History and Care of the Tomato Frog
In 1906, French explorer and ornithologist Alfred Grandidier was awarded the Royal Geographic Society’s Founder’s Medal in honor of his 40-year career exploring and documenting the island of Madagascar. At the RGS induction ceremony held in London, the Society described him as a
“…veteran French savant who for forty years has devoted himself to the exploration of Madagascar…,”
and highly praised him for his profound impact upon natural history—and with good reason. Over the course of his career, Grandidier travelled extensively, though he was particularly interested in Madagascar and published the first definitive natural history of the birds of the island in 1891. He was also responsible for the publication of numerous other articles and books on the biogeography and herpetofauna of the island, including the identification and description of approximately 30 different species of
Madagascan reptiles and amphibians. Among those species identified by Grandidier were geckos, tortoises, lizards, and the colourfully and aptly named Tomato Frog.
There are three known species of Tomato Frog (genus Dyscophus): the Tomato Frog (D. antongilii), the Sambava Tomato or False Tomato Frog (D. guineti), and the Antsouhy Tomato Frog (D. insularis). Both adult Tomato Frog and the False Tomato Frog are highly prized by herpetoculturists, in great part due to their frequently brilliant red-to-orange hue, which is quite similar to the tomatoes found in your local Tesco or farmer’s market. This is less true, however, for the adult Antsouhy Tomato Frog (D. insularis) as they are the least vibrant of the three, being a grey-to-brown colour, and are therefore less collected.
Today, the native habitat of the Tomato Frog is the primary coastal rainforest belt of eastern Madagascar, which experiences a high rate of rainfall with no true dry season. They are generally found in areas of relative flat, with slow-moving streams nearby; these streams are so slow-moving as to create side ponds and larger, stagnate areas. It is within these areas that eggs are laid, fertilized, and hatch, later to enter the surrounding forest.
There is published disagreement over the impact that collection for the pet trade has had on the species, but tens of thousands of Tomato Frogs were collected for export in the 1990s and this, coupled with the rising loss of habitat in Madagascar, has caused Tomato Frog (D. antongilii) to be included in CITES 1 protections today. As a result, if you own a Tomato Frog, or go looking for one, it is likely that you will have or be purchasing the False Tomato Frog (D. guineti) rather than its protected cousin.
The recommended enclosure for a single captive Tomato Frog is the standard 38-litre glass tank. If you are interested in potentially collecting a breeding colony, then it is recommended that you acquire a minimum of a 75-litre tank, as this will provide enough space for a pair of Tomato Frogs, with adequate additional room for communal water and food resources.
For many herpetoculturists, ultraviolet light is not considered a requirement of captive Tomato Frogs due to their crepuscular behavior in the wild. And while it may be true that captive Tomato Frogs do not require ultraviolet light to process vitamin D3, the opposite could also be true—research studies are not yet conclusive. Based upon what research is available, however, it is recommended that a low-output UVB bulb be included in your enclosure as a minimum safeguard.
Given that the Tomato Frog are a terrestrial species, it is a good idea to use a burrowing substrate such as the expandable bedding offered by Zilla and ZooMed. Burrows could also be preset and then covered by using corner wooden hides, with the corner pointed down, so that the mouth of the hide would be semi-exposed to the substrate. Then the hide could be buried and sphagnum moss placed partially into the entrance. These and similar kinds of burrows should encourage naturalistic burrowing behaviors. At other times, the frog may pick their own location and burrow right into the substrate itself.
Some of the recommended plants for the Tomato Frog enclosure include the Dragon Plant, the Spider Plant, and Hoya (or Wax) Plant. There are available online numerous resources to assist in plant selection for your Tomato Frog, including websites like Melissa Kaplan’s Herp Information Collection, The Iguana Den, and Joshua Willard’s Josh’s Frogs. In the United Kingdom, Northampton Reptile Centre is an excellent source for the purchase of plants.
A large water bowl, able to accommodate the adult size of seven centimeters (for males) and eight to ten centimeters (for larger females), must be provided with clean dechlorinated water, changed daily. Water changes cannot be emphasized enough here; amphibians are highly sensitive to chemical changes within their environment because their skin absorbs both toxins and nutrients. It is therefore important to provide the necessary water for optimal health and well-being.
Daily misting will help keep the humidity within the necessary parameters of somewhere between 70 and 80 percent year-round.
Humidity can be managed by misting and/or fogging, depending on the visual impact you want within the enclosure.
Analog hygrometers are the best to use when measuring humidity in an enclosure. For a more dramatic enclosure, which may include wide-leafed plants, a fogger could be placed in a sloped corner, where the fog could run up, over, and down a slight hill towards the watering hole. The frogs could then hide in burrows or within the proverbial tree line of wide-leafed plants, and sit gentle-footed upon the moss.
When it comes to the captive diet of the Tomato Frog, if it is not creeping or crawling across the substrate, they usually seem disinterested. A squirming mealworm will, for example, be readily taken, but one laying still in the bowl will generally be ignored. Crickets (which have been gut-loaded), roaches, silkworms, hornworms, night crawlers, wax worms, and mealworms are all taken in their captive diet. It is recommended that these should all be dusted with multivitamins and calcium (with vitamin D3) at regulated intervals throughout the month.
Tomato Frogs are beautiful and fascinating creatures, and with the appropriate food and enclosure they make elegant pets, but they are not for the beginner. In addition to the necessary levels of husbandry outlined above, caution also needs to be taken in their handling; they secrete a glue-like substance from their parotid glands, which acts as a predatory deterrent in the wild, but in captivity has the potential to produce an allergic reaction. With the appropriate care however, they are a great pleasure, particularly for the burgeoning collector who is looking to create habitats rather than an enclosure for survival.
John F. Taylor is the Founder and Managing Editor of ReptileApartment.com. In addition to a volume on the natural history and care of Uromastyx (Tropical Fish Hobbyist, 2008), he has published essays on the natural history and care of reptiles in Reptilia, Reptile Care, Reptiles USA, and Reptiles Magazine. He lives in Seattle, Washington, USA.
This article above was originally published by Practical Reptile Keeping