Amphibians were the first life forms to successfully make a transition from a water-only creature to land and semi-aquatic life. Many varieties of amphibians walk and swim the earth today, such as frogs, toads, newts and salamanders. Many of these creatures can be kept in captive environments with ease, but it is necessary that all the appropriate habitat steps be taken.
The most basic and important detail when choosing an amphibian as a pet is understanding. Understanding a frog, toad, or other types of amphibians’ wants and needs throughout its entire life from hatching to developing into adulthood. These needs can vary depending on which animal you select. These needs and factors include: housing, caging or habitat, substrate, lighting, feeding or diet, watering and humidity, handling and taming. Without a basic understanding of your amphibian’s needs, they could struggle and in some cases cause fatalities.
In many and almost all cases, a proper habitat for some amphibians will cost more, if not doubled or even quadrupled, than the cost of the amphibian itself. All amphibians should be provided with enough room to exercise, eat, live and develop naturally. All habitats should be equipped with a locking lid or if younger children live near the enclosure a locked lid. All enclosures must be escape proof, as it’s instinctual for any kind of amphibian to escape, even through seemingly impossible small openings.
When you first select an amphibian as a pet, consider its natural climate conditions and its natural terrain. Most, if not all amphibious creatures come from wet and moist areas of the globe, due to their porous impermeable skin. Is its natural terrain something that can be replicated in a smaller habitat? Is its natural terrain something that can be obtained and can be replaced when needed? These are some questions that should also be considered when selecting an amphibian pet.
Most amphibians need to be kept in a semi-aquatic environment. This means the terrarium must be a mix of a land environment, similar to what would house a reptile and water environment, similar to a fish tank. One side should be water and the other a drier land substrate. This specific type of terrarium is mainly used for amphibians such as salamanders, newts and some types of frogs, which will spend a vast majority of their lives in water. This type of enclosure can be constructed in a few ways.
Most commonly larger stones or pebbles should be placed at the mid point of your terrarium and lined vertically from the front to back of the terrarium. These larger stones act as a boundary and separate the land mass and aquatic portions of your terrarium.
At this point you want to select which side to designate land and which side should be aquatic. After a decision is made, pebbles should be added to one side. These pebbles should be smaller in size to allow water to move freely between each stone. These pebbles also act as building blocks for your landmass.
Lay a piece of tempered glass or solid plastic on top of these rocks. This acts as a base in which dry material can be placed on top without penetrating the pebbles and getting into the main water supply.
If that option is not available, a larger drier substrate, such as coconut bark, walnut bark or hydro balls, can be placed on top of the pebbles. These are more natural and beneficial substrates because they hold and retain moisture, but are larger in size and will stop small debris and substrate from entering the water.
Next, a layer of small, water retaining substrate is to be placed on top. This substrate should be the most natural terrain in which your amphibian would encounter in the wild. The most common is moss or jungle substrate.
After the land section of the terrarium has been completed, water can now be added. A water filter should be placed under the waterline to keep the water clean as well as moving. Moving water is an important aspect of an amphibious enclosure. Without moving water, protein, nitrogen and ammonia buildups will begin forming. Keep in mind, all amphibians have very sensitive skin that is coated with a mucus membrane that protects them from infections and can be easily damaged. Over elongated periods of time, the buildup of these elements can cause physical harm to your amphibian. These ailments are in forms of physical mutations of the legs, tails, or eyes, damage to the mucus membrane, paralysis, internal and external fungal infections, respiratory infections, loss of appetite, blindness and some cases death. Filters used in fish aquariums can be used as well as specialized underwater filters.
For some amphibians, such as toads and most frogs, a temperature woodland type terrarium is needed. These types of amphibians live primarily on land and only a water source is needed to provide hydration. An enclosure created with dirt, moss and water saturated wood chips would be adequate substrate for your pet amphibian. Also, a water dish should be available at all times for drinking and soaking.
Captive amphibians also need a sense of security. This can be easily obtained and provided by rocks, shrubs, limbs, branches, live and artificial trees. These do many things for your amphibian’s well being, such as provide a retreat or resting area if your amphibian chooses. It also provides your amphibian with a more natural and secluded environment. These decorations not only provide secure locations, but provide a more ornamental and visually appealing enclosure.
Unlike reptiles, heating is not always a factor in the daily life of an amphibian. Most, if not all, amphibians live in a cool and moist environment. However, proper UVB lighting, such as a single fluorescent tube, can to be used. Larger enclosures and habitats with live plants may require specialized metal halides. Most specialized tube strip lights, which produce the proper UVB radiation, are available at PetSolutions.
One very important aspect of owning a pet amphibian is that they all need a daily misting. Aside from the amphibians that live primarily in water, hydration is key to maintaining a healthy amphibian. Always direct any spraying away from lights, which could cause them to malfunction, crack, or even shatter.
In some cases, it’s simple to throw a hand full of crickets into an enclosure and call it a meal, but that’s never true in most aspects, you must feed correctly. The food must be appropriate and contain proper nutrients including calcium and vitamin D3. A poorly fed or sickly insect offers little or no nutritional value when fed to your amphibian. You typically want to feed or “gut load” your insects before feeding them, this insures a high nutritional value and mineral enriched diet. Many commercial cricket diets or meals are now available in most pet stores and can be used as a supplement to insects just before feeding. An apple, honey or carrots can be used as a select alternative to these commercial diets, but provide little vitamins which you can only get with the commercial diets.
As all amphibians require different foods, crickets cannot always be used as a main food source. Newts and salamanders are primarily water creatures and crickets live on land, so another food source will have to be used. Freeze dried and frozen diets are also available and would be an adequate food source for these water dwelling amphibians. Frozen blood worms are a highly used and recommended food for these types of amphibians. A bloodworm is a floating mosquito larvae found along river and pond beds. They are the most natural and beneficial diet for a water dwelling amphibian. Many frozen and freeze dried varie
ties are available in pet stores.
Often, a new pet amphibian is skittish and nervous during the first few days in its new enclosure. It’s this period of time which is most important for your amphibian to adapt to its new environment. During this period, you should not handle your amphibian in any way! Handling within the first 24 hours is a mistake often made by beginning owners. After the first few days, owners should take gradual steps in handling your new pet. Precautions should always be taken when handling.
One important aspect that is often overlooked is the toxicity of these animals. This is commonly overlooked because, even though they secrete a toxin from their skin, not all are harmful to human contact. For your own safety, use latex gloves so you don’t expose yourself to any toxic chemicals that may lie on their skin. Some common species of amphibian that are toxic and sold widely as pets are fire-bellied toads, fire legged running frogs, common American mud toad, Cuban tree frogs and almost all salamanders and newts. These amphibians especially should never be housed with other amphibians.
Always make your pet feel comfortable and never restrained. When the feeling of restraint is put upon an amphibian, many react as if they are being dominated or even eaten and could lash out violently or offensively. Always approach an amphibian from the side and grasp it gently but firm enough that it cannot jump and injure itself. Being approached from above can insinuate a predator and cause your pet to run or act defensively. Always wash your hands carefully after handling or feeding to prevent spread of the salmonella virus. As a reminder, amphibians are wild animals and should be treated as so.