American Bullfrog

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Other common names: Bullfrog; Bull Frog

Scientific name: Lithobates catesbeianus

The Basics:
This largest and most impressive of all North American frogs makes a fine, long-lived pet for those with a bit of experience and the room to house one properly. But be prepared – they are ravenous!

The American Bullfrog’s natural range extends from Nova Scotia, Canada south and southwest through much of the USA to central Florida, New Mexico and northwestern Mexico. Shipped worldwide through the pet trade and bred on outdoor farms as a food item, escapees have established breeding populations in dozens of countries as far flung as China, Argentina, Germany and the Philippines.

Adaptable and highly aquatic, the American Bullfrog is found along permanent water bodies that support dense emergent vegetation, such as rivers, swamps, lakes, farm ponds, marshes, canals and streams. Park ponds within large cities are also colonized.

Appearance / Health:
The American Bullfrog is stout in build, and ranges from 5 to nearly 8 inches in snout-vent length; the muscular legs are longer than the body. They are highly variable in color, ranging from green to various shades of brown on the upper body and white to yellowish on the ventral surface. The back is sometimes marked with a network of dark lines, and the chest may be mottled with brown or black.

Well-cared-for pets may live to 18+ years of age. Metabolic bone disease is seen in pets that are fed a calcium-poor diet. Bullfrogs have large appetites and produce a great deal of waste. “Red leg” and other bacterial and fungal infections resulting from poor water quality and high ammonia levels are perhaps the most common cause of death in captive animals.

Behavior / Temperament:
American Bullfrogs, if obtained as tadpoles or youngsters, adjust well to captivity and become quite bold, readily feeding from tongs by day or night. Wild-caught adults and those kept in cramped quarters remain high strung and often succumb to stress-related diseases or injuries.

As is true for all amphibians, American Bullfrogs should be handled only when necessary, and then with wet hands so that the skin’s protective mucus is not removed. Amphibian skin secretions may cause irritations when transferred to their owner’s wounds, eyes, or the mouth.

American Bullfrogs do not fare well in small enclosures. An adult requires a 30 gallon or larger aquarium; a pair may be kept in a 55-75 gallon tank. Water should be of a depth that allows the frog to submerge completely and to float on the surface with the legs extended below. Floating live or plastic plants should cover the surface to provide security. Mopani wood, cork bark or turtle ramps serve well as resting sites. Substrate should not be used on land areas, as anything and everything in the vicinity of food will be swallowed. The tank’s bottom should be bare as well. American Bullfrogs are also very well-suited for life in enclosed outdoor ponds.

Porous skins allow frogs and toads to absorb harmful chemicals from the water and substrate . A powerful canister or submersible filter and weekly partial water changes are essential in maintaining the health of these behemoths.

Ammonia from waste products, uneaten food, and decaying plants is extremely lethal; an aquarium test kit should be used to monitor its levels. Chlorine and chloramine must be removed from water used in aquariums. Liquid preparations that work instantly are available at pet stores.

American Bullfrogs do well at n normal room temperatures. They are active from 65-90+ F, but sustained temperatures above 80 F may be stressful if cool areas are not available, and may also increase the likelihood of bacterial/fungal attack.

Bull Frogs do not require Ultra-Violet B light, but anecdotal evidence indicates that low levels of UVB, along with UVA, may be of some benefit.

Wild American Bullfrogs take nearly any creature that can be swallowed, including insects of all kinds, spiders, fish, crayfish, rodents, bats, birds, snakes and salamanders. In some populations, smaller Bullfrogs make up at least 80% of the diet!

A highly-varied diet rich in calcium is essential for pets. Crickets alone, even if powdered with supplements, will not support long-term health. Minnows, shiners and other fresh water fishes, crayfish and an occasional pink mouse (each 7-10 days) are the best calcium sources. Goldfish should be used sparingly, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other species. Furred rodents are best avoided, due to the risk of impaction and, if offered alive, bite wounds.

Earthworms and night-crawlers serve well as a basis of the diet. Roaches, crickets, locusts, cultured hornworms and, for smaller individuals, other commercially-available insects, should be offered on a regular basis. Insects should themselves be fed a nutritious diet for 1-3 days before being offered to your pets.

Food (other than pinkies, crayfish, and fish) should be powdered with a Calcium/Vitamin D3 supplement. A multiple vitamin/mineral supplement may be used 2-3 times weekly.

Captive reproduction is not common except in large outdoor ponds. Breeding may be stimulated by normal fluctuations in room temperature, but a cooling off period of 4-6 weeks at 50-55 F (after a 7-10 day fast) will yield more consistent results. A commercial rain-system or rain chamber, or increased misting, is useful in stimulating breeding behavior.

Females may be distinguished from males by their (usually) larger size and a tympanum (ear disc) that is equal to or smaller than the eye in size; in males, the tympanum is larger than the eye. Males “wrestle” for mating rights and defend territories. Gravid females produce 400-20,000+ eggs, which are deposited at and just below the water’s surface. At 76 F, the tadpoles hatch within 5-7 days. They may be reared on a diet of fish food flakes, commercial tadpole pellets, and par-boiled kale and other greens. Metamorphosis usually occurs within 4 months, although wild individuals in the northern part of the range may remain in the tadpole stage for 2 years.

Written by Frank Indiviglio


children, big fat guys, frog pond, awesome first frogs, good hardy species


filtration, correct set ups, handling, constant cleaning, water changes


proper education, pinky mice, long life spans

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