Keeping Issues - General and in Queensland

It's Mine

Many people enjoy frogs so much, they would like to observe them up close and look after them as pets. Before you decide to go out and collect some local frogs or buy some from a pet shop, it would be wise to contact your local environment, conservation, parks and wildlife or fish and wildlife office to learn what the regulations are. You might find that keeping frogs and tadpoles in captivity is prohibited in your area or, is allowed with some restrictions or, there might be a permit requirement.

If frog keeping is allowed in your area, then your next step is to research what will be required for the species you plan to keep. By far, the best way to keep frogs in captivity is to keep local species only. There are practical as well as environmental reasons for this. Frogs being moved from one place to another can be carrying disease without showing any signs and outbreaks in captivity have occurred because of the pet trade in frogs. Practically speaking, local frogs are easier to look after as you are already living in the climate zone they are accustomed to. If you collect a local frog and then decide that you don't want it anymore, you might be able to put it back where you found it (only do this if it is healthy and you haven't tamed it by regular hand feeding).

This webpage cannot possibly tell you all you need to know to set up a good environment for captive frogs. There are so many species and many will have special requirements based on their size, habitat, jumping capability, burrowing or sleeping preferences, etc. But some information is provided here to get you thinking about the sorts of things that need to be considered for the welfare of your frog(s). Providing an appropriate environment for your frog's wellbeing should also help you observe, learn and perhaps nurture a greater interest in zoology, herpetology and/or ecology.

  1. The first step you should take in learning how to keep frogs in captivity is to ask yourself WHY you want to have frogs. Remember that this is an animal that will generally not like to be handled although it is very interesting to watch.
  2. Then you need to find out what species are available (subject to your local regulations) and what habitats those species come from. Are they stream dwellers? Do they live in wetlands? Are they from a tropical humid climate or a temperate one which requires hibernation in the winter? Do they have a life cycle which involves long periods of dryness where they burrow underground? If you are going to be keeping a frog which is not from the climate zone you currently live in, then you will need to reproduce it's preferred conditions within the enclosure.
  3. Once you have narrowed down a list of what species you might acquire, do you know where the frogs themselves are going to come from? If they are coming from a pet shop, do the staff in the shop know a lot about the species and how to keep it? Can the staff tell you exactly where those individual frogs came from (bred locally, imported from where, etc.)? Have the individual frogs been sufficiently quarantined to minimise the risk of disease? How long has the shop had this batch of individuals? (If you think you're being given the flick, ask to see their purchase receipt or movement permit.)
  4. If you are buying from a private dealer at a market, does the dealer have his/her operating licence displayed? Do the animals look healthy, well fed and aware of their surroundings or are they rather dull looking and underfed? (If you decide to buy forelorn looking frogs to 'rescue' them from the shop/market, be aware that you are also supporting the market drive to get more of them collected. If you have purchased animals that look undernourished and you suspect that maybe they might have been illegally obtained (smuggled), you can help those individuals by caring for them but report the seller and all details you can to your local environmental authority.)
  5. Are you able to collect the frogs locally and if so, have you found younger individuals or tadpoles to collect instead of adults which are used to living in the wild? If you are buying tadpoles from a shop, are these a species local to your area that you can release later or are they from another part of the country/overseas that should not be added to your neighbourhood after you tire of looking after the metamorphs/adults? Has the shop kept batches of tadpoles in separate tanks with proper species ID labels or do they just dump new batches into the same tanks with previous batches? Are the tadpoles lively and well fed and is the water clear? For our US friends, there is an apparent trade by lab supply companies in Rana catesbeiana (Bullfrog) tadpoles - this large and apparently cannabalistic species is responsible for the decline of other species around the country. If you are looking for the experience of showing your children the miracle of metamorphosis, please don't chose Bullfrog tadpoles if you live in the US.)
  6. Another aspect which often gets left out is who will you go to if you get into trouble and your frog doesn't look well? Are there any veterinarians locally who have experience with frogs or reptiles? Is there a frog conservation or frog enthusiast group nearby? Do you know somebody who has already been keeping frogs successfully for some time? It is better to find out who and where you can go for help before you get into a desperate situation and are racing to find help in only a few hours.
  7. Once you have narrowed down your choices to a few possible species, then you need to examine their future enclosure in some detail. Does the species you want to keep have any special food needs? Where will you get your frogs' food and how much will the size frog you're keeping eat per week? Is it a tree frog which needs a secure, fitted lid to the enclosure or a burrowing/ground species which will need the right kind of substrate to bury itself in? (do not use soil or rocks as your substrate!) Is it a tropical species which will need high humidity and controlled temperatures or an arid country frog which will need to be left dry for part of the year? Is it a species known for its spectacular jumping ability (and therefore needs a very large enclosure to live in or it will injure itself)?

Once you have done your research, then you are ready to set up the enclosure and acquire some healthy frogs to keep. Some tips are in our Setup page. If you live in Queensland, you should also read our page on frog keeping regulations. Readers in NSW can get expert help from the staff at NPWS or the Sydney based Frog and Tadpole Study Group.

Some Basic Guidelines

Because of the myriad of species that are available in different parts of the world, it would be impossible to make specific recommendations here by species. It is up to you to delve a little deeper to find out if there are any unusual requirements for the species you want to keep, but here are a few general tips to get started with.

In designing the enclosure, try to recreate the environment where your species is from. There are a few things to watch out for at this stage. If you seek the advice of various frog keepers, you will get a few different suggestions and warnings, but these are based on our own experiences:

  1. Don't use potting mix for your substrate; this has chemicals in it and can cause disease - we use beach sand or river sand which has been soaked in fresh water (changed every other day for a couple weeks) to leach out any salt. When we have tiny, ground dwelling metamorphs, we sometimes add a little soil which has been fully composted from the compost pile - this has the advantage of containing little bugs and slaters which will clean up the frog's droppings or be eaten by very small frogs.
  2. Lids really need to be secure on tree frog enclosures but be careful of what the lid is made of - rough surfaces can damage the frog's snout if it jumps against the lid or squeezes up into the top corners because of a lack of hiding space or too small an enclosure.
  3. There should be something suitable for the frog to crawl into or under so that it can hide from view during the day; frogs that can't find shelter during the day tend to get stressed and stress is a precursor to disease.
  4. Even tropical humid climate frogs need good ventilation (but not drafts) in their enclosures to minimise the growth of fungus
  5. Enclosures should not be kept anywhere where they will get full sun unless the species you are keeping is known to be a day-basking frog
  6. Ensure that the insects you feed your frog are as 'clean' as possible; in other words, don't use cockroaches caught in the kitchen or yard as these move around and might contain pesticides from a neighbour's spraying; buying from an insect breeder is a safer way to go or catch moths or flies using an insect light. Some insects can be bred easily but do not do any spraying of any kind in the same building as your breeding bugs; avoid feeding insects with large mouthparts to frogs as they can do internal damage and avoid spiders generally as they all carry toxins of some sort. Mealworms are easy to get and breed but they offer no nutrition at all to frogs -- crickets, soil roaches and wood roaches are far better. Some keepers use pinky mice to feed larger frogs but this is not quite the right protein type for frogs and eventually causes fatty tumours and damaged corneas (eyes) in mature frogs.
  7. Always wash your hands and rinse with cold water before handling your frogs and wash again afterwards -- this is to prevent the frog from picking up residues from your skin and for you to remove residues from the frog's skin; the cold water rinse also lowers your surface temperature a little which makes life easier on the frog since its body temperature is significantly lower than yours. Newly acquired frogs which are in quarantine should be handled with disposable gloves for at least a month until you know they are not ill; all frogs not looking well should also be handled with gloves
  8. The size of the enclosure should be as large as possible so that the frogs can move around, jump properly, find hiding places and have room for a decent size water bowl. A frog will soon damage its snout if the enclosure is too small. Austrailian species of frogs are all terrestrial so do not set them up with water in part of the bottom of the tank - they should have only a large bowl for their water.
  9. Some keepers in colder climates who have tropical species will put light bulbs/globes in their enclosures for heat. If you are keeping a species that will require heat, this should be external to the tank so that the frog can't come in contact with it, or have wire screening around it that the closest a frog can get is several centimetres/ inches away from the surface of the bulb. There should be a temperature gauge so that you can monitor and control the temperature and, only one end of the tank should be heated so that the frog can move between warmer and cooler areas of the tank to position itself as needed (these should be horizontal choices - not vertical).
  10. If you acquire any new frogs after you start keeping, the new ones should be kept away (in separate rooms) from your existing frogs for at least a month but preferably two months. Don't share any items between your regular and quarantine frogs such as nets. Wash your hands with an antibacterial in between doing tasks between the two groups of frogs and, if you are cleaning tanks, clean the regular frogs first before moving to the quarantined group. This ensures that if a new frog is diseased, you won't lose all your frogs as a result. Please note that transport can stress these animals. Also note that in Australia, it is illegal to post frogs to people using Australia Post. If they are being shipped to you from another region or state (which we discourage), they need to come by courier. Australian Air Express is often used to fly them from one location to another but this is very expensive.
  11. If you are buying frogs or tadpoles from a pet shop, ask them where the animals came from and if they don't provide a clear answer, don't buy from them. We receive emails from folks in the USA and all over Australia needing help who have bought frogs and tadpoles from pet shops. Some of these animals have turned out to be diseased, parasite ridden, deformed, ill and dying, and/or sometimes the adults appear to have been smuggled. The old saying: buyer beware is appropriate. If you have already purchased a frog or tadpole from a pet shop and it developed medical problems that were present at the time of purchase, report the matter to your local F&WS office or USDA. Consumer Affairs/Fair Trading departments should also be informed if a shop is selling diseased animals as it is not only an environment issue, an animal welfare issue, but an economic/consumer issue as well.

There is much to learn and enjoy when you keep frogs in captivity and once you learn something about them, you can get involved with conservation projects which are trying to help these endearing and ecologically important animals survive better. But please do your homework before deciding to set up frogs in captivity so that you won't be disappointed later and your frogs won't be either!

Frog Law: Queensland's Version

Each state sets their own regulations on the keeping of native animals and this could be any system from completely prohibiting collection and keeping - to allowing the keeping of anything without restriction. In Queensland, frogs are allowed to be kept under the following circumstances (and these could change without notice so always verify before you purchase).

  • You do not need a licence or collection permit if you are ONLY keeping tadpoles or only keeping two frogs per species, for up to four species. For example, you could raise tadpoles and release all but two of each for up to four species. You might keep two Common Green tree frogs, two Ornate Burrowing frogs, two Striped Marsh frogs and two White-lipped tree frogs and you won't need a licence. (We have been informed that QLD government plans to change this exemption so please check with them before acquiring any animals.)
  • The species to be kept are common species only. For example, most of the species that are often found in backyards are still considered 'common' such as the Common Green, White-lipped, Graceful, Brown tree, Eastern Dwarf Sedge, Ornate Burrowing, Marbled Burrowing, Spotted Grass, Striped Marsh and Stoney Creek frogs. You would NOT be able to keep species such as Fleay's Barred, Giant Barred, Green-eyed, Common Mist, Waterfall, Australian Lacelid, Pearson's, Day frogs, or most microhylids for instance.
  • As soon as you want to keep three of a species, or more than four species, you need to apply for a permit. For example, if you wanted to set up three White-lipped tree frogs for possible breeding or if you had two each of four species as in the previous example and you wanted to add a Marbled Burrowing frog to your collection.
  • If you want to keep more than four species or three of any common species, then you would apply for a Recreational Amphibian Licence. After your licence is issued, you will need to keep a record book and pay an annual fee. You also need to make your collection available for random, unannounced inspections by QPWS staff.
  • Once you have a licence to keep frogs, you cannot have any wild caught animals in your collection. So you would then have to release any frogs you had collected yourself or raised from tadpoles. All frogs held under licence have to come from captive sources so you would need to find a breeder for the species you want to keep. (Captive breeding is done in enclosures which prevent the animal from leaving - frogs which breed in backyard ponds are NOT captive bred.) Once licenced, you will not be allowed to collect any frogs OR tadpoles from the wild.
  • If you acquire at least two years of verifiable husbandry experience with a Recreational licence and you have at least two recognised herpetological referees, you can apply for a Specialist licence which allows you to keep some of the classified species mentioned above.

If you live in Far North Queensland in particular, you will quickly begin to see that the Queensland system might make some sense for frog keepers living around Brisbane but, for potential keepers up here, there are some anomalies. For one thing, very few Queensland species have been bred in captivity and the vast majority of captive breeding is taking place in Southeast Queensland. If you need to buy frogs from a breeder, they will have been raised in a different climate to ours and they will be coming from an area where chytrid fungus has been active for many years and new diseases might be arriving and not documented. Finding a breeder will also be a challenge because the department will not reveal the contact details of licenced individuals so you are on your own there. It will also be impossible to distinguish the difference between the frogs in your captive tank and the same species coming in through the open windows in our tropical climate. It might seem a lot of work, too, to have to control all the feeding and maintenance of the frogs in the tank while the backyard frogs come and go and look after their own needs.

Whether the Queensland regs are appropriate to frog conservation is not being discussed here. The information on this page is provided merely to give a potential keeper some basic information about this state's regulations. If you have detailed questions about the Queensland licence system, please contact your nearest QPWS office (now part of the Recreation department under the Newman government). You might also be able to get some assistance from the RSPCA which is now an enforcment authority for wildlife matters in Queensland.