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Red-eyed treefrogs will entertain nightly for many years provided you start with healthy individuals and maintain an appropriate environment.
When I first saw a red-eyed treefrog for sale at the local pet store, the colorful image in my mind of an exotic frog faded, along with any interest I had in keeping them. “That’s it? That’s a red-eyed treefrog?” I thought, disappointed that the frog sat motionless and appeared to be just an average green treefrog. With their seemingly boring appearance and a reputation for making sensitive captives, I stuck to keeping other herps, which appeared to be more vibrant and active.
It was not until years later, when a friend gave me a group of six juveniles, that I learned the delight of working with red-eyes. Although during the day red-eyed treefrogs are about as interesting as the leaf upon which they sleep, at night, their crimson eyes open and the frogs begin a nightly routine of shedding their skin, stretching their legs and taking a soak in the water dish. Once fully awake, males emit squeaky calls, and soon the terrarium becomes full of life, as frogs hunt for food.
It took only a few nights of watching their nocturnal behavior to win me over, and with their stunning coloration exposed, it was soon clear that red-eyed treefrogs are a lot more than just the average frog.
The most recognizable feature of red-eyed treefrogs is their namesake eyes, but they also display a number of other attractive qualities. Flanks are patterned in blue and yellow, while their partially webbed feet are bright orange. Occasional individuals have small, white specs on their back, which itself ranges from the color of grass to dark green. Sometimes red-eyes may even appear purplish-brown, especially juveniles at night.
The colors and flank patterns of red-eyed treefrogs vary depending on where they originate from. Broadly distributed throughout Central America, southern populations in Panama have deep burgundy eyes and light sky-blue on their flanks while in Costa Rica and further north red-eyed treefrogs typically have vibrant red eyes and dark blue as a base color on the sides of their body.
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Because Agalychnis are arboreal frogs, provide an enclosure that offers height. A standard 20-gallon high aquarium is enough room for four adults.
Selective captive breeding has popularized a number of red-eyed treefrog color morphs. Xanthic frogs are periodically available. They are a creamy yellow with white eyes and violet sides. Albino red-eyes also occasionally appear in the pet trade, looking like an especially vivid xanthic individual that retains normal, cherry-colored eyes. Black morph red-eyed treefrogs are bizarre, being charcoal dorsally, with coal-colored eyes and a light-pink belly. Incredible axanthic red-eyed treefrogs, which are blue instead of green, also exist, but they have not been bred in numbers like the other color morphs.
Getting Ready for Red-Eyes
While red-eyed treefrogs are desirable to keep, they also take some careful consideration before purchase. They can be touchy, being more sensitive to their environment than many other commonly available treefrogs. It can also be troublesome to find healthy individuals for sale. Newly imported red-eyed treefrogs often develop bacterial infections or parasite problems, which require veterinary treatment.
To get off to a good start, inspect frogs carefully before purchase. Don’t buy frogs with open lesions on their skin, redness on their ventral side or otherwise unusual coloration. If possible, monitor the behavior of frogs before purchase. Healthy red-eyed treefrogs remain asleep during the day, unless they are disturbed, and normally perch above ground rather than on the bottom of the terrarium.
Although it is best to buy captive-bred frogs, red-eyed treefrogs born in captivity can also come with their share of problems, particularly young ones, which measure less than three-fourths of an inch. These youngsters are more sensitive to their environment than their older, larger counterparts and are not good to start with. Ideally, obtain captive-bred frogs that are at least one or two months old and have put on some size. If breeding is your goal, buy a group of six or more to help increase the chances of ending up with a successful breeding group once they are adult.
While searching for a source of healthy, captive-bred red-eyes, prepare their enclosure before you bring them home. A group of up to six juveniles can be housed in a standard 10-gallon aquarium. Line it with moist paper towels and provide a couple potted plants for decor and a shallow water dish measuring around 3 to 4 inches across and one inch deep. Monitor the temperature inside over the course of a week to ensure it is ready for frogs before they are introduced. This simple setup will allow you to easily observe your new frogs, and if individuals appear thin or repeatedly display abnormal behavior — such as moving in an uncoordinated manner, sleeping repeatedly on the ground or constantly soaking in the water dish — they can be isolated from the group.
Building a Treefrog Terrarium
Suitable red-eyed treefrog enclosures have several things in common. Adequate ventilation is crucial. Use a tank with a screen cover or ventilation panels built into the sides. Because Agalychnis are arboreal frogs, provide an enclosure that offers height. A standard 20-gallon high aquarium is enough room for four adults, while a group of six to eight can be maintained in a 30-gallon extra-high enclosure. Providing plants (live or artificial) with broad leaves is also important. Red-eyed treefrogs sleep on these during the day, but they often find the glass side of an aquarium as an equally appealing resting spot. Always offer a dish of clean water that is about 2 inches deep or slightly shallower for juveniles. Frogs soak in this nightly, so change it each morning. If tap water is used, treat it with an aquarium water conditioner to remove chlorine and chloramines, which are toxic to amphibians, and then allow water to sit in an uncovered container for 24 hours before use.
Over the years, I have housed red-eyed treefrogs in many types of setups, including several naturalistic ones that included live plants. High-quality sphagnum moss, which has been wetted with water and padded down into the base of the enclosure, is a superb substrate for this housing style. Only a thin layer of moss about 1 inch deep is required, and it may only need to be replaced every few months if it is spot-cleaned daily. Potted live plants can be partially submerged into the moss. Good plant species to use include pothos (Scindapus aureus), peace lilies (Spathiphyllum spp.), small species of Calathea, and the ever-popular philodendrons, of which there are many excellent large-leaved varieties. Bromeliads of the genus Neoregelia are another good choice, and red-eyed treefrogs frequently spend the days asleep in their water-holding axils.
Ideally, purchase plants from a specialty terrarium supply company and make sure they have not come in contact with pesticides, leaf-shiners or other potentially harmful chemicals. Rinse plants carefully before use, and then replant them in a premade soil mix specifically for amphibians. Other than live plants and a moist sphagnum moss substrate, only a water dish is needed, but for aesthetic purposes, pieces of driftwood and cork bark can be included, as well.
A simpler housing option involves a substrate of moist paper towels or wetted upholstery foam rubber. These substrates are easy and hygienic, but they must be replaced or cleaned multiple times weekly. It is also possible to use no substrate at all. Two successful commercial breeders I know did not use a substrate, and instead housed red-eyed treefrogs in bare-bottom aquariums outfitted with a drain. This facilitates high-levels of cleanliness, as a hose or pressurized spray bottle can be used several times a week to rinse waste from the enclosure and down through the drain. Furnishings in these simple setups should include potted live plants, or if you prefer, artificial plants.
Regardless of how you set up the enclosure, include at least one or two fluorescent lighting tubes across the length of the tank. Keep them on for 10 to 12 hours a day to provide the frogs with a natural photoperiod. Fluorescent lighting is also necessary if you plan on growing live plants. Although ultraviolet radiation is not required to keep red-eyed treefrogs, fluorescent tubes that emit low levels of UVB do not hurt and may be beneficial.
The genus Agalychnis contains six species, and although this article focuses on the ever-popular red-eyed treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas), it is worth mentioning a couple others. Most notable is the sporadically available Morelet’s treefrog, also called the black-eyed treefrog (Agalychnis moreletii). Captive-bred blue-sided treefrogs (Agalychnis annae) can also be found for sale, but only rarely. When asleep on a leaf during the day, both species appear as an over-sized and slightly more robust red-eyed treefrog. Once awake and active, their differences become clear. Morelet’s treefrog has eerie black eyes and salmon to orange coloration on its inner arms and legs, while the blue-sided treefrog displays yellow eyes and sides plainly patterned in sky-blue and pink.
Both species are endangered in the wild, and they should only be kept by experienced hobbyists who have developed Agalychnis expertise through keeping and breeding red-eyed treefrogs first. Agalychnis moreletii is legal to own and sell, being imported legally by the same importers who import red-eyed treefrogs. They are widely available, and these days, those in the hobby are almost always captive-bred. The situation with A. annae is a bit different. Agalychnis annae are distant descendents from frogs originally imported for research from Costa Rica, so they are not supposed to be sold in the trade. However, decades ago, they were legally imported, so as far as authorities are concerned, the ones around today are not from the frogs imported for research.
Care is rather similar to that of the red-eyed treefrog, but because of their larger size, they must be provided with a more spacious enclosure. Additionally, A. annae should be kept cooler than A. callidryas, not above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The other species are A. litodryas, A.saltator and A. spurrelli. They are unavailable in the trade, but I have seen A. saltator at a zoo in the United States. Only a few individuals of A. litodryas have ever been found in the wild, and A. spurrelli is a giant canopy-dwelling, flying frog.
The Right Environment
Like all captive amphibians, certain environmental conditions must be met to maintain red-eyed treefrog health. Temperature is critically important. Avoid rapid temperature changes or swings. Red-eyed treefrogs are not accustomed to these in their tropical home of Central America. Position the terrarium away from windows, doors, or heating and air conditioning units. During the day, maintain the enclosure between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with a nightly drop of 5 to 10 degrees. Heating pads are impractical for heating arboreal frog enclosures. Instead, heat the terrarium with an infrared light bulb or ceramic heat emitter. Measure the temperature in various parts of the enclosure with an accurate thermometer. Digital thermometers which record high and low temperatures are ideal.
The humidity levels can vary between 60 and 100 percent. Mist the terrarium lightly with water at least once daily. Use distilled or reverse-osmosis (RO) water to help prevent water spots from developing on glass. Avoid filling the water dish with these pure water sources because this could potentially harm your treefrogs, and instead only use distilled or RO water for misting.
Red-eyed treefrogs are nocturnal predators, and it is fun to watch them hunt at night. Over time, captive frogs may even grow accustomed to feeding during the day. Use a variety of foods to help meet their nutritional requirements. Crickets can form a large part of the diet, offering around a half-dozen per frog twice weekly. Young frogs and growing juveniles should be fed small quantities every night. Give them as much as they can eat during one feeding.
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Red-eyed treefrogs are nocturnal predators, and it is fun to watch them hunt at night. Over time, captive frogs may even grow accustomed to feeding during the day.
Flying foods, such as moths or flies, are particularly relished. You can buy house flies as maggots from feeder insect companies, or buy them under the name “spikes” from fishing bait shops. Allow these to pupate into flies in an escape-proof, ventilated container at room temperature, and then store them in the refrigerator, where they can be kept for several weeks. At a cool temperature, flies remain motionless and can easily be added to a treefrog tank. Here, flies warm up and start flying after several minutes, attracting the frogs’ attention.
Lightly coat food items every other feeding with a multivitamin and calcium supplement that includes vitamin D3. Replace supplements six months after they are opened. Once exposed to air, the quality of vitamins degrades.
Red-eyed treefrogs will entertain nightly for many years provided you start with healthy individuals and maintain an appropriate environment. Captive frogs can easily live 5 to 10 years, particularly if offered a varied diet with appropriate nutritional supplements. While first impressions of Agalychnis during the day may lead you to believe they are boring, immobile animals, once the light on the terrarium is off, their interesting behavior and flashy coloration will win you over. REPTILES