Keeping my froggies warm for the winter...
November 19, 2011 10:27 PM   Subscribe

How do I best heat my frog's tank? I have two African Dwarf Frogs and the temperature of their water is dropping too low. Their tank is too small for the heater they had in the pet store...

I've had my frogs for 3+ months, and they've been doing just dandy. A couple days ago, I noticed one of them was very pale, and looking it up online I thought he had a fungus and was dying! But alas, the pet store girl said he was more likely just changing his skin color because frogs sometimes do that when they're cold (who knew!). I got a thermometer and turned my desk lamp on right above them, and the water temp heated up by several degrees and he is back to normal now! I am very relieved. But this is not something I can keep on them 24/7. Mainly because other things I have read online said that it is best if they can get a normal day/night cycle. If they don't, they can get stressed out and get sick :( These tiny little frogs are prone to illness, and I want to keep mine as healthy and happy as possible.

I got them in one of these mini-aquariums. They are sold like this, and it's a mini eco-system. The "living gravel" magically breaks down waste and the bamboo eats up the nutrients and gives off oxygen (or so they say). They are supposed to be kept in a small aquarium to keep them from growing. If anyone is an expert, feel free to tell me this product is a sham and I should do something different!

So here's the issue: the water heater they had at the pet store was too big for the tank, plus the tank has a plastic top that fits securely (with an air hole) because these guys will jump out if the top isn't blocked. I'm keeping a desk lamp on them 24/7 at the moment because they seem happier in the warmer water. But how can I keep their water warm at night, when the light should be off? I'm afraid to turn the light off because I'm pretty sure the water will cool off rapidly overnight, and the change would be too much of a shock for them.
posted by DoubleLune to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
Is there a reason big frogs are undesirable?

They say you want 3-5 watts of heater per gallon, but a 4" cube is less than a third of a gallon, and I'm not seeing any 1-watt aquarium heaters on the google.

Is there a warmer place you can move them to? Or else, put something warm near the tank... like a hotplate on low just sitting next to it.
posted by cmoj at 10:49 PM on November 19, 2011

Maybe a seedling heat mat would help?
posted by librarina at 10:58 PM on November 19, 2011

What about the lower-watt (maybe 60) nocturnal heat/light bulbs from the reptile section of the pet store? They're blue or red, I forget, colored to simulate night.
posted by changeling at 11:54 PM on November 19, 2011

Best answer: I don't normally put a lot of faith in PETA's ability to remain unbiased (to say the least), but they get this particular issue right.

You can build a more humane habitat for the sweet lil froglets by following this basic guide [pdf] and then building on that with ideas from these ADF experts: (1), (2), (3).

I'm glad you noticed they needed more warmth and are trying to do the right thing by them - if they could thank you, they would!
posted by batmonkey at 12:05 AM on November 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

You can't find proper heating for these tanks because they are too small. Get a real tank for them.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:24 AM on November 20, 2011

4" x 4" is indeed really small. They would quite likely be happier with more space. But I am a snake person, and not a frog person, and therefore I cannot say.

However, as a snake person, I *can* recommend ultratherm under-tank heaters from the Bean Farm (and probably other places, but I know the Bean Farm is awesome). I use those for all my snakes, and they are by far the safest heating pads I've ever seen. They can safely stay on all the time, and this kind is way less likely than normal pet store brands to mess up and heat the water too much. A thermostat is still recommended, but honestly, if you have to, you can just set a towel on top of the thing and check the temperature sometimes to make sure it's still all right. That's what I tend to do for my fosters, though my pets all have thermostats.

Again, I don't know what is best for frogs, though. If you google I suspect you can find a herpetological society in your area with some amphibian people who might be able to help you more. There are definitely forums for people interested in every kind of reptile and amphibian out there, and there are very knowledgeable people who can help you with your questions. And we are always happy to do it!
posted by Because at 5:23 AM on November 20, 2011

Those little eco-system tanks are a total sham. We don't even sell them at the pet store I work at. African Dwarf frogs need about a gallon to two gallons of water per frog. I would suggest getting a 5 gallon tank, and switching the frogs to that.

You can keep the bamboo and gravel if you want but you will still have to clean the water periodically, there is no such thing as a permanently self-cleaning tank. Oh and if the frogs are actually african dwarf frogs, the biggest they will get is about 1.5 to 2 inches. Rarely they will get bigger, but that tends to only happen if they're fed heavily from a very young age.
If they get bigger than that, you probably got sold mis-identified african clawed frogs.
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 7:01 AM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to be partially responsible for the care of frogs (in a lab), although a different species that lived in the states. The goal was to keep them in optimal conditions.

To keep both the temperature and lighting optimal, many labs use lights. The one difference between your set up, though, is that the lights were set up on timers to go off at a set time at night and on in the morning. I just did a quick google scholar search on dart frogs and temperatures and looked through what other labs do, and in the methods sections it is reported that they use the same techniques (lights on timers) and that the temps do drop in the containers at night. Please note the temperatures drop to 20 or 22 degrees Celsius (this is where your home temperature may play a role). Even if you use a different heating system, you still may want to use the timer system for lights just to give them a normal day and night cycle.

Looking at your system. I'm not going to type all this because on preview batmonkey's links are really good and it points out things that would be stressors to your frogs (e.g. give them something to stand on or climb out of water, places to hide, etc.).The verbiage describing your system (from the company) is over the top and a lot of those things are not needed. For example, oxygen will be available even if nothing is in tank. Oxygen diffuses into the water and frog's skin are permeable and can take up some of this oxygen (to a limit if the water is too deep and/or dirty, this will not happen). Frogs also have lungs and take in oxygen in a similar manner to us (breathing in and out),which is another reason that you can give them something to stand on if they get stressed,need a place to rest and breathe. In a lab, we changed the water very frequently (every few days), although the water was shallower. I noticed other labs did the same from the methods sections for the care of dwarf frogs.
posted by Wolfster at 7:35 AM on November 20, 2011

The "living gravel" magically breaks down waste and the bamboo eats up the nutrients and gives off oxygen (or so they say). They are supposed to be kept in a small aquarium to keep them from growing. If anyone is an expert, feel free to tell me this product is a sham and I should do something different!

Rule of thumb is one gallon of water per inch of aquarium critter. Also, Dwarf African Frogs like places to hide. Here's more info on your frogs. I would not try to heat such a tiny amount of water with a seedling mat- you run the risk of cooking your frogs. The light is okay, but a larger tank will hold its temperature for longer. It's much better to get a legit set up for them. I don't believe in "anaerobic living gravel"- water is filled with oxygen, so that doesn't make any sense.

Also, "bamboo" roots respire: they take in oxygen and give off CO2. The parts of plants that transpire are the ones with chlorophyll, taking in light and giving off oxygen. There needs to be leafy bits with stomata underwater to produce oxygen, AFAIK. It will use some nitrates, but only as fast as it grows. I would not count on it using up all the ammonia -> nitrite -> nitrate... how would you know until your frogs get sick?
posted by oneirodynia at 4:26 PM on November 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks guys... I now feel a bit guilty for keeping them in this environment :( Unfortunately they'll have to stay in it for a couple more weeks until I have the funds for an aquarium, or possibly my friend who breeds snakes has an extra one. Or ebay or something.

They are definitely African dwarf frogs -- I was aware of the similarity with clawed frogs so I double checked!

Batmonkey, those links were really fantastic!
posted by DoubleLune at 4:01 PM on November 22, 2011

I'm glad they were helpful - I felt your pain, love frogs, and wanted to make it easy for you!

You might be able to find something faster by looking on Craigslist or Freecycle - or, if it's still active in your area, finding the community for your area on LJ and directly asking. Some rescues, city shelters, and societies have extras on hand for the asking, too.

At that, finding the link to whatever herp society is in your area could give you an entire community of people who could have the bits and pieces of a fabulous system just laying around in wait for a noble newbie to ask.
posted by batmonkey at 5:59 PM on November 22, 2011

Response by poster: From what I can find, there aren't any local groups... I did try to contact someone on Craigslist but the listings were all at least a week old :/ I'm thinking a 2.5 gallon tank would be adequate, so I might actually be able to get one of them at a reasonable price.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:59 PM on November 22, 2011

Response by poster: Got one on Craigslist that I can pick up Friday! Thanks again for the advice here... My froggies say thanks too!
posted by DoubleLune at 11:49 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

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