There are numerous reasons that frogs make excellent pets, especially for beginners and even children (with supervision, of course). Frogs are beautiful, fascinating, easy to care for, and low maintenance, just to name a few. For many, the allure of a frog is just how hands-off they are, but others are interested in a bit more interaction with their slippery friends.
So, which species will tolerate being held? What are the best pet frogs for handling?
The best pet frogs for handling are calm, medium species such as White’s tree frog, and waxy monkey leaf frogs. On the other hand, small frogs, poisonous frogs, aquatic species, and ambush predators are not appropriate for handling. All species require gloves and excellent hygiene to be safely handled.
Below, we’ll cover which species you can handle, which frog species are best hands-off, and how to safely handle your pet frog.
Can Frogs Be Handled?
While they aren’t cuddly by any means, some frogs can be handled. Whether or not that’s a good idea or even safe depends on a variety of factors.
Like most amphibians, frogs have semi-permeable skin that is built to absorb. Most of their skin takes in oxygen to allow them to breathe, and an especially absorbent region on their underbelly and thighs known as the “drinking patch” helps them take in water. This amazing adaptation has a downside, though.
Frogs will also readily take in toxins and oils from their environment and are often used as an indicator species to detect pollutants in water sources. And while the ingredients in your sunscreen or lotion might be safe to use on your skin, frogs are incredibly fragile.
But even if you don’t use these products, freshly cleaned hands are also a potential hazard. The microbiome of human skin typically contains nearly 1000 species of bacteria, fungi, archaea, protists, and viruses. In most cases, these microscopic organisms are harmless or even helpful for us, but amphibians have very different biology from us.
That said, it is possible to safely handle a frog as long as you take special precautions, like using gloves and washing your hands. Handling these creatures can be a fun, interesting experience, and unlike some other herp species, you often don’t have to worry about painful bites!
But as we’ll touch on below, there are several types of frogs that you should avoid handling.
Do Frogs Enjoy Being Handled?
Believe it or not, many frog species are social and even intelligent. That said, frogs are also small critters that typically have a variety of predators and do not naturally trust us large, scary humans. Whether or not frogs can see humans as their friends is likely impossible to study, but it is typically assumed that frogs do not enjoy being held like some reptiles appear to.
Some owners report that their frogs appear to enjoy being held, however, and there may be possible explanations for this. As ectotherms, frogs rely on their surroundings to regulate their body temperatures. In theory, a frog may come to enjoy your warm hands and, in the case of arboreal species, the safety of being held up high. In other words, a frog becoming accustomed to handling may not just be a matter of desensitization, but also learning to associate it with comfort and security.
That said, no frog enjoys being held excessively. Holding a frog for long stretches of time or high frequencies is bound to lead to great stress for any species.
4 Best Pet Frogs For Handling
Generally speaking, it’s easiest to hold larger species that are calm and tolerate moderately humid or dry conditions. Frogs that prefer heights will also be more comfortable being held than those that hide in substrate for safety. Accordingly, some of the best species for handling are large, arboreal tree frogs.
1. White’s Tree Frog
- Typical Size: 3 to 4.5 in (7 to 11.5 cm)
- Enclosure Requirements: 15 gallons, tall
- Temperature: 75 to 85 F (24 to 29.4 C)
- Humidity: 60-90%
- Life Expectancy: 15 to 20 years
If there’s any frog that is perfect for handling, it’s White’s tree frog. White’s tree frogs are popular beginner frogs, especially for children. They are easy to care for, hardy, and have an adorably frumpy appearance. You can learn more about these little guys here:
2. White-Lipped Tree Frog
- Typical Size: 4.3 to 5.5 in (11 to 14 cm)
- Enclosure Requirements: 30 gallon
- Temperature: 78 to 85 F (28 to 29 C)
- Humidity: 55-70%
- Life Expectancy: 10 years
Not to be confused with the previously mentioned White’s tree frog, white-lipped tree frogs are Australian natives that are beloved for their docile tendencies. They typically have a calm, peaceful disposition and can easily be housed in small groups. You can see one of these large frogs enjoying a cricket here:
3. Crowned Tree Frogs
- Typical Size: 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6 cm)
- Enclosure Requirements: 20 gallons
- Temperature: 70 to 80 F (21 to 26.6 C)
- Humidity: 50-70%
- Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years
With three prominent spines forming a crown on the back of their heads, this unusual species certainly sticks out in the crowd. Not only are crowned tree frogs visually striking, but they also have a laid-back temperament that makes them easy to handle compared to other species. This video does a great job showing these frogs:
4. Waxy Monkey Leaf Frog
- Typical Size: 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6 cm)
- Enclosure Requirements: 20 gallons, tall
- Temperature: 80 to 85 F (26.6 to 29 C)
- Humidity: 60-70%
- Life Expectancy: 8 to 10 years
Waxy monkey leaf frogs are named for the waxy substance they secrete to help them retain water. As a result, this frog species can handle being away from humidity much better than many other species. Due to their large size, love of heights, and ability to adjust to dry weather, waxy monkey leaf frogs are easy to handle. That said, waxy monkey frogs can be flighty, and tolerance for handling varies substantially from individual to individual.
This video does a great job showing you how large these frogs can be:
Which Frogs Not to Handle
While the above frogs can be held in moderation, there are several species that are not recommended to be handled at all.
Fully Aquatic Frogs
By definition, most frogs and other amphibians begin their lives as aquatic larvae and then slowly adapt to live out their adult lives on land. There are several species common in the pet trade that are the exception to the rule, however. With their goofy appearance, unusual antics, and shockingly simple care, African dwarf frogs and African clawed frogs have become increasingly popular in the aquarium community.
But because these unusual species are aquatic for their entire lives, they have no mechanisms to prevent their skin from drying out when they leave the water. The equally peculiar Surinam toad must also remain in the water and be treated much like a fish in terms of care.
Poison dart frogs aren’t a good species to hold, but not for the reason you may expect. Although species such as the golden poison frog have enough neurotoxins to kill 10 humans in the wild and can even fatally poison through skin-to-skin contact, captive dart frogs aren’t actually poisonous at all. Because wild poison dart frogs acquire their powerful adaptation via the insects they eat), captive-bred frogs raised on typical feeder insects possess no toxins.
This isn’t the case with many other species, however.
Fire-bellied toads and Amazon milk frogs are two species commonly kept in captivity. Both secrete moderate toxins that, while not fatal or particularly deadly, can cause intense burning of the skin and eyes. Transporting these species obviously involves the use of gloves, but anything more than that is a bad idea. Even with gloves on, it’s easy to mess up and touch your eyes or mouth without thinking. Considering most of these bold species aren’t fond of being touched either, they’re better to admire from afar.
Let’s be real– mini frogs are cute. Who could see an appropriately named flea frog, golden mantella or even tomato frog and not want to scoop it right up? Unfortunately, smaller species are some of the worst to handle for a variety of reasons. A tiny frog is the perfect snack for even small predator animals, and is accordingly fearful.
This means that your frog is likely to spend more time on the floor than in your hands if you try to hold it. Furthermore, when these frogs get out of your grasp, they can easily squeeze themselves into small spaces or get lost out of reach. For as rewarding as housing a compact critter can be, it’s best to keep them as a display animal only.
Pacman Frogs, Pixie Frogs, And Other Ambush Predators
Species like Pacman frogs are slow-moving and calm frogs that in theory, should be perfect for handling. But aside from their goofy proportions, there’s a trait that truly sets these frogs apart from other species– they have teeth!
Pacman frogs are ambush predators that use a combination of maxillary and vomerine teeth to latch onto unsuspecting prey and swallow them whole. These teeth rarely break skin or even hurt very much, but Pacman frog bites can be annoying, to say the least. Pacman frogs are opportunistic, meaning they will likely try to eat anything that can fit in that massive mouth of theirs. Pacman frog bites are rarely malicious, but many of these eager amphibians will jump at any movement and not let go.
Similarly, Pixie frogs are ambush predators that are popular in captivity, yet not recommended to hold. Pixie frogs not only have teeth, but also possess three sharp odontodes on their lower jaws which act as fangs to hold onto food and even draw blood!
Tearing a frog from your skin could harm it or stress it out, so you’ll pretty much just have to wait for these not-so-intelligent frogs to figure out you aren’t food. Similar ambush predators include chubby frogs, horned frogs, and bullfrogs, all of which may be similarly held with a certain degree of risk.
Some species or even individual frogs are simply more flighty than others, and are much more likely to attempt to get out of your reach whenever handled. This can lead to stress, injury, or even a successful escape.
Popular yet shy species include many poison dart frogs, American green tree frogs, red-eyed tree frogs, gray treefrogs and several others not on this list.
How To Handle a Frog
Now that we’ve discussed which frogs are and are not appropriate for handling, we’ll go over how exactly to handle them. While the actual act of handling a frog is simple, there are plenty of safety precautions to keep in mind.
Pick a Safe Environment
It’s unfortunately common for people to worry about where they handle their frogs only after something bad happens. If you hold enough frogs often enough, it’s inevitable that one will jump out of your hands at some point or another.
As a responsible frog owner, it’s your job to make sure that this landing spot is somewhere safe. A safe location is one that is open and lacks places for your frog to hide under or become stuck in, such as heavily furnished rooms. A frog can easily get trapped underneath a short-legged couch and dry out, for instance.
Other pets such as dogs or cats are major threats, no matter how harmless they may seem. At the end of the day, these mammals are predators whose instincts can easily kick in at the sight of fast-moving prey. Along with the physical trauma that an animal bite will cause, the natural bacteria found in a dog or cat’s mouth can seriously harm your frog. Outdoor locations are also undesirable due to the creepy, crawly parasites that can quickly call your frog home.
Wash Your Hands Before and After
Even if you wear gloves (which you should!) it’s still a good idea to wash your hands before and after handling your frog. Washing your hands prior to holding your frog can reduce the likelihood of exposure to contaminants, but just be sure to rinse your hands off thoroughly.
While scrubbing your hands initially helps keep your frog safe, washing your hands after handling your frog is actually a safety precaution for you. Like reptiles, the skin of amphibians naturally harbors salmonella, a species of bacteria that can cause a disease known as salmonellosis. Luckily, avoiding these germs is as easy as a simple hand scrub!
Gloves Are Required
As we’ve covered above, frogs are able to absorb countless chemicals through their skin and are incredibly fragile to any contaminants. While some owners utilize a strict hand-washing procedure, residual soap or even chlorine can still seep into your long-legged friend’s skin.
Instead, you should use non-powdered food-grade or medical-grade disposable gloves while handling your frog. Good options include nitrile gloves like these vinyl gloves like these.
Although it could save you a few cents, you should avoid holding onto used gloves and use a new pair of gloves each handling session. For high-humidity species, you may lightly moisten your hands with chlorine-free water. Avoid using distilled or deionized water, as these lack minerals that are important for your frog.
There are some frogs that will just let you reach right into their enclosure and snatch them up, but most frogs aren’t so willing to be held from the get-go. Slowly acclimate your frog to your presence, building your way up from sticking your hand in their enclosure for a minute or two to holding them for brief periods. The more successful these initial attempts go, the easier future handling sessions may be.
Pick Up Your Frog
Once you’ve gotten your frog more accustomed to you, it’s time for the tricky part– actually picking them up! To pick up a small or medium frog, it’s easiest to physically scoop them up and cup them in your hands. You can also allow the frog to rest on your pointer finger and be gently restrained with your thumb.
For medium-sized or large frogs, it may be possible to place a flat hand in front of them and lightly press on their backside to encourage them to jump onto your hand. Alternatively, frogs that are large enough may be carefully grasped with your fingers around their midsection. Take care not to hold your frog by pinching or compressing its sides or back, as this can cause injury to their ribs or spine.
Don’t Pet Vulnerable Regions
To avoid the most stress, handling your frog shouldn’t consist of anything other than allowing it to sit in your hands or perch on your finger. But if you or a child insist on petting your frog, a particularly tame species like a White’s tree frog may let you get away with it.
Use the two-finger rule and avoid touching vulnerable areas, such as their head or stomach. Gently petting your frog along its back is the area that is the least likely to cause it to panic. If your frog shows any signs of fear or distress, stop petting them and if necessary, return them to their enclosure.
Keep Handling Sessions Brief
At the end of the day, frogs typically aren’t fond of being held. These prey animals are naturally fearful of would-be predators and large animals, so even tamed frogs still have an instinct that kicks in at some point. It’s best to try to put your frog up before they show signs of stress, but at the very least you can abide by their signs of stress.
Try to keep handling sessions short and infrequent as much as possible to reduce your frog’s anxiety and make the experience as pleasant as possible.
In general, amphibians are really a hands-off class of pets, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be handled occasionally. Picking a species that is comfortable with being handled and that is safe to handle can make the experience pleasant for everyone involved, including your frog itself.