Plants for PacMan Frogs
Many of you may know me from various reptile expos around the Pittsburgh area where I sell the plants and cleanup crew that you need to build your pet the best and most successful bioactive enclosure as possible! A bioactive enclosure is one that includes live plants, soil, and a cleanup crew, usually consisting of isopods and springtails. The cleanup crew will consume decaying plant matter, waste from your pet, and mold, as well as help to fertilize your plants naturally. The goal of a bioactive enclosure is to give your pet something that is as close to their natural habitat as possible. An added bonus of turning your enclosure bioactive is the maintenance level. They typically only need spot cleaned in the sense of cleaning the glass, cleaning up any droppings you see, and trimming plants as needed, as well as any other maintenance your pet would typically need. Trimming plants and aerating soil should be done on an as-needed basis. With the goal of properly recreating your pet's natural habitat, you have to learn about your pet's origin!
Pacman frogs can be found in northwest South America in Venezuela, Peru, Colombia and the surrounding areas. Pacman frogs make their homes in habitats such as subtropical grasslands, ponds, lowland forests, and marshes. Healthy pacman frogs are rotund cuties, with their natural coloring intended to help the frogs camouflage with the leaf litter of their habitats as they lie in wait, half buried, for their prey. All eight species of pacman frogs are compatible with the following plants, which are frequently on my table at both reptile expos and the other events that I attend. If you are looking for any plants in particular, send an email about two weeks prior to the event, so I can be sure to have them in stock.
"Always Good" Plants
There are a couple of plants I call "always good" plants. These are ones that can tolerate a wide range of conditions and are a tried and true plant to be used in a variety of enclosures, especially tropical enclosures. These plants can tolerate some severe abuse, both in the sense of physical that your animals may inflict and with care. Though this list is short, it will not steer you wrong.
Pothos come in a variety of color variations. They can act as a ground cover or climb with supports. The vines will grow aerial roots that attach to surfaces such as cork bark, wood, even foam backgrounds. The petioles are long enough to provide hiding areas for the frogs if used as a groundcover, yet sturdy. Their thick roots can tolerate the burrowing habits by resisting breakage and tolerating disturbance.
Spider plants may be related to asparagus, but it certainly acts more like a grass. It tolerates a mow very similarly to grass does, so if the plant begins to outgrow the enclosure, a simple cut back will help to mitigate that. They come in solid green, variegated, and curly! Spider plants will eventually send out the iconic pups. If these pups are allowed to touch the soil surface, they will root elsewhere in the enclosure. If you do not want it to spread, simply cut the bloom stalks as they form.
Groundcover plants are those that grow along the ground and can eventually fill out the substrate surface. They often give nice places for your isopods and springtails to hide, which is important, especially for the isopods, when it comes to the pacman frog's appetite! They can help to mitigate the need for replacing leaf litter consistently as it decomposes, as this will act as a living leaf litter. While it may not completely rid the need for leaf litter, it can help limit the amount used.
String of Turtles
String of Turtles is a very popular houseplant. It is called such because its circular leaves look like the shells of turtles! This plant goes by the latin name Peperomia prostrata. You will often find them displayed in the succulent section, however they are not succulents. They are tropical plants native to Brazil, making them the perfect plant for the tropical enclosure needed for your frogs. The native range of this plant and several species of frogs overlaps, meaning this may be one they would come across in the wild. As a slow to moderate grower in most circumstances, this plant does not need much maintenance in an enclosure. They don't often grow upwards, making them less likely to get between your frog and their food.
Turtle vine looks like it belongs to the Tradescantia genus, however its Latin binomial is Callisia repens. The turtle vine behaves very similarly to the inch plants and spiderworts, but it has a slightly different appearance. The leaves are small and teardrop shaped. They are a light tan color above, occasionally with small spots. Below the leaf, they are purple, just like that of Tradescantia zebrina. It is also an easy plant to grow and cut back, if need be. Just like the pothos, simply choose a spot and snip! This plant is much more likely to grow upwards, especially in low light or without grow lights. This makes it easy for the frog to get a mouthful of salad rather than the cricket or cockroach intended. The use of tongs may help to lower the chances of this happening, but it is no guarantee.
Strawberry begonias are neither strawberries, nor begonias. They also go by the names creeping saxifrage or Saxifrage solonifera. They are a unique goundcover that spreads in the same way strawberries do, by sending out long runners with a plantlet on the end. Their fine roots tolerate the frog's digging well. Any unwanted plants are easily removed or prevented from spreading by trimming the runners as they form. Eventually, they will send up white blooms on tall stalks that almost resemble a pair of pants with their two long petals. They have hairy, textured leaves and thrive in the conditions needed to keep your frog happy and healthy.
Selaginella is the only living genus in the family of spike mosses, Selaginellaceae. They are an ancient plant and do very well as groundcover for the more horizontal species. Some species grow more upright, which will stay small, just a few inches tall. It is a great plant for a variety of frog enclosures due to their love for high moisture and humidity.
What I am calling "understory" plants are the the plants that will act as a midway point between the tallest and shortest plants in this list. They will fill the space between nicely and give your frog some nice places to feel safe. Ironically, most of the plants on this list are considered understory plants when taken out of this context and placed in the wild.
Peperomia is a genus that contains over 1,000 species, each with their own unique size, color, and growth pattern. Many species of peperomia have an overlapping native range with your frog, meaning they evolved to live together! Some peperomia stay short, even acting as groundcover, such as the aforementioned String of Turtles. Others have strong, sturdy leaves that give a unique appearance to your enclosure. Others yet would behave more like a small shrub, like Peperomia Rosso, which will provide a space for your animal to hide within. It can be hard to tell what is a peperomia and what isn't, due to their extreme diversity, but they are all pet safe, and all great additions to a pacman frog enclosure.
Rex begonias are the most common, but all begonias are going to provide both wonderful color and texture with their leaves. For the frogs, the leaves act as surfaces to and hide under. Begonias can be tough to take care of in the houseplant setting, as they need high humidity and moisture in order to thrive, just like frogs. Many begonias also have showy flowers to add to the aesthetic appeal. Begonia species range in color from shades of green with white polka dots to deep reds, nearly to black. Some species of begonias grow tall, such as the Begonia maculata pictured above. These begonias specifically are not recommended as much for long enclosures, such as what is needed for the pac man frogs, as they do not tolerate heavy trimming. It is much better to stick with rex or wax begonias, ones that will stay small.
Nerve or Polka Dot Plants
Ferns are a plant that enjoy high humidity and a moist substrate. Ferns provide a lot of leaves and greenery for your frogs to use as a hide. Birdsnest ferns have thick leaves that will give the enclosure a different appearance and texture than maiden hair ferns have light and airy leaves that frogs can make their way between and feel safe and protected in. There are so many ferns in between you can choose from! Each species of fern can be used in slightly different ways, but they will all provide a place for your frogs to feel safe within.
Canopy in this sense refers to any plants that will grow to the top of the enclosure. These plants are going to be the tallest ones, allowing for vertical interest while looking at the tank, giving it a finished look. If you plan on keeping your frog in an enclosure that is less than 12 inches tall, some of these should be avoided.
Money Tree Stumps
Money tree stumps are money trees that were allowed to grow to a significantly larger size, then cut back to achieve a certain appearance. These money tree "stumps" are still very alive, growing new leaves similar to that of the umbrella plant out of the top of the stump, near the cut. This results in a nice, thick trunk with luscious leaves on top! These plants are very resilient and low light tolerant, making them fantastic for a frog's enclosure. The leaves at the top of the stump will provide an interesting look and are easy to trim if they become too tall.
Alocasia is a genus of about 90 species, some of which would be too tall for most pac man frog enclosures. Alocasia 'Polly' is a common species that will get to be too tall for the enclosures. But never fear! There are several species of alocasia that will stay short enough and provide vertical interest, as well as big leaves for your frog to hide under. They grow from corms, a type of underground stem that can be replanted in the substrate if the frog digs it up. The roots of this plant will likely hold it in place.
Philodendron is a large and varied genus in the Araceae family. So varied, in fact, that philodendrons can occupy every section of the enclosure, groundcover, understory, and canopy. Some philodendrons, like the one pictured above, have more of a shrub-like pattern while others upward and will easily attach itself to foam backgrounds or wood to sturdy itself. There are also philodendrons that grow in an extremely similar way to a pothos, but with a speed between the pothos and scindapsus, a moderate pace. There is truly a philodendron for any space in the tank. Some philodendron will quickly and easily outgrow the size of the tanks. Some great species of philodendron to fall back on include P. 'Birkin', P. hederaceum, P. micans, P. 'Silver Sword', and many more!
The parlor palm, also called the neathe belle palm, is a small species of palm tree. They are a slow grower that is another plant that would fill in the space near the water bowl nicely. Being a palm tree, they can tolerate wet feet well and do well in high humidity. This is a slow growing palm that will take quite some time to outgrow the enclosure. Should this plant need to be trimmed, it is best to simply cut the trunk and allow the plant to grow back from a stump, rather than trimming the leaves.
When building a bioactive tank, it can be challenging to choose which plants will have the same water requirements and which will stay small enough or can be trimmed to stay small enough to fit in an enclosure. Another thing to note when building bioactive enclosures is to allow the plants to rest before adding the animal. This will give the plants a bit to become established, giving you the best possible chance for success. It is best to leave the bioactive enclosure to acclimate for a month. This can be achieved by having a temporary or quarantine tank ready to go for your pet to live in during this time. This is especially important for species like pacman frogs that dig or burrow. If this is skipped, the likelihood of the success of the plants is decreased.
Choosing one or two plants from each category will create a lovely bioactive tank for your frog to thrive in! If you choose to forego the ground cover options, or even while the ground cover is filling in, consider adding leaf litter to give your cleanup crew a chance to hide. Including plants to your enclosure does not mean you should forego the other, nonliving areas for your gecko to explore. When building your bioactive enclosure, remember to leave space for the necessities, such as food and water bowls, hides, etc. It's easy to get carried away!
As always, if you have any questions on how to assemble your bioactive enclosure or what you should include, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.