger than males. Often-times they’re twice the size, growing over 7 inches in length.

Breeding

In order to get your frogs to breed, you’ll need to ‘cycle’ them. Cycling refers to a method of replicating their natural environment during the winter and spring seasons. For 2 – 4 months you should mimic the winter months with temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A shorter length of daylight hours will prove helpful as well. Maintain these conditions for at least 60 days.

Once you’ve finished the winter months, it’s time to replicate the springtime, which is breeding season. Raise the temperature back to normal or slightly above; somewhere around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Ensure your Pacman frogs are very well fed before introducing them into the same enclosure. It’s important to pay close attention to them and make sure they don’t try to eat each another. Place them together in a container with a rain chamber or full-water bottom. The water should be very shallow, allowing them to easily walk around.

With the rise in temperature, humidity, and increased water, your frogs should begin mating within a day. It’s important to ensure your frogs aren’t at risk of drowning. Give them a small land space and add an aquatic plant if possible.

Surinam Horned Frogs Amplexus

Surinam Horned Frogs in the amplexus position.

Should you be successful, you will likely find your pets in the amplexus position (pictures above). This is where the male grasps the female from behind. The female passes eggs through her cloaca and the male fertilized the eggs outside the body. The eggs will most likely be laid around the aquatic plant.

Once the eggs have been laid, you should separate the frogs back into their terrariums and continue caring for them like normal. The eggs will hatch in about 24 – 48 hours.

Tadpoles & Froglets

At this point, you will begin caring for the tadpoles. It’s important to remember, even the Ceratophrys tadpoles are cannibalistic. This is fine, actually, unless you’re determined to raise every single tadpole. If this is your goal, you should separate them individually. If not, I recommend separating them into several large groups so they’re easier to manage. Do your best to keep the water temperature between 75 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Perform partial water changes as needed and, as always, make sure the water is clean and dechlorinated. Also, the water should be between 2 – 3 inches deep.

Feed the tadpoles a pinch of lettuce or cabbage each day. Other commercial tadpole foods will work as well. Only feed them what they will eat in 3 – 4 hours.

In roughly 30 days time, the tadpoles will metamorphose into small froglets. Once they begin developing their front legs, it’s time to add some land areas. Some keeper accomplishes this by simply tilting the container on one side, which creates a slanted land area on one side and water on the other. Either way, a nice ramp will suffice. When their tails have completely disappeared, they can be moved to a normal terrarium. At this point, you can begin feeding them appropriately sized insects like pinhead crickets, fruit flies, etc.

Handling Your Pacman Frog

Pacman Frogs will only tolerate the occasional handling. It’s best to just leave them alone as much as possible. As always, make sure you take the necessary safety precautions before holding them. Their skin is fragile. Toxins on your skin can be absorbed by your frog, which can potentially be harmful. If you need to clean their enclosure or transfer them from one container to another, that’s fine. Clean your hands and leave them slightly damp before holding your frog or, if possible, wear non-powered vinyl gloves. The main point is to make sure you don’t transfer any toxins from your hands to your frog. Be mindful of your frog’s temperament and try to avoid causing unwanted stress as much as possible.

Infographic for Pacman Frogs

Pacman Frog Infographic

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