Frog Care 101

The exhibition Frogs – A Chorus of Colours has been here for a few weeks now, and the frogs are settling in. They are delicate and need specialized care to stay healthy and happy. So what exactly does taking care of 80 exotic frogs entail? Our frog-keeper, Leslie Thompson, who has been travelling with Reptiland exhibitions since 2008, let me shadow her during her morning routine so I could find out!

A Chinese gliding frog in its habitat at the museum.

This Chinese gliding frog (Rhacophorus dennysi) is eating a cricket that it accepted from Leslie’s tongs. Image: Charlotte Field © Canadian Museum of Nature

Every morning, Leslie arrives bright and early to clean and feed the frogs before the exhibition opens. One by one, she sprays down the tanks with purified water to increase humidity and give the live plants a little extra water. She replaces rocks, moss, and branches that the frogs have moved around in the night, when many of them are most active, and scrubs water features to prevent algae.

Because the frogs spend so much time in the water, Leslie skims their pools to remove anything that may irritate them, such as moss and dead skin. Finally, she cleans the glass using purified water inside and glass cleaner outside.

A woman sprays water into an open terrarium.

Frog-keeper Leslie Thompson sprays down the terrariums with purified water to increase humidity, clean the glass and water the live plants. Image: Charlotte Field © Canadian Museum of Nature

As she cleans, Leslie feeds the frogs. Frog metabolisms are slower than humans’, so they eat less often. Active frogs, such as tree frogs, chow down three times a week, while the sedentary frogs, including the bullfrogs, eat twice a week. They get live crickets, with the occasional super worm (a giant mealworm-like creature) or cockroach (which some find bitter and refuse to eat).

Many of the frogs can “tong-feed”, meaning that Leslie holds the cricket in a pair of tongs and the frogs, excited by the wriggling of the bug, grab it! Others prefer to “broadcast”, wherein Leslie releases a couple crickets at a time into the tank, watching to ensure that everyone eats their share.

This video shows the feeding of various frogs. Caregiver Leslie Thompson uses tongs to offer crickets to some frogs. Other frogs catch for themselves the crickets that she released into the terrarium. Leslie comments on the appetite of some of the frogs. Video: Charlotte Field © Canadian Museum of Nature

Do any frogs ever escape during cleaning? Occasionally, Leslie says, one will jump out of the tank, but they’re quickly scooped up and placed back in their home. They aren’t really trying to make a break for it—they live pretty comfy lives in the exhibition!

I was surprised to learn that frogs can develop a lot of the same health problems as humans, from kidney disease to mouth sores. Their permeable skin makes them extremely sensitive to bacteria. Even more surprising was that a lot of the treatments and medications for a sick frog are the same for humans! For example, Leslie will use an antiseptic cream to hasten the healing of cuts or skin abrasion. Eye drops treat eye infections, and injections of antibiotics address internal infections (all under the supervision of a veterinarian).

Styrofoam containers containing brushes and nets on a cart.

To avoid contamination between terrariums, each of them has its own set of brushes and nets for daily maintenance. Leslie uses the nets for cleaning ponds, and the toothbrushes for cleaning algae and scrubbing exhibits. Image : Charlotte Field © Canadian Museum of Nature

Leslie also makes sure the frogs get their vitamins. The most effective way to do that is through their food. The crickets are fed dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes, which ultimately end up in the frogs, and she dusts them with calcium and multivitamin powders before they become frog food.

Leslie spends between three and four hours a day just on basic care for the frogs, and she’s always on call in case anything unexpected happens. We’re happy to have her expertise here during Frogs – A Chorus of Colours, and I’m sure the frogs are too!

Uncommon Work

The job of “frog caregiver” is not an ordinary career. Leslie explains how she arrived on that path:

From a young age, I knew that I wanted to work with animals. In high school, I interned at a veterinarian’s office. I enjoyed some aspects of the job, but couldn’t see myself doing surgeries or euthanizing people’s pets. I graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, U.S.A., with a bachelor of science. During my studies, I took a course called Intro to Zookeeping, which introduced me to the world of captive-animal husbandry and management.

A Chinese gliding frog in a woman's gloved hand.

Leslie holds a Chinese gliding frog (Rhacophorus dennysi). Image: Charlotte Field © Canadian Museum of Nature

The summer after university, my hometown zoo, Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland, was hiring. I’ve been working there for six years now and have been promoted to senior zoo-keeper. I mostly stay at the zoo and help manage our animal populations, but I’ve also cared for our traveling exhibitions at the National Geographic museum in Washington D.C., the American Museum of Natural History in New York, N.Y., and the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Ontario.

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