There’s nothing like the exhilaration of setting up your first frog tank, but it can be daunting.
A little bit of information can make the difference between a successful habitat and abject failure. Join us as we delve into the essentials of setting up your first frog habitat.
Table of Contents
- Frogs need day and night light cycles to thrive.
- Not every type of frog requires a similar tank setup. It varies based on your frog’s size, personality and natural habitat.
- Always wash the tank, decorations, and substrates to avoid introducing unwanted dirt or manufacturing residues.
- Some frogs are land-dwelling, some spend their entire lives in water, others spend part of their lives on land, and part of it in water.
- Aquariums are for aquatic animals like the African dwarf frog.
- Paludariums are for semi-aquatic creatures like Tomato Frogs (opens in new tab).
- Vivariums are planted enclosures for terrestrial animals like Dart Frogs.
- Terrariums are unplanted enclosures for ground-dwelling species like Spadefoot Toads.
- Consider your frog’s size, personality, and natural habitat before building a pet habitat.
- If a frog’s skin dries out, it can’t breathe—water is an essential part of any amphibian’s habitat.
Different Types of Frog Tank
There are over 5,000 known species of frogs. Their habitats range from deserts to mountain lakes.
This natural diversity reflects in how we house our pet amphibians. Let’s look at four different types of enclosures and the creatures that inhabit them.
For frogs, a terrarium is an enclosure without plants. Some frogs KILL live plants, and others come from deserts where plants don’t grow readily. In these cases, a terrarium is ideal.
Some species that do well in terrariums are:
- Pacman Frogs
- African Bullfrogs
- Spadefoot Toads
Vivariums are planted terrariums that aim to replicate the frog’s natural habitat—ideal for climbing species or those that like to live in thick undergrowth.
Species that thrive in vivariums include:
- Poison Dart Frogs
- Bumblebee Toads
- Red-Eyed Tree Frogs
In paludariums, half of the tank is full of water, and the other half is devoted to a well-planted substrate.
They’re the ideal setup for semi-aquatic species or those who inhabit marshy areas. Examples include:
- Reed Frogs
- Tomato Frogs
- Leopard Frogs
- Vietnamese Mossy Frogs
We’re all familiar with aquariums, but for fish. They don’t feature dry land, so they’re only suitable for aquatic species.
Water-dwelling species include:
- Suriname Toads
- African Dwarf Frogs
- African Clawed Frogs
Choosing a Frog Tank
We’ve already discussed the different types of frog habitats. Next, we’ll delve into the factors that help you decide which type of enclosure your frog needs.
Join us as we discuss essential aspects of every frog habitat, and how your frog affects your enclosure build.
A frog’s lifestyle affects its tank setup. Consider the following questions when you’re planning your frog habitat:
- Is it tree-dwelling (arboreal)?
- What and how does my frog eat?
- Where does my frog live in the wild?
- Does it live on the ground (terrestrial)?
- Does it spend all its time in the water (aquatic)?
- Do I have a confident species, or is it shy and nervous?
- Is my frog an active species, or does it spend most of its time resting?
- Does it live in marshy areas and spend a lot of time swimming (semi-aquatic)?
Once you’ve answered those questions, you know what your frog needs.
Aquatic habitats should have a horizontal orientation. Aquatic frogs draw oxygen from the water, but most also breathe air. In deep water, they’ll struggle to maintain appropriate oxygen levels.
Arboreal frog habitats are vertical by necessity. All climbing species require the height of a tall habitat to accommodate their active natures.
Most terrestrial and semi-aquatic frogs do well in horizontal habitats. For small species, you can create tiered habitats that incorporate horizontal levels at different heights.
Appropriate Enclosure Size
When setting up a home for your pet amphibian, consider your frog’s activity level. Energetic species like Tree Frogs require far more space than pet rocks like Pixie Frogs.
These are rules of thumb for a few popular species:
- Pyxie Frog—These large, territorial frogs don’t move around much. You need 20 gallons for one frog and five more gallons for every additional animal.
- Fire Bellied Toad—You can house two to three of these small animals in a 15-gallon enclosure.
- Poison Dart Frogs—These small species need 5-10 gallons per frog. They’re active but spend a lot of time in hiding.
- White’s Tree Frog— This large, active, arboreal species requires 15-20 gallons for one frog and another ten gallons for every additional animal.
- African Clawed Frogs—These aquatic animals require 10 gallons for one frog and five more gallons for every additional animal.
If you have a little-known species, assume that you need 15 gallons for the first frog and another 10 gallons for every frog after that.
Your frog’s temperament impacts how you set up its habitat.
You can plant any terrestrial frog’s tank, right? Wrong.
Many species dig under plants and overthrow them. Others will ATTACK any plants you place in their home.
A frog’s personality also affects how many you can keep together and what you can keep with them.
You can’t keep fish in an African Clawed Frog tank (they’ll eat them), but you can keep small, peaceful fish in a paludarium with reed frogs. Many frogs will eat anything that fits into their mouths, so consider the frog’s temperament and mouth size before adding other animals.
Your frog’s diet affects how you create its habitat. Examples include:
- African Clawed Frogs eat lean meat, so their water fouls quickly, and their aquariums need a strong filtration system.
- Red-Eyed Tree Frogs eat active invertebrates. They also refuse to eat from the ground, forcing you to mount escape-proof food bowls on the sides of their enclosures.
Design your frog’s enclosure to encourage its natural hunting technique. The habitat should facilitate feeding and cleaning of your frog’s preferred prey type.
Essential Tank Elements
When you set up a home for your new pet, there are some essential elements to incorporate. Let’s have a look.
The substrate is the earth beneath your frog’s feet and gives the habitat form.
Some of the most popular substrates include:
- Sand — Sand is excellent for terrariums. It works well for desert species who like to dig, and it looks beautiful in the bottom of aquariums.
Expert Tip: Buy sand for amphibians and reptiles, as other types of sand can contain salt. The salt dries out the frog’s skin and causes slow suffocation.
- LECA — LECA is a type of small clay ball used to grow plants. It’s excellent as an aquarium substrate or as a base for other substrates in a paludarium.
- Shale — Shale is a type of stone. Some people like to use it in aquariums and paludariums. We don’t recommend shale because it often has sharp edges.
- Peat Moss — An acidic moss that grows on boggy ground. It’s popular for frog tanks because it’s mold-resistant, and frogs can burrow into it.
Buyer’s tip: Peat bogs are declining rapidly, and governments will discontinue harvesting in the next five years. Coco peat can be a sustainably produced and reliable alternative.
- Coco Peat — Similar to peat moss, but is produced sustainably. It’s manufactured from coconut husks, a byproduct of the coconut milk and flesh industries.
- Pea Gravel — A small stone that works well in aquariums and paludariums. It’s an excellent choice for habitats where you need to limit digging to certain areas. Use peat moss or coco peat in the digging area and pea gravel for the rest.
Expert Tip: Don’t use pea gravel near food bowls since amphibians can swallow it and die.
- Bark Chips — Bark chips are ideal for landscaping vivariums but have some disadvantages. Frogs can’t dig in it, you can’t submerge it, and plants can’t grow in it, so pair it with another option.
Hides & Retreats
Any frog tank should feature a retreat where your pet can get away from prying eyes. Even the most social animal needs time to itself now and then.
Some popular options include:
- Driftwood — Driftwood is one of the most natural retreat options. It’s wood that has been adrift in a body of water and seasoned by the weather. You can position it to create cave-like hiding spaces for your amphibian pet.
- Cork Bark — An inexpensive, waterproof option for terrariums and vivariums. You can buy cork bark in sheets or shaped as logs. Cork bark is a sustainable, manufactured product made from harvested tree bark.
- Stone Palaces — Some hobbyists like to get fancy with their habitats. They use non-toxic, waterproof adhesives to glue shale, limestone, or other stone together to make retreats. These retreats are called stone palaces or rock hotels.
- Clay Flower Pots — An affordable and versatile shelter option that works both on the ground and underwater. You can paint it with non-toxic paint or partially cover it with substrate to make a small cave.
The above options are only some of the many available ideas.
You can also purchase purpose-made hides and retreats at pet stores or online. Some stores offer free standard shipping or free same-day delivery.
Whether you have African Dwarf Frogs, Spadefoot Toads, or Dart Frogs, all amphibians need water.
Not all frogs swim well, and some will spend their entire lives (in the wild) without ever knowing more than damp soil.
Research your specific species before incorporating a water source.
For desert species, misting them with a spray bottle every few days is often enough.
You can also buy an automatic misting system and set it to spray every three or four days. These systems are ideal for rainforest species that require constant humidity.
Incorporating small waterfalls or shallow water dishes is often ideal for frogs who like to take an occasional dip.
For semi-aquatic species, paludariums are a better fit. These frogs spend a large part of their time in the water and require dry land to survive.
Accessories can make a difference in how your frog habitat functions. Live or artificial plants provide hiding places and climbing surfaces for your pets.
Incorporating things like cork bark, sphagnum moss, and climbing vines help provide beauty to the habitat and serve the frogs.
Other useful accessories include ledges (for climbing frogs to sit on), food bowls, and water dishes. Even waterfalls contribute humidity to the habitat.
Always choose accessories that serve a useful purpose.
Most frogs are nocturnal by nature and don’t require a light source to survive. The keyword is ‘survive.’
Your pet may survive without any lighting, but if you want them to thrive, they require light that mimics day and night cycles.
You need bright lighting that mimics daylight hours and another light that allows you to observe your frogs at night (without disturbing them).
In the past, you had to install two different light fixtures to accomplish this.
Today, you can install something like the Exo Terra Day & Night LED fixture. It gives you the light spectrum you need without requiring multiple systems.
LED lights also generate minimal heat, so they won’t fry your beloved pet.
Heating is an essential part of many habitats. Species from cooler climates do fine in room temperature conditions; others come from tropical and desert regions.
Frogs and toads from warmer climates need supplemental heating. All frogs require a certain body temperature to digest their food.
Expert Tip: For aquatic amphibians, always build an enclosure around the aquarium heater. You can use non-toxic plastic mesh or buy a custom-made enclosure.
Frogs have sensitive skin and perceive temperature differently. For their health and protection, they mustn’t come into direct contact with heating equipment.
Terrestrial heating options include under-tank heat mats and heat cables. You can use most aquarium heaters to modify the water temperature of aquatic species.
Never use under-tank heating with burrowing species, as they’ll dig down to get closer to the heat and ultimately COOK themselves alive.
If you do use under-tank heating for your pets, always heat only one-half of the tank. This technique gives the animals a temperature gradient so they can find the ‘sweet spot.’
The same warnings apply for heating cables, and you should always use them on the habitat’s exterior.
Install a thermometer/hygrometer so you can monitor the conditions and change the heating as needed.
Avoid heat lamps and radiant heating for frogs since amphibians don’t bask.
Setting Up Your Frog Tank
Setting up your first frog tank can be a bit intimidating. We’ve built a step-by-step guide to help you along.
Step 1 – Wash EVERYTHING
Before setting up, ensure that everything is clean. You don’t want to risk incorporating any manufacturing residues into the habitat that may affect your frog.
Wash the tank with warm, soapy water. Rinse thoroughly, ensuring that no soap residue remains, then let it dry. Wash any plastic plants and decorations as well.
Rinse your substrate in a fine sieve. Also, rinse the roots and leaves of live plants carefully to avoid introducing stowaways.
Step 2 – Add Your Substrate
Once everything is clean, you can start implementing your design.
Add the substrate, and form the tank the way you want it to look. If you’re using multiple substrate types, define which region contains each substrate type.
In a paludarium, use a coarser substrate, like pea gravel, beneath the softer substrate choice. This trick is also useful for planted vivariums.
The drainage layer will allow the moisture to flow back to the aquatic portion of the tank. It also helps keep the surface substrate in place.
Step 3 – Install Non-Electronic Accessories
Next, install your plants (read more about those here) and any non-electronic accessories.
For any frog tank with dry land, decide exactly where you want the hides, food bowls, and other accessories.
For aquariums, plant your plants in the substrate, as well as your choice of an underwater hide.
If you’re planting a vivarium, now is the time to install your fancy rock background and attach the mosses and bromeliads you’ve been coveting.
Step 4 – Just Add Water
It’s time to add water. Only use reverse osmosis (RO) water or bottled water from a safe, natural source.
If you’re doing a paludarium or aquarium, place a saucer or shallow bowl in the substrate. Pour the water into the bowl so that it gently overflows to fill the aquatic regions of the tank.
This tip will prevent the substrate (and your carefully placed accessories) from washing away.
For a terrarium or vivarium, fill the water dish or waterfall that you chose. If you selected a misting system, get all the nozzles lined up so they’ll water the plants and frogs effectively.
Step 5 – Setting up the Electronics
Once the water’s in, it’s time to wire electronics.
For an aquarium, place your filter so it won’t suck in your pets. Also, ensure that it’s set gently enough that the frog isn’t constantly swimming against a current.
Next, set up the heating system. In an aquarium, ensure that the heater is working and has a protective enclosure around it.
For a terrestrial or semi-aquatic enclosure, set up the heating so that one side of the habitat is a few degrees warmer than the other.
A temperature gradient helps the frog find the temperature at which it’s most comfortable.
Also, install your thermometer and hygrometer.
Finally, install your lighting system. Most systems are easy to install and come with detailed instructions. Some types click on with a giant clip.
Step 6 – Monitor Conditions
Once everything is in place, take 24 hours to monitor the conditions.
Ensure that temperatures are constant, filters are working, and misting systems are functioning as expected.
Step 7 – Add Some Happy Hoppers
Once everything is working as it should, place your pets in their new home. Give them a few hours to adapt before feeding them for the first time.
If anything is wrong, the frogs will act differently, so watch them carefully.
Step 8 – Keep Them Hoppy, Keep Them Clean
Your frog’s home needs regular cleaning. Use a plastic spoon to clean out frog droppings daily. You’ll also need to keep the glass clean, which can be daunting.
We suggest using an aquarium cleaning magnet. It has a sponge you place on the inside of the tank and a magnet that stays on the outside.
By moving the magnet about, you can clean the tank inside without sticking your hand in and scaring your pets.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article about setting up a frog tank.
If you’re generally interested in setting up animal habitats, you might enjoy our DIY designs for reptile enclosures.
If you have any questions we’ve missed, please drop a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.