Tomato frogs make wonderful nocturnal display pets. As juveniles, tomato frogs are a dull brown color, but quickly grow into their red to orange-red color, with dark orange spots, and a black eye line that runs almost completely down their side. Their color, shape, and size all blend together to look like a tomato, especially when they feel threatened and puff themselves up, which is how they got their name. It’s nice when it’s easy like that.
Tomato frogs live in the coastal forests and lowlands along the northeastern coast of Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa. They mainly live in the rainforests and swamp forests around very slow-moving, almost stagnant, water where they assume their role of ambush predator.
Yes, it’s a small frog, but tomato frogs have a mouth full of sharp teeth, and they burrow into the soil, leaf litter, or very shallow edge of a water source, wait for hours for food to pass by, and then take advantage of their hiding place or cover spot to gain a meal with the help of their super sticky tongue.
Tomato frogs can be found year-round. As always, I recommend purchasing your tomato frog from a reputable breeder, which usually can be found online, in forums and breeders’ rooms or fan sites. They are always ready to help a new person become more familiar with an animal they breed and are certainly willing to help you find the right animal for you.
Breeders will always know far more about the animals they breed and care for than any big box-style pet shop. The animals the breeders have will be parasite-free and eating well. When you work with breeders, you will also be making a new friend and contact in the reptile hobby and community, which is always a great idea as this hobby and its laws change frequently.
Before COVID-19, there were reptile and amphibian shows all over the world. Keep your eyes open for them to return, and go to one near you. They are a blast! There are so many like-minded people there, breeders are everywhere educating everyone they can, and you will get a good, up-close look at the animal you’re interested in owning.
At maturity, female tomato frogs grow to be almost 4 inches snout to vent, and males reach just under 3 inches vent to snout. These frogs can grow fast and can reach their adult size in 1 year if they are fed very well and proper husbandry is used. The minimum age for female tomato frogs to reach sexual maturity is 2 years, while males will reach sexual maturity in 10 months to 1 year.
Respiratory infections are one of the tomato frog’s biggest health issues. There is also something called Red Leg Syndrome, which is an infection in toads, frogs, and salamanders. To read more about Red Leg Syndrome, and you should if you’re thinking of owning a tomato frog, click here.
The average lifespan for a tomato frog is 5 to 7 years. There are some that have lived as long as 10 years, but those are exceptions.
Tomato frogs are mainly terrestrial frogs, but they do climb from time to time, and they are pretty good at it. They would benefit most by having more floor space than height in their terrarium. A 20—gallon terrarium, preferably front opening, should be perfect for 1 to 3 tomato frogs for their lifetime. If you want to go larger, feel free to do so. The more room they have to roam around, the better.
Decorate the inside of the terrarium with hides in various places, secure and sturdy branches, or large rocks to climb on. If you use plants, I recommend using plastic plants instead of live plants because tomato frogs like to burrow, and there is a very good chance they will dig up some of the roots of the plants.
Use reptile-safe plants, leaves, rocks, or branches of various sizes and shapes all over the terrarium. The point is to create as many ambush spots in the terrarium as possible to give your tomato frog the advantage it wants and needs. Remember, this is an ambush predator.
Make sure everything inside the terrarium is secure enough for the frog to use and won’t fall on the frog and injure it.
Coming from the forests and marshy areas of Madagascar, tomato frogs like higher humidity levels, so the types of substrate used should help maintain the humidity level and give the tomato frog places to burrow. I’ve found that coco fiber, quartz sand, vermiculite, and top soil are all great choices. If you do use top soil, make absolutely certain it has no pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides in it at all.
These are dangerous to your tomato frog and could kill it. Feel free to mix or layer any or all of these together to get a substrate that works best for your frog in its environment. Whatever you choose to use for your substrate mixture, be sure it is between 4 and 5 inches deep and loosely packed so it’s easy for the frog to burrow. Spot clean the substrate daily if needed, and replace the entire substrate every 6 to 8 weeks.
Lighting and Temperature
Nocturnal or not, all frogs will benefit from some sort of UV light. Is it absolutely necessary? Not really, according to much of my research. Make sure to provide your frog with 12 to 14 hours of daylight in the summer and 8 to 10 hours of daylight in the winter. This photoperiod helps frogs regulate their circadian rhythm, which is important to their health, no doubt, but you don’t need special UV lighting to do it.
If you decide to have live plants in the enclosure, you can use a low-wattage full-spectrum bulb, and set a timer to maintain an appropriate day/night cycle. Your plants will live and look wonderful, and none of this will have negative effects on your frog. You can still use low-wattage full-spectrum lighting even if you don’t have plants in the enclosure. Digital timers are a very inexpensive investment and work great to make sure the appropriate day/night cycle is maintained without fail. I’ve used several digital timers, and they’re fantastic! Especially for helping children or busy people.
Daytime high temperatures should be between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and nighttime low temperatures should be between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperatures go much lower or higher, the frog could have health issues. Too long in too hot of a terrarium will kill your frog, as will too long in too cold of a terrarium. Don’t let the lows get below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and the highs must not exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Humidity levels of 75 to 80 percent should be maintained year-round. Check your hygrometer frequently to see what the levels are and make any necessary adjustments. This is easy to do by simply using a misting bottle. If you’d prefer an automated system, there are various misting systems and reptile fogger systems on the market. If breeding is your goal, a 4-month dry period should take place in the winter time, which means letting the humidity level drop to about 50 percent, and the substrate should be dryer as well. If you have one, adjust your automated misting or fogger system during this dry period.
Mainstays of the tomato frog’s diet are cultured feeder insects like crickets, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, and nightcrawlers cut to the appropriate size. You can feed adult frogs an occasional pinkie mouse as well. Dust the frog’s primary food item with a vitamin and calcium supplement 2 times a week. As with most frogs and quite a few lizards, you need to mix up their diet and provide tomato frogs with different food items like they would hunt for in the great outdoors. Otherwise they can get bored. Younger frogs should eat every night, while older frogs and adults should be fed every other night.
Because a frog’s metabolism largely depends on the surrounding temperature in its enclosure, the regularity in which it is fed and how much it is fed will change throughout the year. In the colder winter months, feed your frog less. As the weather turns warmer, gradually increase the amount of food. This is something to keep in mind if you are going to be culturing insects yourself, especially during the colder winter months.
Also keep in mind, tomato frogs are a terrestrial, nocturnal, ambush predator. Just before the lights go out ending the daytime cycle, drop in the frog’s food items. When the lights have been off for a little while, the tomato frog will go looking for food or a place to wait for food to come close enough to take advantage of it.
Here’s an interesting little fact about tomato frogs. According to Utah’s Hogle Zoo, for the tomato frog to swallow their food, they must close their eyes, which pushes their eyeballs down in their sockets, increasing the swallowing pressure needed to swallow their meal.
One final word about a tomato frog’s diet. If you plan to keep more than one frog at a time, make sure the frogs you keep together are the same size. Cannibalism is common with tomato frogs.
This is tricky. All amphibians need access to clean, dechlorinated water. Any other water will have some type of contaminate in it that will bother frogs. Because frogs absorb water and the contaminates in the water through their skin, the health problems could be spread over the frog’s entire body.
Distilled water should not be used either. Yes, distilled water is pure water, but that’s kind of the issue as well. Distilled water lacks minerals the frog needs to be healthy. You can use store-bought drinking water that has no chlorine. It appears to be the best choice to use with tomato frogs. There are reptile-safe water conditioners on the market as well.
Provide a shallow water dish with clean bottled drinking water, and change the water as often as needed. For a complete breakdown of safe water for amphibians, click here.
Handling and Temperament
Tomato frogs should be adored from the outside of a terrarium. Like most frogs, tomato frogs don’t care for being handled, so handling should occur only when you are moving them from their terrarium to another holding area to clean the terrarium or if you are taking the frog to the vet.
Couple that with having to wash your hands in only clean water before handling tomato frogs and then washing your hands with very warm soapy water after handling them. You can’t use soap when washing before handling the frog because the cleaners in the soap and its residue are harmful, and possibly deadly, to your frog, who will absorb it off of your skin and right through their skin.
When tomato frogs are handled too roughly or when they feel threatened by a predator, they puff themselves up to be a bit larger, and they release a thick gooey white liquid. This substance is said to be a toxic irritant to predators that will help keep them away.
I could not find the actual specific/scientific name of this gooey white toxin. It is said to be mostly harmless to humans… Mostly… I have read there is a chance it can cause a type of allergic reaction in some people, and other people’s skin swelled in the area that came into contact with the white liquid. As of this writing, I cannot find any reports of this gooey toxin being fatal to humans.
Here are the “rules” for this substance: if you manage to irritate your frog to the point of it releasing this gooey liquid, and you get some on your hands, gently put your frog back in its terrarium and close the opening tightly to prevent escape, then DO NOT TOUCH YOUR EYES, MOUTH, OR FACE ANYWHERE.
Immediately clean off the mess thoroughly with hot soapy water. If any got on your clothes, remove and wash those as well. Several people say that when they have to handle their frog, they wear gloves, although they don’t say if those gloves are latex, leather, or some other material altogether. It’s not super helpful, I know, but it may help you avoid getting this stuff on your skin.
Thank you for reading this article about the tomato frog and its needs. If you liked it, hated it, or want to correct me on something, leave me a comment in the comments section below, and I’ll get right back to you.
This care information is a brief overview of a subject that has been covered in many books by respected authors and on many breeder forums. For more information, please consult a specialized book, visit one of the breed-specific forums/message boards, or contact an expert in that particular field. Your animal will thank you for it.