The Madagascan Tomato Frog – Pets in Peril

For the amphibian enthusiast, there are a variety of species available from which to choose for your collection. One very colorful and interesting choice is the tomato frog, named for its bright reddish-orange to red coloring. Tomato frogs are only found in Madagascar, and one of the three species, Dyscophus antongilii, is on the endangered species list. Captive-bred individuals are still available, however, as well as wild-caught specimens of the other two species, D. guineti and D. insularis. Due to the uncertain futures of these frogs in the wild, it is imperative that if you choose to add a tomato frog to your collection, you are certain of both its species and origin.

General Description – Adult tomato frogs grow to about the size of your fist, with females being a little larger and more brightly colored than males. They are nocturnal and burrow, so don’t expect to see them much other than at feeding time. Even then, because they are ambush feeders, they won’t be very active, as they lay in wait for their prey to pass by them. When threatened, they will either play dead or blow up their bodies to make themselves appear larger. They also secrete a sticky, white slime that, although not toxic to humans, can stay in a predator’s mouth and eyes for several days.

Diet – Tomato frogs will eat just about any live critter they can fit in their mouths, including most kinds of bugs and insects, and even small mice. They need to eat about every other day, and it is a good idea to sprinkle their food with a good vitamin powder twice a week.

Vivarium – Although they are a terrestrial frog, tomato frogs need a good supply of water that is changed frequently. It is very important that the water is kept clean, since frogs absorb their water through their skin rather than drink. Maintaining a high humidity level is also important for tomato frogs, so misting twice a day with stale water is important. Substrate can be any sterilized medium that is soft and easy to burrow into, but coconut husk is preferred, since it retains moisture well and helps to keep humidity levels high.

The vivarium and its furnishings should be cleaned often, but only with hot water, as tomato frogs are very sensitive to chemicals and detergents. Any uneaten food should be removed daily so that it does not die and contaminate the habitat. Because tomato frogs are powerful jumpers, it is also necessary to have a latch or lock on the habitat cover, so that it cannot be bumped off by a jumping frog.

Breeding – Tomato frogs can be successfully bred in captivity, even by advanced hobbyists, provided they are patient and attentive. To bring a pair into breeding condition, the natural habitat has to be replicated as closely as possible. Temperature, humidity, hours of daylight, etc. must be manipulated, beginning several months before breeding.

Future of the Species – As mentioned earlier, one of the three species of tomato frogs, Dyscophus antongilii, is already on the endangered species list due to habitat loss and over-collection for the pet trade. It is protected under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Zoos across the world have engaged in a focused effort to share breeding stock so as to increase genetic diversity enough to save the species from extinction. Please consider your decision to add a tomato frog to your collection very carefully, making sure you are certain of the actual species and its origin.


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“Tomato Frog,”

A. Wisnieski, V. Poole, and E. Anderson, “Tomato Frogs,” University of Michigan

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