Reed Frogs

Madagascar Reed Frog (Heterixalus madagascariensis) perched on a leaf in a terrarium

An Introduction to Reed Frogs

Reed frogs are semi-arboreal frogs native to sub-Saharan Africa. In the wild, they spend their days asleep resting in the sun, often perched on reeds or other emergent vegetation, hence the common name reed frog.

There are over 180 described species and they vary greatly in pattern and color. Individual reed frogs can change color dramatically depending on the environmental conditions they are exposed to. Some species display colorful stripes and spots when in prime condition or sitting under bright light, though may turn brown or gray in other conditions. Most reed frogs mature to a size of around 1 inch in length (2.5 cm), and because they are small and attractively patterned, they are often kept in captivity.

Frogs of three genera are found for sale under the common name reed frog: Afrixalus, Heterixalus, and Hyperolius. Heterixalus is endemic to the island of Madagascar, with the starry night reed frog, H. alboguttatus, and Madagascar blue reed frog, H. madagascariensis being most often available. Afrixalus and Hyperolius are both native to mainland Africa. The argus reed frog (Hyperolius argus), painted reed frog (H. marmoratus), Mitchell’s reed frog (H. mitchelli), common reed frog (H. viridisflavus), banana reed frog (Afrixalus fornasinii) and clown reed frog (A. paradorasalis) are a handful of the more commonly encountered species in the pet trade. The basic captive care for all species is essentially the same.

Reed frogs can be acquired from pet stores, dealers, and fellow frog hobbyists. The overwhelming majority of reed frogs are wild-caught. These wild-caught reed frogs are not often found for sale in the best condition and are often thin and malnourished. Choose your reed frogs carefully, and avoid those that are thin or otherwise look unhealthy. Fortunately, it is also possible to find captive-bred reed frogs. The starry night reed frog Heterixalus alboguttatus and Madagascar blue reed frog H. madagascariensis are most often found for sale.

Housing

Reed frogs do not require large enclosures, though they are very active and will use all of the room provided to them. A standard 10 gallon aquarium that measures 20 inches long by 10 inches wide by 12 inches high (50 cm by 25 cm by 30 cm) is large enough for a group of four to six reed frogs. Smaller cages can be used temporarily, but should not be used as permanent homes for reed frogs. Glass terrariums with front-opening doors are even better than standard aquariums. Use a tight-fitting screen cover to offer ventilation and prevent escapes.

A simple cage setup can consist of moist paper towels or sphagnum moss as a substrate, a potted plant or two, and a water bowl for soaking. Soil mixtures and ground coconut husk fiber also work well as substrates. Pieces of driftwood, thin bamboo poles, and manzanita wood branches can be added as perches for the frogs at night, and are particularly useful when placed under a small heat lamp to provide a warm, brightly lit area for resting during the day. Both pothos (Scindapsus aureus) and snake plants (Sansevieria species) are good choices for reed frog enclosures, though they may outgrow the average-sized cage or require frequent pruning.

Rinse plants under tap water and grow them outside of the terrarium for several weeks to allow leaf shiners, fertilizers, and other potentially harmful chemicals to dissipate before placing them in with the frogs. If you do not have luck with live plants, artificial ones can be used as an alternative. Reed frogs also do exceptionally well when kept in planted tropical terrariums. See the article about tropical terrariums for more information.

Lighting

Lighting plays an important role in keeping reed frogs. While most amphibians have no special lighting requirements in captivity, reed frogs do best when kept in brightly lit enclosures.

Standard fluorescent bulbs can be used for this purpose, and one or more should run the length of the cage. Use lights with a color temperature between 5000K and 6500K so that they produce a bright white, natural light.  Alternatively, more intense LED or compact fluorescent lighting is an even better option. Set all lights on an electrical timer to provide a photoperiod of around 12 hours.

Temperature and Humidity

Within the cage, it is best to provide a thermogradient to allow reed frogs to regulate their body temperature properly. A low-wattage heat lamp can be placed above one side of the cage, preferably over a branch or perch, to create a warm spot that approaches 90°F (32°C) during the day. The rest of the cage should vary between 70°F (21°C) and 80°F (27°C). At night the heat lamp can be turned off, decreasing the temperature. Reed frogs are tolerant of many conditions, and healthy individuals can cope well with temperatures outside of their preferred range.

In the wild, reed frogs experience varying humidity levels depending on the season. During dry months of the year, it does not rain often, and the humidity level remains low, while during the rainy season, their environment is very humid. In captivity, the enclosure reed frogs are kept in can be misted with water several times a week to maintain moderate humidity levels. Sometimes this isn’t necessary if the room the frogs are kept in is already humid enough. To induce breeding, it’s recommended to spray down the cage heavily several times a day to keep the humidity level high, similar to what wild frogs would experience during the rainy season.

Water

Clean water should always be available for reed frogs to soak in, which they do often at night when they are active. Use water that does not contain chlorines, chloramines, or other harmful chemicals, and is otherwise safe. Tap water can be treated with a water conditioner if necessary.

Diet

In contrast to their small size, reed frogs have a huge appetite, and will readily feed on most insects the size of their head or smaller. Crickets can make up the majority of their diet. Three to six can be fed per frog several times a week. Additionally, flightless fruit flies, houseflies, and small moths can be offered regularly to vary their diet. Coat their food in the proper calcium and vitamin supplements every couple feedings. Juvenile frogs should have their food supplemented more often.

2 Comments

  1. i going to get reed frogs in a 85 gallon tank, what is the upper limit of frogs i can keep, and what are some good african plants for in this riparium. (there will be 4 to 6 inches of on nearly the entire bottom.)

    • There is room for a large group of frogs, maybe even 20 or more, but it depends on the dimensions of the tank and how it is set up. Perhaps the best bet would be to start with a smaller group and allow them to breed, holding back their offspring as needed. If you incorporate a large area of water they may reproduce without much additional stimulation.

      For plants it might be easiest to stick with species that are proven to grow well in terrariums rather than create a biotope with plants that occur where reed frogs do. With so many different species of reed frog, it also depends which species of frog you plan to keep. Some reed frogs inhabit marshy areas or savanna dominated by grasses and it might be difficult to replicate their habitat. For all species though it would be worthwhile to include a large water area with emergent vegetation and floating plants. I would focus on the role that plants will play (breeding site, cover, just aesthetics, etc.) before trying to nail down species from the area the species you keep naturally occur.

      Good luck!

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