Male tomato frogs are smaller than females and grow to around 2 ½ inches (6.4 cm) in length. Female tomato frogs can approach 4 inches (10 cm).
As their common name implies, tomato frogs are round and red like a tomato. Females are a more vibrant red while males are a dark brick red or rust color, or sometimes yellowish. Coloration has been linked to diet. In one study, tomato frogs fed a diet supplemented with a variety of carotenoids were much brighter than those fed a diet without.
Tomato Frog Species
Coloration also depends on species. There are three species of tomato frog: Dyscophus antongilii, D. guineti and D. insularis. The first, D. antongilii, is the brightest red of the three and the true tomato frog, though it is D. guineti that is found in the pet trade. D. insularis is brown and unavailable, although sometimes D. guineti is found for sale at stores or on price lists labelled as this species. D. insularis is the only species that is not red.
Distribution, Habitat and Behavior
Tomato frogs are only found on the island Madagascar. D. guineti, the species in the trade, is found in eastern rainforest. Here it spends the day on the ground in leaf litter, becoming active at night. During the rainy season they breed in swamps and flooded areas along streams. When attacked (or handled) they inflate with air and excrete distasteful secretions from their skin.
Captive-bred tomato frogs are sporadically available from pet stores and dealers. Juveniles produced in captivity are not always bright red but instead may tend towards orange. With proper diet they can develop a brighter red coloration as they mature, especially females. Tomato frogs are also still sourced from the wild for the pet trade. Big, red, adult tomato frogs found for sale are usually wild-caught. Although they tend to adjust well to captivity, it is preferable to purchase captive-bred tomato frogs.
A 15-gallon aquarium that measures about 24 x 13 x 13 inches (61 x 33 x 33 cm) is enough space for a pair or trio of tomato frogs. It is important to offer plenty of ventilation and avoid stagnant conditions. A screen cover is usually the best route to go, although you may consider covering part of it with glass to help maintain humidity levels if the terrarium dries out too quickly.
The most important decision to make about tomato frog housing is the substrate. Most people who keep tomato frogs use either coconut husk fiber or a blended soil mixture. These are the best options because they allow tomato frogs to burrow, retain moisture, and do not spoil quickly. Other options that can work include moist sphagnum moss (make sure it is well compacted and not loose) or large river stones. Avoid using fir bark or small gravel because these substrates can be swallowed and cause health problems.
Whichever substrate you choose, consider placing a layer of leaf litter over it. Indian almond or magnolia leaves are good options because they do not break down quickly and tomato frogs may use them as cover. Leaf litter also helps prevent tomato frogs from accidentally ingesting substrate.
Although they do not appear especially active during the day, tomato frogs wake up and move around at night. Provide perches and cover in the form of driftwood and cork bark flats. Live plants can also be incorporated into housing for tomato frogs, but choose the kind with care. Small or delicate plants will be trampled at night. Artificial plants can be used instead of live ones if desired.
Temperature and Humidity
Tomato frogs are tolerant of a range of temperatures. Most days the enclosure should stay between 75°F and 80°F (24°C and 27°C) with a drop at night to as low as 65°F (18°C). Use an accurate thermometer to measure the temperature and move it around in different parts of the cage. If heating is needed, use a small low-wattage heat lamp.
The humidity level in the cage should remain high, somewhere above 70% most of the time. You can accomplish this by misting the terrarium lightly with water once a day. Pay attention to the moisture content of the substrate as well. Usually if the substrate is appropriately moist (not overly wet, not too dry) the humidity level will be within a good range as well.
Use a water dish large enough for tomato frogs to fit in and at least as deep as the frog. Most tomato frogs soak in the water dish at night, so it is a good idea to make a routine of changing the water every morning. If tap water from a municipality is used, treat it with an aquarium water conditioner to remove chlorine and chloramines before use.
Although sometimes compared to horned (pacman) frogs because of their round appearance, tomato frogs have a much smaller mouth. This means they cannot eat such large prey. Live crickets should make up most of a tomato frog diet. The crickets should be about the size of the distance between the tomato frog’s eyes or slightly smaller. Other food items include earthworms and wax worms, phoenix worms or other insect larvae. These other foods should be fed in a small feeding dish and substituted for crickets a couple times each month.
Feed around 3-6 crickets per tomato frog several times each week. Tomato frogs are best fed at night when active, although most will also happily eat during the day. Pay attention to how much frogs are eating and if there are still crickets running around the cage after a few hours. This is a sign you are overfeeding the frogs.
Nutritional deficiencies occur if crickets and other food items are not coated in a high quality vitamin and mineral supplement before use. This should be dusted onto food items before offering them to tomato frogs at every other feeding (or every feeding for juveniles). It also is recommended to use a carotenoid supplement on a regular schedule to help maintain and improve coloration.