Ceratophrys sp. / Horned Pacmanfrog - Care

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Specification Description
Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Suborder: Neobatrachia
Family: Ceratophryidae
Dutch name: Hoornkikker / Pacmankikker
English name: Horned frog / Pacmanfrog
Dieet: Carnivorous
Average length: 8-16cm
Distribution: South America
Lifestyle: Terrestrial
Reproduction: oviparous / egglaying
Status: Declining

Horned frogs, better known as the Pacman frogs are extremely popular and with good reason. These frogs don’t do much but the care is relatively easy, their appearance is remarkable and the food response is very amusing. Many enthusiasts have had at least once in their hobby 'career' the famous pacman frog in their collection. For the beginner this frog is a good choice because they feed easily, tolerate a wide range of temperatures and can even be kept temporarily drier.


Species:  First, the word 'pacman' or horned frog is a collective term for different species of the Genus Ceratophrys which consists of eight recognized species. Of these species the C. ornata and C. cranwelli are by far the most kept and bred and that is why this article is about these two species. These species can certainly look very similar.

In addition to these two species, the C. cornuta, C. aurita and sometimes C. stolzmanii are also kept in captivity and bred. All species are quite variable in drawing, and cornuta has clearly higher horns above his eyes. C. stolzmanii remains the smallest of these species. You can read more about this species in our #terrarium library.


General appearance:  Pacman frogs are inactive, large frogs with relatively short legs and a wide mouth. This large mouth allows them to eat large prey. If needed they use their front legs to push the prey in and their bite is strong. After some research of this species one will soon be confronted with photos of pacman frogs dangling at the finger of their caretaker.

The C. ornata and C. cranwelli look very similar to each other, both young and adult. In addition it does not help that these species are sometimes crossed to obtain more different color variants. Both species can have a deep green to brown color and everything in between. The pattern consists of a series of dark brown lines and (drop-shaped) spots. In a general sense, the C. cranwelli has a pattern that consists of more larger and erupted spots and the C. ornata a more exuberant pattern, which as a young sometimes is more distinctly separated from the basic color and consists of more smaller spots. As the animals get older, the contrast decreases and even green animals can lose their color and turn brown. Both types have horns on their eyes. With the cranwelli these appear slightly less prominent and unequal where ornata has a clear point above each eye. This point is by far not as evident as with the C. cornuta, which is easily distinguishable from the mentioned species. The belly is light to white in color, on the C. ornata more often a clear pattern of irregular dark spots can be seen, especially on the underside of the chin. C. ornata is, with a maximum of 16.5 cm for females and 11 cm for males, larger than C. cranwelli with 'only' a maximum of 13.5 cm for females and 8 a '9 cm for males. Both species are impressive frogs with an impressive capacity to eat large prey.

As reported, it is difficult to distinguish these species and the hybrids can sometimes make it more difficult. These species are often crossed do too ignorance and to obtain more desirable colors. There are many color variants of C. cranwelli in particular, extra green, patternless and the well-known albino. Then there are also many variants, albinos with more red, yellow, pink. This color often decreases. Nonetheless, it is a separate face a large wide frog with red eyes and a yellow base color.


Natural origin and habitat:  C. cranwelli is also called the 'Chacoan Horned frog' and occurs in the Gran Chaco (Large dry plain) area that stretches from southern Bolivia, through Western Paraguay in the Middle / North of Argentina and in small areas in the extreme southwest of Brazil. This area is characterized by relatively high temperatures, dry periods and the main vegetation are grasslands with sporadic trees and large shrubs, (temporary) marshes and forests of thorn trees, palm trees and other scrub. Most of the wild animals activity is formed around pools that arise during the rainy season. This frog propagates in the rainy season and this is one of the few moments that it actively seeks out the water. In addition, they hide in the loose soil between vegetation or under trunks. If the temperatures become too high and the drought persists, this frog goes into a so-called ‘Estivation’. In this stage, they dig deep into the soil and will develop a protective slime layer and can remain inactive for long periods of time without feeding.

The distribution area of ​​C. ornata is located east of the C. cranwelli, in Argentina, (the Pampa region: Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Entre Ríos, La Pampa, Mendoza and Santa Fe provinces), in Uruguay and the south of Brazil (Río Grande do Sul) this area is slightly more humid but is still characterized by a dry and wet season, here the frogs are found around pools, in marsh areas and sometimes drainage areas.


Behaviour:  The appearance of Ceratophrys betrays their inactive lifestyle. This is not an active hunter but waits patiently until a prey comes along to catch it. They are real opportunists and eat everything. In the dry season they partly dig into the forest floor between earth, branches and leaves. Here they can lie almost unmovable for days. If the frog moves (for example after polluting their hiding place) then this is almost always in the twilight or night. In the rainy season, adult animals migrate to shallow temporary pools with large numbers. Often the males a little earlier as the females to call the females with a loud croak and then to mate. After this the animals retreat again into the forest or grassland to hide under a trunk or between the forest floor. So keep in mind that there is little 'action' in this species besides feeding. Because of their hidden way of life, this frog does not like being taken out of the comfort of his hiding place to be handled. This causes stress and, as a caregiver, you want to keep this to a minimum. If the frog feels threatened it will try to bite. The bite is more powerful than one would expect from a frog. The best thing is to move it by letting the frog walk in a small container. This also prevents this awkward frog from jumping off your hand and possibly harming himself.


Care and housing:  Despite the size, this frog does not require a spacious enclosure simply because of their very inactive lifestyle. Young animals can be raised in a faunabox but will grow out of this quickly. For an adult specimen a terrarium with a bottom surface of 50*40cm (or Exo terra 45*45) is sufficient. There must be space for a deep layer of soil but otherwise the height is not important as this frog does not climb. Keep the frogs separate at all times outside the mating season. They can be territorial and if there is a difference in size, there is a chance that the smallest inhabitant will be part of the diet of the larger individual.

Previously these frogs were kept almost completely wet, sometimes even in just a layer of water with a shelter. Looking at their natural behavior and the fact that they live in the bottomlayer of their habitat, this is advisable. Only youngsters who have just come out of the water may be kept in this way.

The substrate can consist of a thick layer of cocopeat earth, peat, a little bit of river sand (helps keep the mix moist) and moss. Preferably, a drainage layer consisting of a filter mat is placed under the substrate. This layer should allow the Ceratophrys to dig in completely and also helps to maintain a higher humidity. The soil must not dry out but offer variation in the degree of moisture content of the soil. Make parts extra moist and keep another part dryer. Please note that a soil that is too dry in combination with higher temperatures can cause a estivation. Mimic the seasons and spray more in the warmer parts of the year. Young animals must be kept more humid as adult specimens. Young animals prefer a fairly wet soil. In a deep bottom layer one sometimes sees that the top layer is slightly drier while the underlying substrate is more humid. The frog uses these layers and will dig deeper if the top layer becomes too dry. But come further to the surface if it gets too wet, so offer enough options. Covering a part of the soil with a layer of leaves, placing a shelter or using live creeping plants (Philodendron is a good option) helps and offers shelters to the pacman.

A shallow dish with water where the frog fits completely must be present at all times. Spraying (almost) daily preferably (humidity 60-80%) just before or after the lamps are off but ventilate well and allow the terrarium to dry to some extent.

If the frog is in a room where there is sufficient light, any additional lights are not necessary. However, they help stimulate a natural day / night cycle and this is necessary for any living plants. Note that this light is not too 'bright' and there are enough places where this light-shy frog can hide in shadow spots. Illuminates an average of 12.5 to 13.5 hours. This brings us to heating, as reported, this species is relatively inactive, lives on the ground or partly buried and rather slightly shy. One can conclude from this that heating with the familiar spotlights is not the best option. It is therefore preferable to choose a heater that only emits heat and does it evenly in contrast to the creation of a hotspot. That is why the use of a heat mat is a good option. However, do not place it under the terrarium, this dries out the quick soil and if the frog gets too hot it cannot cool down next to the water tank. That is why you want to place the heat mat against a side wall of the terrarium. This ensures that a degree of difference in temperature gradients is created thru the terrarium. In between, the animal can easily choose without leaving the comfort zone of its hiding place (bottom). Optionally you can increase the air temperature with a simple heat glow lamp. Preferably connect the mat (and any lamp) to a thermostat to prevent overheating. This species can do well under different temperature conditions and tolerate short 'extremes'. But preferably do not deviate from sub-tropical temperatures between 25-27C. The temperature may drop during the night but preferably not below 20C.


Diet:  In addition to photos of frogs hanging on fingers, this frog is also known from images where they can easily consume an entire mouse. This is an impressive behavior and this frog is a real carnivore. However, their natural diet consists for more than 70% of... other frogs. Even tadpoles of Ceratophrys eat the tadpoles of other species. In addition, part of their diet consists of birds, only 7% of rodents and the other part of reptiles (especially small snakes) and invertebrates. The gastrointestinal tract is therefore not used to process prey with a lot of fur. Therefore, if you only feed mice with fur, there is a chance that your horn frog will become constipated. These rodents are a good source of calcium and fats, so if you feed them, preferably give naked nest mice or rats, but do not allow them to be most of the diet to prevent fattening. By nature only a very small percentage of their diet is invertebrate, this is probably due to their lifestyle and bodybuild. However, these can be a good part of the diet if they are well powdered with a high quality calcium or mineral supplement. Food insects that you can offer are various types of cockroaches, morio(super) worms and grasshoppers or silkworms. Worms and wax moth larvae are also eagerly eaten. Feeding other frogs is fairly costly and there is the possibility of introducing a disease or parasites.

Feed young animals every day to every other day and adult animals every three to five days as much as they can. Make sure that you do not stress the frog after it has a large meal to prevent spitting out.


Reproduction:  Carefully consider whether you want to breed with these species. There is a large market and some deaths will be there. But a single female can lay hundreds or sometimes 2000 eggs in a few weeks. These are many young tadpoles and later frogs to take care of. The call of a male horn frog is very loud. What is very fascinating about this species is that even the tadpoles can produce sound after just a few days, which can also be heard underwater.

The breeding is considerably better stimulated when the frogs are placed in a group, with only a pair it is often unsuccessful. So remember that you need both several females and males. Males can be recognized by their clearly broader front legs and slightly smaller construction.

Reproduction is stimulated by a slightly dry period followed by a warmer wet period. Increase the temperature and mist more, make the soil more humid and feed more. As soon as the frogs become more active and the males start to call you can place them in a so-called rain chamber where it drips almost constantly and the humidity is 90% or higher. Place a group of several males and females in a layer of water where the animals are still able to keep their heads above water, above the bottom one wants to put a false bottom where the frogs can walk on. Place this false bottom at an angle so that the frogs can easily migrate to shallower parts. Pairings almost always take place in the evening but can continue during the day. The mesh bottom ensures that laid eggs fall through them and thus do not get damaged during all the breeding activity.

Remove the adult animals and leave the eggs in the water. Optionally, you can place an aeration stone to provide the water with a little more oxygen. The egg strains hatch after a few days, this depends mainly on the temperature. Tadpoles of this species are very carnivorous but mutual cannibalism is scarce. Tadpoles of other species are eagerly eaten. To raise the tadpoles you can feed them with fish food, underwater insects such as bloodworm (a bit fat) tubifex and artemia or water fleas.

As soon as the forelegs come through, you must provide sufficient space to easily reach the land area. As soon as these now frogs come to 'land' you can raise them for a while in just a shallow layer of water with some shelters and spagnum moss until their tail is completely absorbed. Now feed them with small invertebrates such as dust crickets of various species and fine pasture plankton. Feed frogs whenever possible several times a day, the froglets grow quickly. Note that competition can occur quickly and remove individuals that are left behind to prevent them from being eaten by their siblings.

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