Tomato frogs are actually any of the 3 species of the genus Dyscopus. They are large and conspicuously colored frogs belonging to the family Microhylidae. They are broad-backed and vary greatly in color, but are all of a reddish-orange hue—hence their common name.
These plump amphibians are swiftly becoming one of the most popular frog species kept as pets. For this reason, it is important for you, a potential tomato frog owner, to understand what makes them tick, and how to look after them properly.
What is a tomato frog?
Tomato frogs are large, colorful, narrow-mouthed frogs. When threatened, a tomato frog inflates its body and, when bitten, secretes a thick oozy substance through the holes in its porous skin, which numbs the predator’s eyes and mouth!
The Microhylidae family contains 584 distinct species, sorted into 61 genera and 11 subfamilies. It is the largest number of genera of any frog family! The members of this large frog family are commonly referred to as narrow-mouthed frogs.
They are hardy frogs and can make great pets, provided all of its needs are met.
This frog family is estimated to have diverged, or ‘speciated’, approximately 66 million years ago, immediately after the Cretaceous extinction event. Other members of the Microhylidae family are spread across swathes of sub-Saharan Africa, southern United States, Brazil and central America, as well as large parts of east and southeast Asia.
The 3 species of tomato frog all fall under the genus Dyscophus: D. antongilii, D. insularis and D. guineti. Their common name is derived from D. antongilii’s bright red coloration. But the three subspecies are actually quite different in color—D. antongilii is actually the only one which resembles a tomato; the other two are much less vivid. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as ‘false tomato frogs’.
There are many things to consider when choosing whether or not to own a tomato frog as a pet. In this guide, I’ll cover the full range of considerations. Read on to find out:
- How to identify each kind of tomato frog—what makes each one unique?
- What size tomato frogs can grow to, and how long they can live for;
- How tomato frogs behave in the wild and captivity;
- Where tomato frogs are found in the wild, in terms of geography and topography;
- How best to recreate a tomato frog’s natural habitat in your enclosure;
- All the essentials of keeping tomato frogs, including…
- Tomato frog cage setup
- Tomato frog breeding
- And anything else you need to know!
If you’re in need of tomato frog facts, you’ve come to the right place. Hopefully, by the end of this guide, you’ll be absolutely sure about whether or not you wish to embark on a journey to owning, and caring for, a tomato frog. I’ll aim to equip you with all the knowledge necessary to set out on this course. Now, let’s get going!
#1 Tomato frog characteristics
Size and sexual dimorphism
Tomato frogs are sexually dimorphic. Adult male tomato frogs typically reach a length of 2.5 inches. Females are significantly larger, and often reach 4 inches (occasionally even 5 inches) from snout to vent. This substantial difference in size between males and females makes them sexually dimorphic.
If fed well, tomato frogs (especially the smaller males) can reach full growth within a year. The larger females require a minimum of two years to reach sexual maturity.
Tomato frog lifespan
Wild tomato frogs tend to live somewhere between 6 and 8 years. Though there are examples of captive tomato frogs living up to 10 years, their typical lifespan reflects that of wild tomato frogs.
The true Madagascan tomato frog, or D. antongilii, is endangered in its native country because of deforestation and poaching. Because of their desirability among pet owners in western countries, they suffer from over-collection in the wild. The paler cousins of the true tomato frog, D. guineti and D. insularis, are substantially less threatened by this.
Tomato frog appearance
As they mature, tomato frogs progress through different gradations of red, much like a tomato ripening through the stages. They start their lives a pale orange-yellow, and mature through bright red and into a dark, maroonish, mature red. Some adults remain yellowish orange right through maturity.
Most female tomato frogs are vividly colored, and have yellowish bellies with occasional black spots on the throat. Males are not as brightly colored as females. Instead, they are usually a duller orange-red or brownish-orange. Juveniles are duller and develop brighter coloration as they mature.
#2 Tomato frog behavior
In the wild, tomato frogs are nocturnal ambush predators. They feed predominantly on a variety of invertebrates, like flies, mosquitoes and small beetles.
In an ambush, the element of surprise is paramount. Tomato frogs may be brightly colored and conspicuous under daylight, but at night they can move swiftly, and attack with precision.
When attacked, tomato frogs secrete a substance through their skin which has a numbing effect on the mouth and/or claws of their would-be predator—mostly snakes. They also have the ability to puff up their red bodies to a much larger size. You may think they look like tomatoes anyway, but when they are fully inflated, this is when they really look like tomatoes.
How to handle tomato frogs
Tomato frogs are relatively solitary. In captivity, it is best to keep handling with bare skin to a minimum. If you have to hold your tomato frog, it is best to do so with gloves. Why is this?
When tomato frogs come into contact with your hands, they also come into contact with everything that is on your hands. Their delicate metabolic systems rely on only touching what they want to touch.
The oils, chemicals or flecks of dirt on your hands could be harmless to you—because you do not absorb those substances through the skin on your hands. However, frogs’ skins are porous. While this allows them to easily regulate water levels, it also makes them sensitive to alien substances.
Should I keep them separate, or together?
You can keep more than 1 tomato frog in an enclosure. But watch out for cannibalistic behavior (more in section #5.1). Tomato frogs are not terribly social animals, so if you do keep 2 together, make sure they both have plenty of space to roam and relax independently.
#3 Tomato Frog Habitats: Where Are Tomato Frogs Found?
The tomato frog is endemic to Madagascar, a large island off the east coast of mainland continental Africa. It can be found in subtropical or tropical swamps, freshwater marshes, and areas which used to contain forest growth but have since become heavily degraded. Tomato frogs like to live in places that receive heavy rainfall during late spring and summer months.
Sadly, it is threatened by habitat loss, along with many other animals with specific habitat requirements.
There are various ways in which you can simulate the tomato frog’s natural environment in a captive setting, which I will go into below, under point #5.
#4 Tomato Frog Availability
Tomato frogs can usually be bought throughout the year, but especially in late spring and early summer. The frogs you’ll see available for purchase may be captive-bred or wild-caught. If you can’t find one in your local pet store, try a larger institution, or a a reptile show. Failing that, have a look online!
My recommendation, if you’re a first-timer, is to start with a young, captive-bred tomato frog. Captive-bred frogs are much less likely to be carrying parasites or dormant diseases, which can activate later on down the line.
#5 Tomato Frog Cage Setup:
Tomato frogs, especially the females, can grow up to as large as 5 inches. They reach this size after about a year and a half, so you should have a large tank ready for when they reach maturity.
Baby tomato frogs should be happy in a 10 gallon tank. However, as they grow older, they need more space. Give your adult tomato frog a tank that measures 30’’ x 12’’ x 12’’, at least—especially if you plan on keeping two tomato frogs together in the same enclosure. The bigger the tank, the more freedom your frog has to explore and feel at home.
Also, if you’re considering keeping more than one tomato frog (and especially if you want to breed them), bear this in mind: tomato frogs can be cannibalistic. Cannibalistic behavior is more likely to take place if you house two frogs together which are very different sizes. So to be safe, make sure your co-habitants are closely matched in size.
- This Zilla Basic Tropical Reptile Starter Kit should suffice for your tomato frog, from childhood through to the juvenile stage.
- Move onto this larger Exo Terra Glass Terrarium when your tomato frog(s) reach adulthood. It allows for air circulation and has lockable doors, which are both great features for frog terrariums!
Tomato frogs are native to Madagascar. As such, they have evolved to live in a tropical/subtropical climate. In order to maintain the best physical and mental health of your frog, you should aim to maintain a temperature in keeping with its natural habitat.
The temperature of your frog’s enclosure must be between 65 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit, ideally between 75 and 80.
If you live in an area where the ambient temperature is within these parameters, that’s very convenient! That means you won’t have to do much to adjust the temperature of your tomato frog’s enclosure.
If you live in a climate which is much colder or hotter than this, here are some tools you can use to regulate the temperature of your frog’s enclosure:
- Thermostat: this turns off the heating elements when the tank gets too hot!
- This measures and monitors the temperature of your frog’s enclosure. If you hook it up to the heating equipment you have installed, it can effectively regulate maintain the correct temperature. Thermostats are especially useful when controlling the temperature during breeding season! Use this Jump Start thermostat as a reference point.
- Heat bulb: place on top of the tank.
- Heat bulbs are a great place to start when it comes to heating up a tank. This Zilla Reflector Dome is a good example.
- Heat lights should not be placed inside the tank—they are meant to heat the tank from outside. This is because they can be dangerously hot to touch.
- Heat mat: place underneath the tank.
- Heat mats can be placed underneath the frog’s enclosure to keep the temperature above a certain level.
- They are best placed under one end of the tank, so that there is a heat gradient throughout the enclosure. This way, your pet tomato frog can bask in the heat, or relax somewhere a little cooler.
- Try this Zoo Med ReptiTherm UTH heat mat. (UTH stands for under-tank heater.)
Tomato frogs don’t require special lighting. All you need to do to light the enclosure amply is place it in a well-lit room. This way, your tomato frog’s diurnal cycle is not interrupted.
If you decide to have live plants in the enclosure to keep your frog company, low-output UVB bulbs are a good solution to providing sufficient UV rays without introducing disruptive lighting. Set your low-wattage UVB/UVA light on a day and night cycle is a good way to ensure your frog gets enough light during the day, and sufficiently little light at night.
Tomato frogs require high humidity levels. Maintain it at 60% – 85% humidity. To do this, use a good quality hygrometer. Here are three hygrometers you can try:
- Zoo Med Digital Thermometer Humidity Gauge – best overall, versatile and accurate.
- AcuRite Thermometer/Hygrometer – records highs and lows over a 24 hour period.
- Exo Terra Combo Meter – only fits in Exo Terra terrariums!
Many hygrometers also double up as thermometers, which is handy. Other things you can do to effectively regulate humidity levels include:
- You can use a water mister to quickly add humidity
- Use a bigger or smaller water dish, depending on whether you need to increase or decrease humidity
- Use a substrate which locks in humidity. More details in section #5.6 below.
#5.5 Water Requirements
Frogs do not drink like humans do. Instead, they absorb water through pores in their skin in a process called osmosis. So to regulate their hydration levels, rather than lapping up water from a dish into their mouths, they bathe in water for extended periods.
To facilitate this, you must provide your tomato frog with a large, heavy-bottomed water dish. If you have a semi-aquatic tank with land portion and a water portion, that can work as well. As long as there is a place where your tomato frog can sit comfortably, without struggling to keep its head out of water, it should be happy.
Chlorine is very bad for a tomato frog’s skin, so please treat your water with a de-chlorinator before putting it into the bowl! Do not heat the water, or cool it, before pouring it into the water dish. You can treat your water with Zoo Med Reptisafe Reptile Water Conditioner.
Distilled water may seem like the easiest route to take, but it usually lacks many minerals which are essential to the tomato frog’s health. Frogs like soft-to-medium water hardness, with a neutral pH level. The best way is to use de-chlorinated tap water.
As I mentioned earlier, tomato frogs like humid environments. Tomato frogs also love to burrow. Their natural habitats include marshes and degraded rainforests, so to simulate that, you need to provide a humid environment in which the frog has freedom to burrow whenever it wishes.
To do this, lay down a substrate which holds humidity well, and lay it deep enough so that the tomato frog can easily burrow underneath it. 2 inches should be deep enough, but a bit more couldn’t hurt!
Here are some good substrates which you can use, which are available at most pet stores:
- Coconut fiber
- Peat/Sphagnum/Live Moss – e.g. ProRep Premium Live Sphagnum Moss
- Tropical/Jungle Mix – e.g. Exo Terra Jungle Earth or Lucky Reptile Jungle Bedding
- Substrate Blocks – e.g. Zoo Med Eco Earth
These substrates are all widely used and highly recommended. Try out a few of them, and work out which substrate suits you the best.
You can add other objects and accessories to your tomato frog’s enclosure to ensure good mental health and regular physical activity. For example:
- Live plants oxygenate the enclosure’s atmosphere and provide natural foliage under which your frog can bask and feel at home. They particularly like Pothos (devil’s ivy). Try affixing your plant pot to the inside wall of the enclosure, as tomato frogs’ burrowing habits can disturb live plants!
- Plastic plants are a convenient alternative, but lack the natural feel of real live plants. See: Exo Terra Mandarin Plastic Silk Plant and Fluker’s Pothos Repta-Vines.
- A second, differently shaped water bowl. This way your frog has the freedom to choose in which bowl to bathe, and you can see which it prefers. See: Flukers Corner Reptile Bowl.
- Half-branch log tunnels, (see: Zoo Med Habba Hut) provide good hiding spots for your pet(s).
#6 Tomato frog food and diet
Wild tomato frogs tend to eat small insects and invertebrates. As a rule, frogs are not fussy eaters. They are carnivorous, opportunistic hunters, and will basically eat anything they can get their hands (or mouths) on, provided it is sufficiently small to fit comfortably through their digestive tract.
Top tip! If an insect is longer than the distance between the frog’s eyes, it is probably too big for the frog to eat! Frogs can suffer intestinal impactions if they eat something which is too big for them to digest properly.
In captivity, tomato frogs are best fed 2-3 times a week. 4 crickets tend to make an appropriately sized meal for a medium-size tomato frog. Of course, if you have particularly large or small crickets, adjust the quantity accordingly.
Dusting the crickets (or whatever bugs you give them) with calcium will prevent calcium deficiency, and help your frogs get fat. You can also dust with vitamins once per week.
Baby frogs, or tadpoles, cannot eat insects, because they don’t have the capacity to mash them in their mouths. For this reason, you should feed your baby tomato frogs pre-froglet food, like this Garden Dreams Wild Tadpole Pre-Froglet Food.
- Cheap and cheerful, crickets are the most affordable and readily available food for frogs.
- You can buy them online or from more pet stores, in small or large batches.
- If you’d rather not regularly buy them, you can keep some on standby and breed them yourselves.
- The downside to crickets as frog food is that they are not particularly nutritious. So if your frog’s diet is predominantly crickets, you should dust them with calcium and, weekly, with vitamins.
- Cockroaches and locusts are bigger and hardier than crickets, so only feed cockroaches to a maturing tomato frog, or a full adult.
- They are nutritious, and serve as a good snack to supplement a diet of crickets.
- Like I said earlier, use the frog’s head width as a gauge of whether or not it can tackle an insect. Any bigger than the gap between a frog’s eyes is a red flag.
- Worms are nutritious and contain many of the vitamins and minerals required in a tomato frog’s diet.
- They also provide a textural distinction from the bitty exoskeletons of insects.
- The same size limitations do not apply to the various types of worms, because they are squishy and soft, not sharp-edged and tough. Aim for 2-3 times the width of the frog’s head, when sizing up the most appropriate worms for your pet tomato frog.
- Pinkies are simply very young mice. They owe their name to their pink color. They are typically bought frozen, thawed and fed to frogs at room temperature.
- As mammals, mice contain a very different and more comprehensive vitamin profile to their six-legged or no-legged counterparts. They can provide a great nutritional pick-me-up for a frog that can handle them.
- Don’t introduce pinkies to your frog’s diet until it is a mature adult. Their little bones can be tricky to digest!
- The downside to pinkie mice is that frogs like to hunt live food. A dead, thawed mouse will not pose the same exciting opportunity to a predatory frog on the lookout for a live meal.
Over time, you should become familiar with your frog’s preferred feeding schedule. If you have a particularly large tomato frog with an appetite for pinkie mice, he or she may only require feeding twice a week. Crickets are less nutritious, so a pure diet of crickets will require more frequent meals.
Remember, variety is the spice of life. Mix it up a little! Incorporating a variety of different foods into your frog’s diet ensures that it will be getting all the nutrients it needs.
#7 Breeding Tomato Frogs
The most obvious difference is the size. Females are significantly larger than males measuring up to 4 or even 5 inches from snout to vent. They are also more brightly colored—often vivid red or orange. Males are smaller, maxing out at 2.5 inches in length, and are usually duller red-brown or orange-yellow.
In the wild, tomato frogs breed during the rainy season. So, in order to successfully breed tomato frogs in captivity, you have to carefully emulate the environment of a rainy season. This often involves:
- Dialing down the temperature in your tomato frog’s enclosure to 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit;
- Increasing the water level of the enclosure using a misting system, or regular manual misting;
- Ensuring there is plenty of clean, de-chlorinated water for bathing and soaking;
- Regular feeding, daily if possible, of gut-loaded, vitamin-dusted crickets;
- Maintenance of dimmed daytime cycle, using a full-spectrum light set to low;
- Providing ample space for the male(s) and female(s) involved to relax in solitude if they want to.
It may seem like a lot of preparation, but the results are worth it! If your breeding pair feel comfortable, the male will initiate the mating call. Soon afterwards, you should find your breeding pair in the amplexus position, with the male grasping the female around the back.
The female then passes her eggs through her cloaca – a sort of multipurpose orifice responsible for excretion and reproduction – while the male fertilizes the eggs outside the body.
Once the eggs are laid, remove the adults from the enclosure. They should hatch in just 48 hours. If you are successful in breeding tomato frogs, congratulations! If not, better luck next time.
What do you think—do tomato frogs make good pets? As always, we’d love for you to get in touch with your opinions, stories and experiences. I’ve shared all I can on the subject. Now it’s your turn! Leave us a comment below.
Please feel free to share this guide with anyone who might be interested, whether they’re thinking about owning tomato frogs as pets, or just like reading about amphibians that look like fruits!