How to Make a Frog Terrarium (Frog Tank Setup 2020 Guide)

Frogs come in all shapes and sizes—and colors, too! There are big ones, small ones, vibrant ones, dull ones. Some are incredibly poisonous, while others are completely harmless. There are a lot of frogs out there, and many of them make excellent pets. They are, for the most part, very easy to look after, low maintenance pets, and their relatively diminutive size (compared to some snakes or lizards) means they have to take up too much space in your home.

One of the first things to think about when embarking on a frog adventure is, how do you house it? If this question is burning a hole in your brain, you’ve come to the right place!

The frogs I’ll be covering in this guide are:

  1. Pacman frogs—named after the 1980s arcade star.
  2. Tomato frogs—named because of a resemblance to… you guessed it, a tomato!
  3. Poison frogs—these brightly colored frogs are very recognizable.
  4. Tree frogs—red-eyed tree frogs are perhaps the most famous frogs in the world.
  5. Dwarf frogs—this is the only aquatic frog on my list.
  6. Bull frogs—I’ll be talking about the African bullfrog, which is the most popular pet bull frog on the market.

Pet frog tank setup cheat sheet

Here are some quick-fire questions, with rule-of-thumb answers:

How big? 10 gallons is probably enough, but 20 or more is better. This gives you room to get creative, without being overwhelmingly large. Actual dimensions depend a lot on individual species. For example, tree frogs are arboreal, and like to climb, so they require taller tanks, whereas terrestrial frogs are happy in shallower tanks.

How warm? This varies according to species, but will generally be between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Monitor and regulate temperature and humidity with a digital thermometer hygrometer, and heating pads or basking lights.

How humid? Again, this varies from frog to frog. You will typically want to keep humidity somewhere between 70 and 100 percent. Regulate humidity manually by using a spray bottle, or if you have the resources, an automated humidifying system. More on these below!

How light? Mostly, you won’t need special lighting. As long as your frogs experience a diurnal, day-to-night cycle, they should be happy enough! Standard fluorescent bulbs are fine, and 5-6,000 Kelvin is ideal.

Which substrate is best? Some frogs (e.g. tree frogs) like non-particulate substrates like coco fiber or similar, whereas others (like poison frogs) prefer a drainage substrate, such as lightweight expanded clay aggregate (LECA). Either way, a drainage layer is often recommended.

What about water? Frogs like lots of it! But some like it more than others. A small water dish will usually suffice, because many frogs drink water droplets from leaves.

Accessories? Some frogs like to climb trees, others like to hide underneath logs. Regardless of species, some accessories are vital. These liven up the space, and provide entertainment for your pet frog(s). Not only this, but live plants oxygenate the air, and hold water on their leaves for frogs to drink.

It’s important to note that the list above is generalized. What you need to offer your pet will differ from frog to frog. Some frogs like it more humid, some like it drier; some are solitary, others are social – that sort of thing. I will go into more detail below, or read care sheets for extra information on individual species.

Now, that may seem like a lot to take on board, but rest assured – constructing and preparing a pet frog terrarium is easier than you may think. I’ll break down the above list into actionable steps, so that you can work through them one by one.

Step 1: Choosing the right enclosure size

  • Pacman Frog

These are relatively large (up to 8 inches / 20cm), so need a suitably sized terrarium. Interestingly, this is one of the only frogs in possession of teeth. Named for their resemblance to the video game character Pac-Man, these frogs are characteristically bulbous, with very large mouths.

Their round shape means that they are less nimble than some of their skinnier cousins. As they don’t move around much, they can often be comfortably house in smaller terrariums, relative to their actual size. Pacman frogs are solitary, and require a terrarium of a minimum 10 gallons, with a screened lid. 20 gallons is preferable.

  • Tomato Frog 

Tomato frogs are smaller, usually 2.5 inches (male) or 4 inches (female). Again, 10 gallons is sufficient, but 15 or 20 gallons is preferable. They can live in pairs, but can be cannibalistic, so don’t put a large female with a small male! Tomato frogs love to burrow, so allowing enough space for this is essential.

  • Poison Dart Frog 

Poison dart frogs are split into more than one size group, but they are all quite small. Adults generally reach the size of a large grape. The largest are 2.5 inches. Because of their size, 2 poison dart frogs can live in a 10 gallon tank; 3 or 4 in a 20 gallon tank; and so on. Be careful though, as they can be territorial.

  • Tree Frog 

As the name suggests, tree frogs are arboreal, i.e., they live in trees. To accommodate this, provide a tank at least 18 inches tall. Overall size depends on the number of frogs you’re keeping, but as a rule of thumb, a 12” x 12” x 18” terrarium will comfortably house 1 or 2 tree frogs; an 18” x 18” x 24” terrarium can hold 3 or 4 tree frogs. Note, however, that white tree frogs are larger than red tree frogs, and this needs to be taken into account when sizing up terrariums.

Last thing: you can go for a terrarium with different dimensions, but these standard sizes are the cheapest.

You can get terrarium starter kits for tree frogs online, in small, large, or vertical sizes!

  • Dwarf Frog

Dwarf frogs grow up to 3 inches (8cm), so can fit in a relatively small space. In case you didn’t know, they are aquatic, so we’ll be talking in terms aquariums, rather than terrariums. They are also tolerant of company, so you can keep 2 dwarf frogs together in a 5-10 gallon aquarium. However, if you’re getting more, or if they’re sharing with fish, they should have an aquarium of at least 20 gallons.

You can buy aquariums here. They come in various sizes, kits and brands: Marineland 60 gallon, Top Fin 6 sizes, and Top Fin 36 gallon, to link a few.

  • Bull Frog

Bull frogs are the tanks of the frog world. They can grow up to 9 inches (22.5cm), so need an area large enough for them to move around in. However, owing to their size, they are quite docile, and do not climb around very much. I recommend base dimensions of at least 18” x 18”, but bigger is often better!

You can shop for suitable terrariums here—these are also suitable for pacman, tomato and poison dart frogs.

Step 2: Managing the temperature

  • Pacman Frog 

Pacman frogs like variance in temperature between day and night. Native to South America, they are evolutionarily accustomed to a drop in temperature at night. The terrarium should be maintained between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (24-29°C) during the day and between 65 and 75°F (18-24 ° C) at night.

  • Tomato Frog

Tomato frogs do best in temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything significantly lower or higher can lead to serious health risks, and ultimately, death. Temperature should be monitored with a thermostat, and regulated using a thermostatically controlled heat pad. More information on these below.

  • Poison Dart Frog

Poison dart frogs are known for being easygoing when it comes to temperature and lighting. Despite hailing from hot, humid rainforests (they are native to Central and South America), poison dart frogs tend to live on the forest floor, where it is cooler and dimmer than in the trees.

As a result, they do well in daytime temperatures between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. A few hours at 85 can be harmful, even deadly, so it is paramount that you monitor the temperature closely, with reliable equipment.

  • Tree Frog

Because of the height of the terrarium, it is best to place one hygrometer/thermometer in the top corner, and an additional thermometer at the bottom. This gives a better reading of the environment within the entire terrarium, and allows you to monitor the temperature gradient. Not all tree frogs like the same temperature levels, but they tend to have similar requirements.

Red-eyed tree frogs (maybe the most famous frogs in the world) require a daytime temperature of 75-85°F. They sleep during the warm daytime, and rise at dusk. By contrast, gray tree frogs like a larger temperature gradient of 75-80°F.

Look online for bespoke care sheets for more information. Some can be found here

  • Dwarf Frog

With aquatic dwarf frogs, you must regulate the temperature of the water, rather than the air. Use a heater that has 5 watts of power for every gallon of water in the aquarium, and maintain a temperature of 68-78 degrees Fahrenheit (20-26°C).

  • Bull Frog

There are several species which are commonly identified as bull frogs. In fact, it is a common English language term to refer to big, often aggressive frogs, regardless of species. Examples include a variety of species native to the Americas, Australia, Asia and Africa. However, the most commonly owned pet bull frog is the African bullfrog, or Pyxicephalus adspersus, native to central and southern Africa. You can also call it the pixie frog.

The African bullfrog’s natural habitats range from dry to moist savanna, subtropical or tropical dry shrubland, freshwater lakes and marshes, arable land, canals, pastureland and ditches. They can be quite sizeable and quite heavy, sometimes exceeding 2kg. In line with their natural habitats, African bullfrogs require a near constant (air) temperature of 75°F.

Heat mats and basking bulbs are the most common, and recommended, heat omitting devices for the above pet frogs. They are low maintenance, easy to install, and can be hooked up to thermostats to allow for automatic temperature control.

Place your heating device in one corner of the terrarium, in order to ensure a temperature gradient. This variance means your frog is more likely to be able to find its perfect temperature at any particular moment.

Make sure your heating device is connected to a thermostat. That way, the temperature will be regulated automatically to maximize comfort.

A range of basking bulbs are available for purchase here, heat mats here, and thermostats can be found here. You can also use an under tank heater (UTH) such as this one. A simple thermometer (like this one) will give you a reading, but a thermostat is required for automatic regulation.

Step 3: How to adjust humidity

  • Pacman Frog

For pacman frogs, humidity is best kept between 50% and 80%. Suitable live plants can help to regulate the terrarium’s humidity level. Appropriate plants can be found in many large pet stores, or online. Consult online resources for the best plants for your frog.

  • Tomato Frog 

Maintain a highly humid environment (60% – 80%)  by misting the tank manually every 1 to 3 days with a mister, such as this one from Exo Terra. A hygrometer is a device which measures humidity. There are dozens available online, some of which cost a pretty penny. If you’re looking for an affordable one, try this.

  • Poison Dart Frog 

Like many other frogs, poison dart frogs drink very little water. Instead, they absorb it through their skin. The key to keeping these frogs happy and healthy is ensuring a very high level of humidity—high even compared to other frogs—of upwards of 80%, even close to 100%.

  • Tree Frog 

Consult individual care sheets, but 60% – 85% should keep your tree frog happy. They also enjoy a spike in humidity once a day, up to 90% for a short time. You can automate this by using misting systems or installing foggers set up to start and stop automatically.

  • Dwarf Frog

Not applicable, as these frogs are aquatic!

  • Bull Frog

As a rule, maintain humidity levels of 80% – 90%.

As outlined earlier, misting systems, foggers, hygrometers and water bowls are invaluable for automated humidity regulation. If these are beyond your means, however, you can manually mist your frog’s terrarium using a regular handheld water spray.

Step 4: How to setup lighting

  • Pacman Frog

These nocturnal frogs do not require sunlight per se, but they need some level of lighting that mimics a day-night (or diurnal) cycle. If your frog’s terrarium is in a dim or dark room, light it with a fluorescent bulb for 12 hours a day. Switch to a night-specific bulb at night so that you can keep an eye on your pet without disturbing it.

  • Tomato Frog 

Artificial lighting is not required for tomato frogs, unless they are in a very dark room. Live plants will require a daylight spectrum bulb, however, but otherwise no internal lighting is required, including UV lighting.

  • Poison Dart Frog

Again, no special lighting is required for poison dart frogs. A 20 watt fluorescent bulb will suffice – I recommend the Exo Terra Daylight Reptile Lamp. Real plants will appreciate T-5 fluorescent bulbs, but the frogs themselves just need enough light to see their food.

  • Tree Frog 

Red-eyed tree frogs are nocturnal, so no special lighting is required. A regular day and night cycle is necessary though, to ensure good mental and physical health. This consists of 12-14 hours of light and 10-12 hours of dark.

  • Dwarf Frog

8-12 hours of light per day are enough for these aquatic frogs in order to simulate their natural environment. An automatic timer can help achieve this result.

  • Bull Frog

Again, regular day and night cycles are required, but nothing fancy.

As you can see, most of the above frogs require little meddling when it comes to light. However, terrariums may look better under brighter light, and live plants will do better as well. One thing worth noting is that light sources often produce heat too, which must be factored into the overall environment.

A list of light fixtures available for purchase can be found here.

Step 5: What is the best substrate?

  • Pacman Frog 

These frogs love to burrow. To facilitate this, provide a substrate they can comfortably dig into. Coir makes a great substrate for pacman frogs. Commercially available examples include Zoo Med’s Loose Coconut Fiber Reptile Substrate. It should stay damp, but not sodden.

  • Tomato Frog 

Two recommended substrates are top soil or coconut fiber, at least 2 inches deep to facilitate burrowing. Tomato frogs are ambush predators, so burrowing is essential. Replace this every 1-2 months.

  • Poison Dart Frog 

Provide something moist, like long-fiber sphagnum moss, which is widely available in stores and online. You could also throw in a few large, waxy leaves dotted here and there to serve as hide spots.

  • Tree Frog 

For a basic setup, I recommend coco fiber, as it is cheap and all-round effective. You can also add sphagnum moss and/or coco husk chips to add some variance in texture. Here is a handy substrate guide for more information on the topic.

  • Dwarf Frog

For dwarf frog aquariums, you should line the bottom of the tank with somewhere between 2 and 3 inches (5-8am) of aquarium gravel—or 1½ lbs of gravel per gallon of water. Rinse it clean before putting it into the enclosure. You can find aquarium substrates here.

  • Bull Frog

These terrestrial titans do best on a mixture of bark chips and damp moss. These are readily available at many pet stores, plant stores and online retailers. They can both be cleaned and reused once before being replaced.

Another recommended option is simple coconut fiber, like many of the other frogs on this list. Organic and affordable, it is a solid place to start. Peat moss is also easy to get hold of and functional. Essentially, anything organic that retains heat will do well.

Note that African bullfrogs are known to nibble on the substrate in their tanks, so any material that you use should be easily digested!

As a rule, avoid soils and materials which have been treated with insecticides or other chemicals. These can work their way through the frog’s skin and into the bloodstream, and can compromise the health of your frog from the inside.

Your frog’s substrate should be completely replaced every 3-4 months, or every 1-2 months if you have more than one frog living together.

Step 6: How to set up water spots for pet frogs

Most frogs absorb or drink water through their skin, by a process called osmosis. As a result of this, it is super important to only use clean, de-chlorinated water—in your humidifier and, if applicable, water bowl. Otherwise, any toxins or chlorine present in the water can harm a frog’s delicate skin and constitution.

You can treat tap water easily and safely with a water conditioning agent, such as ReptiSafe, also available here and here. Alternatively, you can leave tap water to sit overnight to remove the chlorine from the water. But the surest way is to use an agent, or a water purification device, such as those available here.

One question you might ask yourself is: given that frogs are often semi-aquatic, and live in rain-heavy environments with natural pools, should I give my pet frog a deep water bowl suitable for swimming, or a shallow one suitable for bathing and basking? Well, here’s a handy table to answer that question!

Shallow or deep water bowls?

Pacman Frog Shallow – large enough to sit in – but actually, a water bowl isn’t actually a necessity.
Tomato Frog Shallow is fine, e.g. this one.
Poison Dart Frog Not needed.
Tree Frog Small and shallow is sufficient.
Dwarf FrogN/A
Bull FrogFill the tank about a third of the way up with water, and place large stones inside for the frog to climb and sit on.

Amphibians (and reptiles) do not like sudden changes in water hardness or softness, or in pH levels. So what are the ideal levels of each for your pet frog?

Water hardness and softness

Hardness refers to the overall mineral content of water, specifically the level of calcium. A high mineral content correlates to a high degree of hardness, or dGH.

Not much research has been done into the effects of varying water hardness on amphibians. However, it is generally accepted that water with no minerals has a negative effect on amphibian health. It’s not natural, so you shouldn’t supply entirely soft water. If in doubt, have a look online for water hardness maps—these show the hardness of the water in different areas of the United States (and world). Look at where your frog is from, and try to emulate that level of hardness.

If you’re still in doubt, aim for a water hardness between 2 and 3.5 grains per gallon (dGH), or ‘slightly hard water’. You can measure this with a cheap and accurate digital water quality meter.

PH levels

pH is short for ‘potential of hydrogen’, and signifies the alkaline-acid measure of the water, on a scale of 1 to 14. 1 is very acidic, 14 is very alkaline, 7 is neutral. For the most part, frogs do best in a neutral pH of between 6.5 and 7.5. Consult individualized guides if in doubt.

You can raise the pH level of water by adding a very small amount of baking soda—one teaspoon per 10 gallons of water is a good place to start.

Step 7: Must-have accessories

This is where the magic really happens! Accessories are essential when it comes to recreating the natural feel of your frog’s wild habitat. Whether cosmetic or practical, accessories can make a huge difference.

Plants

Plants are essential for tree frogs, and preferable for just about every other kind of frog. Not only do they provide climbing places, but they also offer hiding locations, and comfortable soft leaves to sleep on. Vines can also create new and exciting options for arboreal frogs to climb. Check out this great jungle vine from Exo Terra.

Whether you opt for real or fake plants doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that there is something there!

Plants also provide a storage place for water. Frogs like to drink water directly from plant leaves, in the form of droplets. They even take on more water this way than by drinking directly from a dish.

Note: With real plants, you will need to supply a low-powered grow light. There are lots of options available, which are designed especially for terrarium usage, and are no more powerful than 5.0 UVB.

Other accessories

Feel free to experiment with found objects such as logs or large stones, driftwood or pebbles. If you are able to splash out on your pet frog, so much the better – here are a few accessories which have been especially designed for reptile and amphibian terrariums:

  • T-Rex Skull from Exo Terra—it’s not particularly practical, but it looks great, and provides hide spots and a climbing object for smaller frogs.
  • Naturalistic Mushroom Ledge from Zoo Med—this is ideal for tree frogs, but also suitable for other climbers. It comes with a silicone kit for attaching the ledge to the enclosure wall. This naturalistic ledge looks great and provides a perching spot off the ground.
  • Habba Hut Hide—hides are essential to the mental wellbeing of many types of frog. You can get hides that look like a variety of objects, from dinosaur eggs to fallen coconuts. This one looks like a hollowed out, bark-covered log, and provides not only hiding space, but also a climbing object.
  • Repti Rapids LED Waterfall from Zoo Med—for the ambitious pet owners among you! Waterfalls make a great focal point and circulate moisture in the tank. Many waterfall fixtures also provide a range of perch spots, and some even have additional LED lighting. They can be brilliant center features, but can be quite big, so make sure you have a sufficiently large enclosure.

CONCLUSION

That’s all for now! Congratulations on getting this far, you are now equipped with the basics of putting together a perfect pet frog terrarium, fit for purpose and ready for action.

If you found this guide helpful, please feel free to share it with anyone who might be interested. The more people who read it, the happier their frogs will be.

Like always, if you have any questions or comments, write them below. Have you got a pet frog? How do its preferences fit into the outline above? Is there anything we missed out? Let us know!

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