Tomato Frog

Tomato Frog

Also known as Madagascar or Sambava Tomato Frog (Dyscophus guineti)

Tomato Frogs are quickly becoming one of the most popular species kept as pets. For this reason, I’ve taken the liberty of writing this care sheet, filled with all the information you need to keep these frogs happy and healthy. I’ve also added quite a bit of information to the husbandry section, should you decide you want to breed your pets. Last but not least, I’ll cover some basic information and misunderstandings surrounded these beautiful Anuras.

Perhaps the best place to start is understanding the Dyscophus Genus. This Genus contains a total of three species; all of which share the common-name “Tomato Frog”. Currently, there seems to be some confusion surrounding two of these species in particular; the antongilii and guineti. This is due, in part, to their strikingly similar appearance and genetic makeup. The Dyscophus antongilii is considered the real “Tomato Frog” while the Dyscophus guineti is sometimes referred to as a false tomato frog or “Sambava tomato frog”.

In the 1990’s, the “real” Tomato Frog was considered endangered. As such, certain collectors and researchers took it upon themselves to attempt breeding them in captivity, in hopes of saving the population and it worked. They were once listed as Vulnerable, then Near Threatened but in 2017, the IUCN Red List updated their status to Least Concern (LC). In recent years there has been some debate on the range they inhabit. Researchers suggest the species may have never been threatened in the first place. Despite the confusion, it’s just good to see their populations are stable.

Now that you know a little background on the Dyscophus Genus, I’ll give you the bad news. Most of the species sold in the pet trade are actually the false tomato frogs. Okay, it’s actually not bad news. In fact, there are so little differences between the two, even researchers having a hard time telling them apart!

In the Wild

Madagascar tomato frogs (Dyscophus antongilii) or False tomato frogs (Dyscophus guineti) are both endemic to Madagascar. The “true” tomato frog is said to inhabit Antongil bay, but due to the confusion between these two species, their real distribution is largely unknown. Aside from the confusion between Dyscophus species, one thing is for certain; they like topical and subtropical climates.

They’re found in rivers, swamps, marshes, and even rural and urban areas. These frogs are ambush predators, hunting mainly at night. They survive by feeding on a variety of invertebrates like mosquitos, flies, and beetles.

When attacked, they secrete a substance from their skin with the purpose of deterring predators (mostly snakes). They also inflate themselves as a warning. This, accompanied by their red coloration, is where their common name comes from. While “puffed-up” they look similar to a tomato.

Tomato Frog Cage Setup

Creating a suitable enclosure for Tomato Frogs is fair easy. This species is nocturnal, so they do not require special lighting. They are terrestrial, which means they will benefit from more horizontal space rather than vertical space. Their substrate needs to be at least 2 inches deep because they like to burrow. And last but not least, they do best in high humidity, so plan accordingly.

  • 10-gallon minimum or 24″ x 18″ x 18″ terrarium (recommended)
  • small, shallow water dish
  • 2 inches of loose substrate (something good for burrowing)
  • Hollow logs or cork bark flats for hiding
  • Live or fake plant decorations
  • Hygrometer Thermometer for checking temperature & humidity

As for the overall dimension, I’ll start by recommending at least a 10-gallon tank minimum. This will hold 2 adults but it will be a little cramped. The bigger their tank is, the better off they will be. For each additional frog you add, I recommend adding another 10 gallons to the tank. Having said that, you can use an aquarium or terrarium.


I almost always recommend terrariums for frogs because they allow fresh air circulation. An 18″ x 18″ x 18″ terrarium would be great for 1 – 2 adult tomato frogs, but bigger is better.

Tomato Frog Cage Setup

When decorating the enclosure, I suggest adding branches, hollow logs, and plants for hiding. Because these frogs burrow, live plants may have their roots exposed and you may have a difficult time keeping them alive.

A small heating pad or basking lamp might be required to keep the temperature warm enough. This all depends on the room temperature their enclosure is kept in; read more about this in the temperature section below.

Tomato frogs don’t require a lot of water. A small, shallow dish filled with clean water will suffice.

Lighting

Tomato frogs don’t require special lighting. Should you decide to decorate their enclosure with live plants, using a full spectrum bulb is fine. A low wattage 2.0 or 5.0 UVB/UVA light set on a day and night cycle will suffice to keep most plants alive and will not have negative effects on your pet. As I mentioned already, tomato frogs don’t require lighting to remain healthy. It’s only if you need lighting for live plants. If this is the case, try to keep the day-time cycle under 14 hours, providing your pet with at least 8 – 10 hours of night-time.

Temperature

Keeping your frog’s enclosure at room temperature or a little higher is a great starting point. To be more specific, keep the temperate between 65 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything above or below can result in injury or death.

A heating pad or basking like might be required to keep the enclosure warm enough, depending on the ambient temperature in your house. If needed, set the heating element up using a thermostat to keep the temperature within the desired range.

Substrate

Tomato frogs love to burrow. Because of this, a loose substrate is recommended. Aim for 2 inches of depth to provide them with enough room. Substrates like eco earth, plantation soil, or other coco fiber substrates are loose, which is ideal for burrowing. Topsoil is another option, provided it’s safe for amphibians (free from pesticides and fertilizers). Mixing sphagnum moss into the substrate or simply placing a generous amount in one corner of the cage is a great idea too. Dampen the moss first and it will help retain humidity within the cage, along with moisture retaining substrates like coconut fiber.

Because Tomato frogs burrow, there is a good chance your live plant’s roots will become exposed. Use careful consideration where you place live plants or simply use fake plants instead.

Water Quality

As with all amphibians, they need access to clean, dechlorinated water. Frogs absorb water through their skin and any toxins in the water will be absorbed as well. This doesn’t mean you should use distilled water either. Frogs like soft-to-medium water hardness with a neutral pH level. Distilled is pure water, which is great, but it lacks minerals. I wrote a comprehensive guide on the subject of clean water for amphibians and, if you want to read it, you can do so by clicking here. In short, use something like ReptiSafe to condition tap-water before using or opt for using bottled drinking water.

Having said that, provide your Tomato frog with a small, shallow water dish and change out the water every other day or as needed. Make sure their water dish isn’t very deep!

Humidity

The humidity level within your frog’s enclosure should be relatively high, around 65 – 80%. To do this, mist their enclosure daily or as needed and invest in a quality hygrometer. Remember, Tomato frogs burrow, so use this to your advantage and pick a moisture-retaining substrate like coconut fiber with sphagnum moss. Over time the substrate will release the moisture into the air, increasing the relative humidity. There are other ways to increase humidity in a terrarium, but misting the cage with a spray bottle is one of the best methods.

Tomato Frog Diet

In the wild, Tomato frogs eat a variety of insects. All their vitamins and minerals are obtained from the live food they eat it. In captivity, however, this is another story. Because it’s not plausible to provide your frog with all the insects they would normally eat in the wild, you’ll need to dust their main food source with calcium and vitamin supplements.

CricketsMealwormsWaxwormsSuperwormsPinkie Mice

I recommend using crickets for their main diet. Dust the crickets with a calcium supplement 1 – 2 times per week and use a vitamin and mineral supplement once a week. Listed below are some additional foods you can give your Tomato Frog.

  • Crickets
  • Superworms
  • Waxworms
  • Mealworms
  • Pinkie Mice

As with most frog species, it’s a good idea to incorporate a variety of different food sources into their diet. Occasionally feeding pinkie mice to adult Tomato Frogs is fine as well. Remember, this species is a nocturnal ambush predator. This means they will feed at night and they like to ambush their food as it passes by.

Reproduction

When creating the breeding section of any care sheet, I try and seek out people with first-hand experience. During my research, I found a huge lack of information on this subject. In fact, I nearly left this section out because I’m not willing to provide you guys with sub-par information. Just as I was about to give up, I stumbled upon an old article describing the efforts of the Baltimore Zoo. Their goal was to breed the Madagascar Tomato Frog (Dyscophus antongilli) naturally, in an effort to help increase their populations.

Up until they began, the only success in breeding this species came with the use of hormones, which sometimes produces adverse side effects. I continued reading the article and, to my surprise, they detailed all the steps they took in successfully breeding Tomato Frogs naturally! If you’re interested in reading the whole thing, I’ve added a link in the references section at the bottom of this page.

Sexing

Before we get to the breeding section, it’s important to establish the difference between male and female. Luckily, it’s easy to tell the difference with Tomato Frogs. The females are larger, measuring between 3.5 – 4 inches in length; they’re bright red or orange. Males, on the other hand, are slightly smaller and more slender. They measure 2 – 2.5 inches in length and they’re not as bright, their colors are a dull red-brown or yellow-orange.

Breeding

The Baltimore Zoo was successful in breeding because they replicated their natural breeding season; the rainy season. Their enclosures were set up with pea gravel covered in sheet moss, slightly sloped to allow for a pool of water on one end. Plants, cork bark and a plastic hut were added for hiding. They fed them gut loaded crickets twice daily, dusted with vitamins and minerals. In addition to this, a full-spectrum light was used for a daytime cycle.

They placed four males and two females in two 48″ x 24″ x24″ terrariums and maintained a dry season for six months. The humidity was kept between 55% – 65% and the water level decreased slightly. Increase ventilation and don’t mist as often to keep a drier relative humidity.

After six months, the researchers attempted to mimic the rainy season by increasing the water level and dimming the lights, while a misting system was used to simulate rain. The next morning, the males began calling and shortly after, they were found in the amplexus position. Amplexus is a position where the male frog grasps the female around the back. The female passes the eggs through the cloaca while the male fertilized the eggs outside the body.

Tomato Frog Amplexus

Male and Female Tomato Frog in Amplexus – Photo credit: www.monkeyfrog.com

Following the same steps as the Baltimore Zoo, you can have success breeding your Tomato Frogs as well. Once the eggs are laid, move the adults out of the enclosure. In roughly 48 hours, the eggs will hatch.

Tadpoles & Froglets

After the tadpoles hatched from the eggs, the researchers proceeded to separate them when they grew to 1/4 inch. The team placed the tadpoles into separate containers with sponge filters. At this point, if you have experience in raising tadpoles, you can take over from here. While you don’t have to separate the tadpoles, it gives you more control over them individually.

Each day, offer the tadpoles a variety of Spirulina flakes, aquarian tropical flakes, and Tetra staple flakes. Perform partial water changes for the tadpoles as needed. After roughly 30 days, the tadpoles will metamorphose into little froglets. At this stage, begin feeding them pinhead crickets and fruit flies dusted with vitamin and mineral supplements. Their color will remain brown or gray for the first two months.

Handling Tomato Frogs

I strongly suggest limiting the amount of time you spend handling these frogs. It’s fine to transport them from one container to another if you need to clean their cage. Any more than that and you’re going to cause unwanted stress for your pet. Handling frogs, in general, is frowned upon. There are few species that tolerate it and the Tomato Frog is not one of them.

If you need to clean their enclosure, clean your hands before touching them. Soap and other chemicals on your hands will be absorbed by the frog, which can be harmful. Rinse your hands with water and leave them damp. Carefully place them into a small container and remove them from their enclosure so you can clean their terrarium.

Perhaps the best sign that you’ve stressed your Tomato Frog is if it secrets a white substance from its back. This is their defense mechanism and it means they feel threatened. In the wild, it’s used to deter predators like snakes. It can cause allergic reactions to humans, so if you come into contact with it, gently place the frog back into its enclosure and thoroughly clean yourself.

References

http://www.umich.edu/~esupdate/library/97.09-10/wisnieski.html

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