In this guide, I’m going to show you the basics of setting up a terrarium for terrestrial frogs. When I mention ‘terrestrial’ I’m referring to species most suited for walking on land. Most ‘true toads’ (species in the Bufonidae family) fall into this category but there are some frogs suitable for this type of enclosure too.
The types of Anura (frog and toad) going into an enclosure like this are often the types that don’t climb, jump very high, or require as much water as other frogs.
Keep in mind, this is a guide for setting up a basic terrestrial frog enclosure; it’s not meant for one specific kind of frog because each species has its own needs. For example, American toads, Pacman Frogs, or Tomato Frogs would fit nicely into the example below, but if you were creating an enclosure for an Asian horned frog, you might want to alter this build by including a drainage layer and adding more leaf litter.
The point being, use this guide as an example. Read complete care guides to find out more about the species you want to keep as a pet, then alter the enclosure to suit their needs.
Basic Tank Setup for Terrestrial Frogs and Toads
In this build, I used this Exo Terra terrarium, but you can use an ‘aquarium’ or breeder tank. It’s hard to say which is better and what size you need. It all comes down to the species and how many you’re keeping.
As a general rule, most keepers recommend at least 10-gallons per frog. This means, if you want to keep 3 frogs in one enclosure, you’ll need a 30-gallon tank. I tend to agree with this rule. While you can offer a smaller enclosure for small species like Red Belly Toads, something larger is needed for Pixie Frogs. To risk sounding like a broken record, the size depends on the species. Anyway, without further delay, here is how to setup up a cage for terrestrial frogs and toads.
|Exo Terra Terrarium 24x18x18 (large)
Great for housing 3 – 4 frogs. It has a front-opening door, vents, and screen lid.
|Exo Terra Outback Terrarium 24x18x12 (large)
Great for 3 – 4 frogs. It’s the same as the terrarium listed above except its only 12″ in height.
|Zilla Critter Cage (15-gallon)
This is a smaller tank you can keep 1 – 2 frogs in. It comes with a screen lid.
Step 1: Choosing Your Enclosure
Choosing your cage is the first step. A standard glass tank (often referred to as an ‘aquarium’) is practical and cost-effective. The difference between an aquarium and a terrarium is its contents. A glass tank containing water is called an aquarium while the same glass tank containing substrate, plants & decorations is called a terrarium. Now that we’re on the same page, I’ll show you two really good terrariums for toad cages.
Nice and affordable, the Zilla Critter Cage is a great option. They come in 10-gallon and 15-gallon and they all come with a screen lid. They’re not huge but it’s enough room for at least one moderately sized toad. If this is the one you choose, I suggest the 15-gallon Critter Cage.
If you want to step-it-up a notch, my recommendation is an Exo Terra terrarium. Designed specifically for reptiles and amphibians, these terrariums have front opening doors which give you access to the inside. Below the doors are air vents that allow fresh air circulation. They come with locking screen lids that have special holes designed for running cords or hoses out the top. Most of them come with foam backgrounds which look great and conceal cords and hoses as well. These are my personal favorites; I recommend a 24″ x 18″ x 18″ Exo Terra.
Step 2: Clean The Terrarium
Once you’ve purchased and unwrapped your frog’s new enclosure, it’s a good idea to clean it first. Use distilled water and paper towels. Be careful not to use cleaning products with chemicals, as they can be harmful to amphibians. Our only object is to remove dust that may have accumulated on the glass before you purchased it.
Also, it’s a good idea to place your terrarium where you want to keep it. It will become very heavy after everything else is added.
Step 3: Add the Substrate
For most setups, the next step is to add the substrate to the terrarium. Things like eco earth and plantation soil, which are coco-husk fiber substrates, are great for most amphibians. Mixtures of soil, vermiculite, and sphagnum moss work well too.
Substrate tips for Toad habitats:
- Use a loose substrate like coco-husk fiber (eco earth, Exo Terra plantation soil)
- Use sturdy decorations so the toad doesn’t knock them over
- Sturdy, living plants should be placed out of the way
- If you use live plants, consider using an ABG mix and adding a grow light
For more information on this topic, see the substrate guide.
Many frogs like to burrow. As such, the substrate should be 2 – 4 inches deep, depending on the size of your pet.
About drainage layers
If the frog you’re keeping requires high humidity, I suggest adding a drainage layer before adding your substrate. When a lot of water is involved, it’s a good idea to ensure water drains properly to keep the substrate from becoming soggy. Again, this does not apply for most setups. If you’re sure you don’t need a drainage layer, you can skip the rest of this step and go to step 4.
To set up a drainage layer, fill the bottom of the cage with Hydroballs or use a Matala filter. I cannot stress how much more I like using Matala than Hydroballs. I’ve used Hydroballs before and they work great, I just happen to prefer Matala filters.
You have to cut it to fit the size of your terrarium but it’s the best material for supporting your substrate while allowing water to collect underneath it. After adding the bottom layer, the next layer is a substrate barrier; a piece of mesh material which allows water to pass through, but keeps your substrate above the bottom layer.
Once you have your drainage layer and mesh barrier in place, you can add the substrate. Again, needing a drainage layer for a terrestrial species is rare. It’s only a recommendation if the frog you’re keeping requires super high humidity and your substrate is at risk of becoming soggy.
Step 4: Create ‘Hides’
The next step is to create hiding places. This can be accomplished by using hollow logs like the one in the picture above. Cork bark flats and branches are other popular items used for creating hides.
When I set up this terrarium (the one in the pictures), I wasn’t making it for a specific species. In fact, I made this with just a few items I had left over; to give you an example for building your cage. If I were to create an enclosure for a toad, I would make at least 2 hides. One of which would be a ‘humid hide’ using sphagnum moss.
Step 5: Add the Water Dish
A small or medium water dish is all that’s required in most cases. The one I used was way too big but its all I had at the moment. If you have an x-large water dish, it will work but something smaller is usually better.
The important part is the depth of the water. The main goal is to allow your frog to soak their skin as they see fit; they shouldn’t have to go swimming in order to do this. In short, keep the water shallow, regardless of the size of their water dish.
Most important, a water dish for a large terrestrial toad or frog habitat should be sturdy. It needs to be secure in place; don’t allow simply sit it in the enclosure and move on to the next step. Be sure its firm in position. Add some substrate around it. Purchase (or make) a water dish which is heavy.
Step 6: Add Plants & Decorations
In this build, I’ve added golden pothos plants and some leaf litter. If you decide to use real plants, prepare in advance by purchasing a low powered LED grow light. Also, give the plants several weeks to establish.
Alternatively, you can leave the plants inside their containers. Just be sure to replace their potting soil and rinse the plants first. I recommend doing this to remove any unwelcomed chemicals. Because toads like to burrow, it’s important to protect the roots of live plants by leaving them in containers or placing them where your pet is least likely to burrow.
Fake plants and other decoration are great. Examine the decorations to ensure they don’t have sharp edges or anything that could be harmful. Also, don’t overdo it. Leave enough open soil for burrowing.
Leaf litter is rarely a requirement but it’s always a welcomed addition to any terrarium. Leaves create additional hiding opportunities which help your toad feel safe. Oak and Magnolia leaves are among the most popular choices due to their size and how slowly they break down.
Sphagnum moss. I recommend getting a small pack of sphagnum moss and placing it on top of the substrate in one of the corners. Sphagnum moss is great for retaining moisture. It’s also a great hiding place.
Step 7: Mist The Enclosure
After everything is set up, give the enclosure a thorough misting. This helps the substrate to soak up some water and increases the humidity within the cage.
Introducing Your Frog to Its New Home
All that’s left now is to introduce your frog to their new enclosure. I recommend being as gentle and patient as possible. In most cases, your pet will be in a small, plastic container. Set the container inside the terrarium and remove the lid, allowing them to venture into their habitat on their own. As soon as you notice your frog is no longer in the plastic container, you can remove it from the cage.
I hope you found this guide useful! If you enjoyed it, or know someone who will, please consider sharing this post with family and friends. Thanks!