Tomato Frogs - Not Your Garden Variety Pet

Posted by Nancy on 1/8/2015 to Reptile Care Sheets

If I said tomato to a crowd in the mall most people would think of a round red vegetable.  If I said tomato to a person at a reptile show most would ask where the frogs are.  The tomato frog is a member of the family Microhylidae, a huge family of very small frogs.  The tomato frog is a giant among the family with the males reaching 2 1/2 inches and the female 4 inches, snout to vent.

It is best to purchase captive bred specimens.  Not only are you supporting breeders in this country, you are discouraging collecting wild species, which is good for the conservation of the species.  Please remember that wild caught species invariably carry parasites and can also harbor other diseases.  Captive bred frogs are healthier, less stressed due to having never been in the wild and usually live longer as they are sold at a younger age.  Wild caught specimens are hard to age.The name for this frog comes from the female as they are the brighter red.  The males are usually a darker orange or a dull yellow orange.  The color and size makes it easy to sex these frogs when they are mature.  Both sexes have ridges running from behind the eye along the back.  Juveniles have a lightly colored yellowish-brown back.  Below the ridges the color is a pale gray to very light brown.  Many of the frogs in the pet trade are juveniles.  This has sometimes lead to confusion for would be owners.  The coloration will change as your frogs become adults.  Most tomato frogs live 6 - 8 years with some reaching the ripe old age of 10.

Captive bred tomato frogs are usually available in early spring and summer.  Look for juveniles with no cloudiness to the eyes and which have bright coloration.  They should be active when you disturb them.  Look for a frog that has a rounded body, a sure sign they are well fed.

Tomato frogs are easy to care for.   The most critical care component is temperature.  Fortunately, most homes are in the comfort range of 65 degrees to 80 degrees.  You should use a thermometer to insure the temperature remains in the correct range.  If the room your frogs are housed in falls below 65 degrees place an under tank heater under part of their tank.

Tomato frogs are nocturnal and quite secretive.  During the day they may bury themselves in their substrate.  At night, they often emerge to forage.  One technique they use is to ambush their prey.  They sit half emerged in their substrate and wait for food to come near.   For these reasons the substrate should be at least 2 inches deep, with three to four inches ideal.  I do not recommend live plants.  The burrowing nature of these frogs means that they often uproot plants.  Plastic plants with suction cups attached to the wall of the terrarium will add beauty and hiding spots.A ten gallon tank will house one or two tomato frogs, but a twenty gallon will be needed if you have a trio of frogs.  The frogs do not climb well, but a lid is highly recommended to prevent escape.  These frogs are not aquatic or even semi-aquatic but they do need water.  Add water bowl with a depth of 1-2 inches.  You do not need to bury the bowl, but make sure that the bowl has sloping sides so your frog can climb out easily.

The substrate should be changed every one or two months depending on the size of the terrarium.  The substrate should be damp, but not wet.  You may want to add wooden hides for your frogs.  Not only will the hides add beauty to your setup, but the frogs will appreciate them.

The substrate should be able to help raise the humidity to about 70%.  Eco Earth, Frog Moss and Forest Floor will make a great substrate for both burrowing and raising the humidity.  Be sure to monitor the humidity with a hydrometer.  You will need to mist several times a day.

If you decide to add lighting to you terrarium, be sure your lighting does not raise the heat.  You do not need UVB lighting for these animals.  A simple fluorescent bulb will be your best choice.

Tomato frogs are voracious eaters, but will only eat live food.  Their favorites are gut loaded crickets, night crawlers and locusts.  Be sure that the food is an appropriate size for your frogs.  You may treat your frog with mealworms, waxworms, Phoenix worms and fly maggots. But remember, these are treats and should not be their regular diet.  Young frogs should be fed every one or two days. Their food should be dusted with a good calcium supplement twice a week. Adults should be fed every two or three days with their food dusted once a week.  If you use wood chips as your substrate, make sure they are large enough that they will not be ingested.

Tomato frogs can be wonderful terrarium pets, but should not be held.  If the frog becomes stressed, they will secrete a sticky, gooey substance that is very hard to wash off.  It you accidentally touch your eye, it becomes a very unpleasant experience.

As with any new pet, do your research, make sure you want to commit to the animal and can meet its care needs.  If you do this, you will be awarded an interesting and colorful new pet.

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