Pacman/Horned Frog Care
Pacman frog (Ceratophrys ornata), image by mikebaird
For the sake of clarity, we shall be using the common name Pacman frog which refers to Ceratophrys ornate and Ceratophrys cranwelli as well as the hybrid fantasy pacman frog which derives from breeding the two. Another common name for the pacman frog is the horned frog; if you see this name used you know it refers to the same frog. Care for all three is more or less the same, the only major differences are in size with C.ornate growing around an inch larger than C. cranwelli and C.Cranwelli preferring a slightly less humid enclosure. C.Ornate tends to be green to dark green in appearance, with random speckling of black, yellow and red. C. Cranwelli will be a very bright green in its youth but will gradually fade into yellows, beige, brown, orange and yellows as it enters adulthood.
Fat, plump, rotund and heavy set, that’s the pacman frog in a nutshell. It is literally a stomach on legs with short arms and legs, barely noticeable amidst its oversized body. It’s truly one of the more intimidating looking amphibian species and whilst not quite the size of some of the larger amphibians, it’s by no means small, with larger females topping the 6inch mark. But is that length or width!?
Pacman frogs as pets
The pacman frog has many positive attributes but it’s worth noting that it’s an ambush predator and relatively inactive, preferring to submerge and hide itself in substrate and undergrowth waiting for an unsuspecting meal to unwittingly stumble across its path, rather than actively hunting. For this reason the pacman frog is unsuitable for anyone who wants a pet they can sit and watch for hours on end. Feeding times are however a different matter, for a frog that sits still most of the day, the pacman frog can pounce with surprising dexterity and power. You should certainly make sure fingers are out of the way as a small bite will certainly hurt, they certainly won’t wait to find out if you’re finger is suitable for eating if it’s dangling right in front of that huge mouth.
It is also a rather beautiful and interesting frog, some individuals can display outstanding levels of colouration and despite being such a voracious eater, can be incredibly cute, especially as tiny babies. There’s a wide range of colours available, especially with the choice of the fantasy pacman frog, which displays a deep red, but don’t forget some of the newer morphs which are starting to appear on the market, even blue, but expect to pay a little more for these.
The pacman frog is relatively easy to care for, despite its size the enclosure doesn’t need to be too large due to its inactive lifestyle plus it can be fed a huge number of different foods, it will certainly attempt anything it can force into its huge mouth. Combined with its hardiness, the pacman frog is a great choice, especially for someone just starting out in the world of amphibians.
Pacman Frog Geographic range
The pacman frog hails from South America and ranges from Argentina, through Uruguay and up into Brazil, on the east coast of the continent. It inhabits areas dominated by rainforest and is perfectly adapted to life in the seasonal wet and dry seasons, preferring to enter aestivation during parts of the year. A process in which the pacman frog produces a layer of old skin which acts as a cocoon and seals in moisture, protecting the frog from the elements and lower humidity. A perfect evolutionary adaptation for its environment.
Pacman frog housing
The first consideration when choosing a suitable enclosure is its ability to withstand high levels of humidity. Glass is perfect but isn’t an ideal insulator, wood is better at keeping in heat but awful for humidity, it simply rots away if not sealed properly. Glass is probably the best option, supplemental heating can be simply added with the use of a heat mat.
Pacman frog by Ron Wiebe
As previously mentioned, they pacman frog is pretty inactive, preferring to ambush its meal rather than search. A good starting point would be an enclosure size of around 24 inches x 12 inches. Your pacman frog still needs some space to move around and exercise, even if it does this rarely, it’s also a good idea to make space for a large water area and an option of different hiding places should your frog decide to change its location. It may seem as if your pacman frog simply stays in the same place constantly, but it’s nice to provide the option to move around a little. You may find once your pacman frog has defecated it won’t wish to stay in the same place for much longer either. Height isn’t much of an issue as the pacman frog is terrestrial and not much of a climber, pretty obvious considering the size of its limbs compared to its body.
Decor can be fairly simple, a few cork hides and some form of background covering three sides, to ensure your pacman frog feels safe, is pretty much all you really need, plus a shallow water bowl. Live plants are optional but with a frog who loves to bury and rummage around in its substrate it’s probably best to avoid them or at the very least, plant them in their pots. Be warned however that some plants may be toxic, if you’re feeding live prey and they happen to have a munch on your lovely, attractive plants, this will also be fed to your pacman frog. What they eat, so does your frogs. It is perhaps worth considering fake plants as these won’t get damaged if they’re moved around but unfortunately don’t look nearly as good as live.
Your enclosure should be spot checked regularly as pacman frog faeces is exceptionally large, otherwise it should be cleaned out biweekly or perhaps even weekly, making sure all decor is cleaned with an amphibian safe disinfectant. Water needs to be changed daily and replaced with fresh, dechlorinated water. Either use commercially available dechlorinator or leave tap water to stand for at least 24 hours.
Pacman frog Substrate
Suitable substrate for a pacman frog needs to be able to withhold moisture and enable the frog to bury its entire body should it needs to. It also helps for it to be relatively cheap as ideally you need to change the substrate once it becomes soiled with frog waste. Coir or coconut fibre is probably the best product as it fulfils all of the above, it also helps that it’s easy to find, little chance of running out should you need to do a complete substrate change. Make sure there’s at least 5 inches or so, even though your pacman frog can bury itself in just a few inches it’s advisable to add a little more depth just in case it wants to bury itself well beneath the surface. If you like, you can start with just a few inches at the front working up to around five at the back to increase the sense of depth in your enclosure as well as making viewing easier.
Be careful if you decide to use moss, especially sphagnum, as your pacman frog may accidentally ingest it. Sphagnum moss can sometimes be as long as three or four inches, an absolute nightmare to pass. This is also why we recommend to not use substrates with large pieces such as orchid bark. As rather indiscriminate eaters, it’s easy for a few pieces to enter with their food and become lodged in their stomach or cause issues when trying to pass.
Pacman frog temperature and humidity
Due to the pacman frogs adaptability to wet and dry seasons it can tolerate a wide range of humidity fluctuations. Ideally, around 70-75% is a good target to aim for and you shouldn’t let it fluctuate too much just because pacman frogs can tolerate it, this doesn’t follow that it’s ideal. Try and keep C Ornate slightly higher.
You will need to decide whether you want your pacman frog to undergo aestivation. To do so, simply drop the humidity and temperature slightly, your frog will take care of the rest for you. Once it’s time for aestivation to end you’ll need to begin raising the temperature and humidity back to wet season levels. Under no circumstances should you disturb or attempt to feed your frog during aestivation.
Temperature should be in the region of 74-83F with a slight drop at night. A heat mat should be used with the appropriately rated thermostat to maintain a constant temperature. The mat should always be placed either on the back or side of the enclosure. Remember, the pacman frog likes to burrow so the last thing you want is to have a frog burrowing closer and closer to your heat mat and overheating. Try and place it so once end is slightly warmer than the other, your pacman frog can then regulate bodily temperature by moving to the preferred side.
Feeding pacman frogs
Without doubt the most exciting part of pacman frog ownership. There’s a reason they’re called a stomach on legs, they will eat anything you put in front of them, even if it’s too big to swallow, they’ll give it a try. Locusts and crickets make a good staple, supllemented with vitamin and calcium powders. You can also feed earthworms, wax worms, silk worms and they’ll even take baby mice. They’re not needed however for your frog to be healthy, if you do decide to feed them mice make sure it’s a maximum of once a month.
Pacman frog, image by Craig Damlo
If you’re feeling adventurous, try catching some food for them. Moths are easy to catch at night time if you know how. Simply take out a white bed sheet (ideally an old one) and hang it outside somewhere, place a large spot lamp onto the sheet and moths will be attracted to the light and cling to the sheet. You can just grab them, box them up and keep them ready for the next day’s meal!
Albino Pacman frog
Much like any commonly kept exotic pet, people have come to cultivate and breed certain desirable colour morphs. These are genetic variants which contain colour/and or pattern distortion which is aesthetically pleasing. The pacman frog morph 'scene' is still relatively new however so there are only a handful of colour morphs. Of these, the most common is the albino pacman frog, a morph characterised by a lack of melanin (darker pigmentation) in the skin. This gives albino pacman frogs an altogether different and very attractive appearance, as the image below shows:
Albino Pacman frog, image by me and the sysop
Breeding pacman frogs
Pacman frog breeding isn’t as easy as other amphibian species, given their tendency to try and consume anything that moves. You’ll need to simulate the natural weather cycle by cooling the enclosure for two months prior to breeding and encourage them into aestivation. Once aestivation is over you’ll need to simulate the rainy season by spraying your frogs heavily and increasing the humidity. A rain system would be advised however given the pacman frogs rather lacklustre swimming abilities it’s not as safe. Once your frogs have bred there’s no need to continue with the misting. Please make sure you observe your pacman frogs when they’re in the same enclosure, you do not want one frog dying from being eaten and the other dying through suffocation attempting a meal way too large!
The amount of eggs laid will be the thousands and you should provide plants for them to be laid on. Once they have been laid remove them immediately to make sure they are not consumed by the adults. Raise them separately as they too are cannibalistic. Tubiflex, black worms and chopped earthworms make a good diet, once metamorphosis has taken place, after around 4 weeks, you can change the diet to regular live food.
If you liked this care sheet, why not provide a link to us? If you'd like to do so please feel free to copy and paste the code below:
<a href="http://www.reptileexpert.org/pacman-frog-care/" title="Pacman Frog care" >Pacman Frog care sheet</a></p>