One of the largest frogs, the Pixie Frog (also known as African Giant Bullfrog) is a fairly aggressive amphibian. Most consider them a species choice for more experienced handlers. Coloring ranges from an olive green to dark green on the top, with dark brown ridges running the length of their backs. The green fades into a tan or cream color on the underbelly, with orange areas where their limbs attach to the rest of their bodies. They have a very stocky appearance, with a large head and strong limbs. When sitting, they often appear a solid lump.
Native to South Africa, these frogs live in the wild in various (size related) variations all the way up to Tanzania and Kenya. They have a deep, bellowing croak.
Pixie Frog Size & Lifespan
Pixie Frogs (Pyxicephalus) are the second largest frogs in the world (following the Goliath Frog). The males can get up to 9″ (23 cm), while females get up to 5 1/2″ (14 cm) (the small end sits at about four inches for the male and three and a half or the female). The size difference is so extreme because the Pixie Frog is sexually dimorphic, meaning the differences between the sexes extends beyond sex organs. For the Pixie Frog, the most notable difference is their size, with the male being nearly twice the size of the female (often weighing up to two pounds).
With proper care, your Pixie Frog will live anywhere between 12 and 20 years.
Behavior & Characteristics
Pixie Frogs are highly aggressive and, consequently, they should be kept alone. One of the key characteristics of this frog is its tendency to puff up its chest when it is disturbed. This show of aggression makes the already-large frog appear even bigger than it already is, and is an effective defense tactic in the wild.
Pixie Frogs are often confused with Pacman Frogs, as they do look similar in their body build. However, Pacman Frogs are generally yellow or orange, as opposed to the green of the Pixie Frogs. Aside from the fact that Pacman Frogs tend to have slightly shorter lifespans, all other differences between the breeds are negligible. Although the frogs are similar, they still should not be housed together. The only time Pixie Frogs should not be housed alone is if you have a breeding pair of Pixie Frogs.
Pixie Frogs do not have teeth in the technical sense of the word. However, they do have odontoids that look disturbingly like teeth (and feel like it, too). These projections are used in the wild for catching their prey, but they have no issue biting their human handlers either.
Male Pixie Frogs will generally be larger than the female in a mated pair. If you have only one and are trying to determine the sex, look for yellow on the throat and underbelly. If it is there, the Frog is probably a male. They also tend to be olive green, while females are smaller and are a lighter green. Females also tend to be white on their throat and underbelly. The males will also give off a deep, long mating call during certain seasons.
Pixie Frogs are distinctly not picky eaters. They will eat whatever they can fit in their mouths – including each other, another good reason for them to be the only inhabitant of their tank. Typical meal choices include waxworms, crickets, rodents, trout or salmon pellets, super worms, and roaches. In the wild, their diet would also include other amphibians and also small reptiles. However, Pixie Frogs kept in captivity are at a high risk for obesity, so non-insect food choices, including rodents and other amphibians, should only be offered once every two or three weeks at most.
Juvenile Pixie Frogs (under three inches) should eat daily. Offer them whatever amount of food they can eat in 15 minutes. Larger adult Pixie Frogs should have 15 minutes to eat whatever they can, but should only be offered food two to three times per week.
Always feed on a feeding dish or flat rock—never from your hand. Your Pixie Frog has a keen sense of sight, but will not hesitate to bite you if you try to feed from your hand. Another option would be feeding from a forceps.
Add a calcium supplement to your Pixie Frog’s food every week, and a multivitamin supplement every other week. Be sure your multivitamin also contains vitamin D3, or else add this vitamin to your Pixie Frog’s diet separately.
Provide a water dish for your Pixie Frog that is deep enough for the frog to soak itself in if it decides to do so. Be sure to clean the bowl each day as your frog probably will submerge itself.
Signs of health concern for your Pixie Frog include more time than usual in hiding, disinterest in food or water, significant weight loss, discolored or swollen joints, runny droppings for more than a couple days, and any discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth. Your frog will probably take three or four days to adjust to new surroundings when you first bring it home, but after that, any signs of health concern should be addressed with your veterinarian.
Pixie Frogs will hibernate during the winter, burying itself in the substrate and creating a cocoon around itself that prevents all moisture from leaving the skin. If dug up, your frog may resemble a shriveled raisin. Placing the frog in shallow water will cause it to return to normal. However, be aware that your Pixie Frog will also want to eat a lot upon waking up from hibernation.
Pixie Frog Care
Pixie Frogs need a minimum of a 15-gallon tank (60L) (Rubbermaid and Sterilite bins are popular alternatives to an aquarium tank). Adult male Pixie Frogs often need a tank that is at least 20 gallons or more due to their large size. If you get a juvenile Pixie Frog, keep in mind that it may outgrow its tank.
Juvenile Pixie Frogs can be housed in a 5- or 10-gallon tank temporarily, if needed.
The cheapest substrate option is probably paper towels. However, these will need to be changed daily. A more aesthetically pleasing and lower maintenance substrate option is top soil. While more expensive, it does provide a natural look and requires only spot cleaning each day, rather than a complete change. If you go the top soil route, be sure to change it out every other week to prevent a buildup of mold and bacteria. A third substrate option is using terrycloth washcloths or towels. However, when you wash these, be sure to do so without using fabric softener.
In any case, the substrate will need to be moistened with non-chlorinated water. The substrate, especially towels, should be kept moist at all times. While dechlorinated tap water is fine, do not use distilled water, since it does not contain minerals. Maintain the humidity between 50 and 80 percent. Misting your Pixie Frog each day is also a good option (one that may be much appreciated by the Frog, at least). Keeping a squirt bottle or mister nearby can also be an effective way to maintain the substrate and walls of the tank damp as well, which will all contribute to the constant humidity of the tank.
Pixie Frogs prefer temperatures that are between 72 and 82°F (22-27°C), with nighttime temperatures able to drop to around 68°F (20°C). Use under tank heaters or heaters on the sides of the tank. Heat tape, heating cable, or other heating methods are acceptable as well. The only form of heat to avoid is a basking light. Be sure to monitor the heat level of the tank, usually via a thermometer at substrate level. If you are struggling to maintain moist heat inside the tank, you can use moss. Just be sure to change the moss frequently and keep it away from feeding areas where your Pixie Frog may accidentally ingest it.
Pixie Frogs’ sleep/wake cycle is nocturnal, and consists of 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness, so you will need to supply light accordingly. Ultraviolet (UVB) light is a great option, and some believe this choice of light source aids in vitamin and mineral absorption. However, data on the benefits of UVB for Pixie Frogs is inconclusive, and they are not picky about their lighting.
A hiding place—whether a box, a flower pot, or some other option—should be available to your frog at all times. Branches and logs also provide secure hiding places for your Pixie Frog to feel safe. Live plants may add to the tank’s natural look, but be aware that your Pixie Frog will probably dig up the plants. Alternatively, silk leaves or other forms of fake leaves and foliage are easier to clean and should not cause issues for your frog.
Male Pixie Frogs will give a deep mating call that lasts around three seconds. Females lay up to 4,000 eggs at a time, generally in shallow water. The male fertilizes the eggs immediately after they are laid. The female will usually lay the eggs in several batches, one after the other. The male frog will then defend and protect the eggs, and the female generally will not stay with them. The eggs will hatch two days after they are laid, and morph from tadpoles to small frogs 19 days later.
If you plan to breed a pair of Pixie Frogs, keep in mind that a normal size tank will not work. Pixie Frogs need a lot of space when breeding and hatching eggs. Many breeders have found small children’s swimming pools an excellent option. However, due to space and resources needed to breed a pair, it is fairly uncommon for nonbreeders to attempt to breed their Pixie Frogs.