Last updated 30 March 2005: added link to Anurans in South London.


Order Anura

Frogs and toads are too well known to need much introduction. They are the most ubiquitous of amphibians, and the Order Anura comprises no less than 3,500 species, making them one of the most bountiful orders of both the reptiles and amphibians. They are found not only in the steaming tropics and the cool dampness of the British Isles but even in arid deserts and, in a few cases, the Arctic Circle. Compared to the newts and salamanders they are more recent newcomers on the scale of life.

Frogs seem to be very desirable to many herpetologists, especially mantellas and members of the Dendrobatidae, or poison arrow frogs. Many frogs come in bright gorgeous colours, especially from the tropical regions. Toads also have their followers, for example the Spadefoot Toad of North America or Europe.

What's the difference between a frog and a toad? Frankly, in strictly scientific terms the two names have no fixed meaning. In the olden days, before people started classifying animals, a frog was any anuran with a smooth skin, while a toad was one with a warty skin. In fact this observation was based on a few European species, and was found to have less significance as people began to explore the tropics and encountered hundreds more species. Generally the use of the world "toad" is confined to a few groups, mainly the Family Bufonidae ("true toads") and especially the genus Bufo (which includes the European toads on which the name was originally based). It is applied also to a couple of families of so-called "spadefoot toads", although these are not that closely related to the true toads. All the other anuran species are usually referred to as frogs. Both frogs and toads are collectively known as anurans, from the Order Anura.

I confess that I have not kept anywhere near as many anurans as I have lizards, so for this reason most of the material to do with frogs and toads on these pages will be natural history and taxonomy rather than experiences and observations of captive husbandry and breeding. Nevertheless from a large amount of reading and talking to more knowledgeable keepers, I can offer a few tentative suggestions to would-be keepers:

1. Despite the association with water, most frogs and toads lead a large terrestrial life except at breeding time: and even then, not all of them produce tadpoles that live in water. I would go so far as to suggest that more of the caudate species (newts and salamanders) kept in captivity need an aquatic setup than frogs and toads so. Most of the latter will need a tank with solid substrate, not water.

2. Most frogs and toads are small, especially when compared to reptiles. In fact many of them are not as long as newts or salamanders, although in overall mass they may be the same.

3. Toads and other brown or green frogs may not look glamorous or exciting, but they are normally tough and reliable. Toads also often have "personality".

4. The very desirable or colourful frogs (I'm thinking mainly of poison dart frogs and mantellas) are very small and more demanding. Don't consider them unless you have an eye for detail and can also get small food items readily.

Some frogs and toads will live outside in the garden, depending on where you live and where they normally live. However, please remember that it is an offence in many countries to allow non-native wildlife into the wild, even if you did not intentionally do so. Coupled with this, and the fact that metamorphosing amphibians may attempt to scatter, and the need to have somewhere secure to keep them becomes obvious. For this reason you may want to either make an enclosure for them or to make sure either the pond is secure or your whole garden is escape-proof. Since the latter might be quite a big job, it makes sense to firstly consider an enclosure.

Conversely, if you have native wildlife living in your pond or in ponds or other areas nearby, remember that there are often laws protecting some or all species. For example, Bufo calamita is totally protected in the UK, as is Bufo houstonensis in the US, so taking either of these home for your collection would be illegal and unethical. In any case, there are plenty of other anuran species to choose from, some of which probably make better captives anyway.

Of the readily available frogs and toads seen in the pet trade, some seem perennially popular and have the advantage that information on their care is readily available. Toads of the genus Bufo are mostly quite hardy and have fairly modest requirements: some, such as Bufo viridis, the European Green Toad, are also quite attractively coloured. White's Tree Frogs are small but rather likeable members of the genus Myobatrachidae, and seem to appear in numbers in western pet outlets. They are arboreal and have toe pads which allow them to climb, gecko-like, vertical surfaces and cling to them for hours. Horned Frogs, Ceratophrys or Lepidobatrachus, have a Herpetocultural Library volume dedicated to them, but you should beware that these somewhat gluttonous creatures can be cannibalistic. Other species of the family Bufonidae, or true toads, often occur in the trade, but little information seems available on them. Most of them however can be kept well in captivity, and the European and North American species can be kept outdoors in suitable enclosures. Members of the Dendrobatidae, on the other hand, have a large amount of information dedicated to them, and even their own society. This is probably just as well, given (a) their popularity and (b) the need for due care and attention when dealing with these beautiful frogs. While not as dangerous as some poisonous snakes, the toxins they secrete can cause sickness or even (from a couple of species) death. However, it seems that after a certain term in captivity, the capacity to produce these poisons decreases markedly. It is believed that without their natural diet of ants, the Dendrobatidae cannot produce these toxins as readily. A number of articles on mantellas has appeared in herpetological magazines within the last few years, as have books dedicated to their care. These members of the Mantellidae are beautifully coloured (but see above on the need for small food items). As their habitats in Madagascar are currently under threat, captive breeding seems to be an ethical imperative.

Two better-known North American anurans are actually more difficult to keep in captivity. The American bullfrog, Rana catesbiana, grows to the relatively large (for an amphibian) size of about 20 cm, and needs a very large amount of space due to their habit of frequent and high jumping. Leopard frogs, a large group lumped under Rana pipiens, actually have different requirements according to where they originate from, information not always forthcoming.

Hobbyists such as Marc Stanizewski have demonstrated the practicality of keeping a reasonably large collection of amphibians out of doors in simple enclosures, using greenhouse protection for the more tropical species. It is to be hoped that more herpetologists will take this up, especially with some of our native species, as an outdoor enclosure in some ways requires less maintenance than an indoor aquarium.

A Guide to the Anuran Families - an overview of the different groups of frogs and toads

Orange Frogs and other modern anuran phenomena

Anurans in South London - local wildlife in unlikely places

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