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What Is a Tomato Frog?

A tomato frog is a vibrant, red amphibian native to Madagascar, named for its striking resemblance to a ripe tomato. These fascinating creatures have a unique defense mechanism, secreting a sticky substance when threatened. Their colorful allure is a marvel of nature's palette. Discover how these amphibians live and what secrets they hold within their glossy, vermilion skin. What will you uncover?
DM Gutierrez
DM Gutierrez

Native to Madagascar, the tomato frog, also known as Dyscophus antongilli, is one of several species of narrow-mouthed frogs that live in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Females of this species are larger than males, and are thought to resemble ripe tomatoes. These frogs typically live in swamps, ditches, ponds, and other shallow bodies of water near human habitation.

Young tomato frogs are usually black with a light brown streak down their backs. As they age, they take on the rich red color for which their species is colloquially know. At roughly 8 ounces (227 grams) in weight and four inches (10.1 cm) long, female adults are twice as large as males. They are also darker in color. Both males and females puff themselves up to appear larger than they are when confronting perceived predators.

Tomato frogs in captivity are often fed crickets.
Tomato frogs in captivity are often fed crickets.

Male tomato frogs court females by calling out to them after a rain. In captivity, breeders must set up dry environments for the frogs, and then create artificial rain episodes to stimulate the males' mating calls. The females lay over a thousand eggs at a time; these hatch in about a day and a half into tadpoles a quarter of an inch (6 mm) long. Forty-five days later, the tomato frog tadpoles turn into froglets, and within a year, they become sexually mature adults. Tomato frogs are thought to live up to 10 years in the wild and even longer in captivity.

Tomato frog tadpoles eat by filtering nutrients from the water of their habitats. Adult frogs have no teeth, but by using ridges inside their mouths they are able to the eat prey they ambush. In the wild, tomato frogs generally eat small arthropods — a class of invertebrates with exoskeletons, which includes insect like spiders — but they can consume a variety of insects and animals as long as they are small enough. Mealworms, crickets, fly larvae, and earthworms are often eaten by tomato frogs.

Tomato frogs are often kept as pets in home aquariums. Reptile experts generally advise taking great care in handling tomato frogs, since they exude a whitish substance that can trigger an allergic reaction in humans. Captive frogs are typically fed live crickets, mealworms, and newborn mice, which are often dusted with vitamin supplements to improve nutrition. It is unadvisable to leave live prey in an aquarium with a tomato frog for any extended period of time, since the intended food can sometimes injure the frog. Other instructions for tomato frog owners include keeping enclosures warm and humid and providing a water source deep enough for the frog to submerge in, absorbing water through its skin.

When the Madagascar tomato frog became endangered in the 1990s due to collection for the exotic pet trade and deforestation, several conservationist groups stepped in to save them. A variety of conservation efforts, many supported and funded by US zoos, have led to an increased awareness of the species. The tomato frog is still considered endangered in its native habitat, however.

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    • Tomato frogs in captivity are often fed crickets.
      By: viter
      Tomato frogs in captivity are often fed crickets.