By Kevin Scott
The tomato frog is native to Madagascar (and East Africa), with Dyscophus antongili being found in the north and Dyscophus guineti inhabiting the south. The latter is the species more commonly found in captivity, probably due to the fact that the former is a member of the CITES I index.
When viewing an adult tomato frog, it is blatantly obvious how it got its name. A large, round, orange/red frog, the tomato frog is a nocturnal, terrestrial, rainforest species. The head is short and wide, and harbors a mouth full of teeth – an aspect not common to amphibians. The eyes sit high on the head and bear thick eye lids.
Fully mature males usually reach a total length of just under three inches, while females will be just under five.
The largest females will attain a mass of 250g, although 170 is closer to average for the species. Males will be sexually mature at 9-12 months of age, while females can take up to two years. A life expectancy of five years is not unreasonable.
Reproduction will not be covered here, but it can be noted that during mating, the male will sit in shallow water and call. Females can lay up to 1,500 eggs, up to three times annually.
When threatened, the Tomato Frog puffs up its body and extends its legs to make itself appear larger than it really is. When further agitated, this frog will secrete a thick white substance that contains toxins and irritants to keep potential predators at bay. This substance is not considered to be dangerous to humans, but it can cause swelling when skin contact is made.
While some authors recommend using gloves while handling, I have never found the need. Everyone has different reactions to organic toxins, so care should be used if you are not sure how you will react. Frequent handling is not recommended for any amphibian, due to their sensitive skin, and it is generally recommended to wash one’s hands with water before handling.
Being a short, stocky ground dweller, the Tomato Frog naturally feeds on worms, snails, burrowing insects, and the occasional small frog or rodent. In captivity, earthworms, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, tomato worms, crickets and the occasional pinky mouse are good candidates for a fairly well rounded diet. After night has fallen, this frog will creep out of its burrow to feed upon its prey items – young ones can be offered food nightly, and adults can be fed either every night or every other night. Because the frog’s metabolism depends heavily upon the temperature of its surroundings, so does the frequency of extent of its feedings, which can be cut back during winter months.
A terrarium of 36 x 18 x 18 inches should be used to house adults, and a male/female pair or a male and two females can be safely housed together.
This species will spend much of its time on the ground, so choosing a good substrate is very important. A mixture of coco fiber, sand (quartz is best), and vermiculite is a mixture that I like, with a ratio of 2:1:1 or 2:2:1, respectively. Over years of being in the hobby, most people will experiment with various substrates for various applications and begin to develop a favorite. I like this particular mixture because of its ability to hold moisture for long periods of time, keep bacterial and fungal levels down, and hold its structure for burrowing species. This bedding can be covered with a layer of either New Zealand or green sphagnum moss, to create a suitable environment for the tomato frog. A bedding layer of four inches is recommended.
When taking a first glance at the tomato frog one would not expect it to be an arboreal species, but it can actually climb surprisingly well. While it is certainly not an arboreal species, a few thick branches or pieces of rock can be provided to allow this behavior.
Many keepers and zoos in Europe recommend keeping a portion of the terrarium dedicated to a water feature, with a gravel slope rising out of the water, upon which the bedding layer rests, to prevent soppy substrate. If this option is circumvented, then a large water dish is recommended, with water being changed daily. Water should be kept in the mid to high 70’s, Fahrenheit.
Photoperiod and Climate
A photoperiod of 12 to 14 hours is recommended for the summer, and 8 to 10 hours is sufficient during the winter. Daytime temperatures should range from 78 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, with a night time drop of about ten degrees Fahrenheit.
Humidity levels should remain high, around 80%, for most of the year. If breeding is a goal, then a four month dry period is recommended during the winter, with humidity levels dropping to 50% and bedding moisture being reduced slightly.
As with many animals stemming from Madagascar, the tomato frog is outwardly intriguing. Although young frogs don’t display much color, they quickly grow into vibrant adults.