Keeping White’s Treefrogs
The Dumpy frog has become massively popular over the years.
Few frogs are as instantly recognizable as the chubby White’s treefrog (Ranoidea caerulea). So named after John White, who first described the species in 1790, White’s treefrogs tend to be mostly green or teal, even though their scientific name refers to blue – it’s thought the first specimens were damaged by preservatives on their trip back to England. They are also known as dumpy treefrogs, after their somewhat comical, constantly befuddled appearance. In their native range (Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea), they are commonly called the green treefrog.
White’s treefrogs are listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN Redlist. They are hardy, long lived (over a decade is common in the hobby, although many reports of 20+ year old frogs exist), and large – 4-5 inches is pretty typical for a large, mature female. Best of all, the vast majority of White’s treefrogs in the hobby are captive bred. There are still frogs imported routinely from Indonesia, so be cautious when purchasing frogs, and make sure you only acquire captive-bred stock.
Many people are first attracted to White’s treefrogs as a frog they can handle. This is only partially true. White’s do tolerate the occasional handling, but this is best done only when it’s necessary to move the frog to clean out its enclosure. They certainly don’t enjoy the experience, and there is some risk of injuring the frog. If you have to hold your White’s, don’t do so for long, and wear damp vinyl or nitrile gloves to protect the frog’s sensitive skin.
Where Can I Buy A White’s Treefrog
So you’ve decided that a White’s treefrog is the right frog for you. Great! Do your research and ensure that you’ll be able to properly care for your potential froggy friend for the next decade. If that’s not a problem, it’s time to figure out where to find one, or two, or three . . .
Most pet stores with a reptile department will carry White’s treefrogs, or at least be able to order some in. They’re a staple pet frog, and even big box stores such as Petco and Petsmart do their best to keep White’s in stock. These frogs are hardy, and even under sub optimal conditions tend to come out on top.
Reptile shows are another great option. Quality of animals available can vary wildly, all the way from freshly wild caught imports that have only been in the country for a few days to healthy, captive bred animals produced at a professional facility.
A growing option is online. There are many online forums, social media groups (such as the Facebook group ‘Whites Tree Frog Lovers’), and websites that offer information, advice, and sources for healthy, captive-bred White’s treefrogs. This is a great way to develop a relationship with a breeder, the best source for information pertaining to the care and breeding of the species, and find the perfect frog for you. Responsible breeders take care to only offer healthy, captive bred animals and put in the effort to ship animals safely.
Regardless of where you choose to look for a White’s treefrog, there are several things you’ll want to keep in mind while deciding if to make a purchase:
Is the frog captive-bred? Wild-caught animals often have trouble adjusting to life in captivity, carry parasites and other diseases that may be expensive to treat or shorten your pet’s lifespan, and are often already adults, which means you will not get the opportunity to see your frog grow up. Captive-bred animals are well adjusted to life in a terrarium, should be free of parasites and disease, and are typically younger.
What is the condition of the frog? A skinny frog will have its backbone visible, and its legs may appear very slender. Nose rub will appear as a pink or red patch on the tip of the nose. This is very common in wild-caught animals, and can easily get infected. Eyes should be clear, and there should be no pink or gray discolorations on the body.
What is the frog eating? If the seller cannot quickly tell you what the frog is eating, how much, and how often, shop elsewhere. Any White’s treefrogs for sale should be eating at least 1/4-inch crickets.
How large/old is the frog? I’d recommend avoiding the purchase of adult White’s treefrogs, as they often are wild caught from Indonesia. On the other hand, you do not want to purchase a frog that is too small. Sometimes, White’s treefrogs just one to two weeks out of the water are offered. These animals do not tend to do well in a new environment. I recommend purchasing a White’s Tree Frog that is at least 1-inch in length, and no longer shows the black mask across the eyes (a trait White’s have when they first leave the water, and lose around 8-10 weeks of age).
Where did the frog come from? If you can’t get an answer, or if the answer is ‘from the wild’, move on. Many hobbyists produce White’s treefrogs. Larger breeders include Sandfire Dragon Ranch, The Frog Farm, and Josh’s Frogs, among others.
If you’ve received satisfactory answers, it sounds like you’ve found a source for your next pet! I strongly recommend making sure you have a habitat set up and ready to go before bringing froggy home.
White’s Treefrog Morphs
Lots of White’s treefrogs are produced in captivity every year, and as a result several different morphs are available from specialist breeders. These morphs can be expressed together in the same animal – IE it’s possible to produce snowflake honey blue eyed White’s. We expect to see more exciting morphs available in the future, and are currently working to develop a couple of our own!
- Blue Phase – Blue Phase White’s exhibit a more blue/teal base coloration than typical White’s treefrogs. This is by far the most common morph available.
- Snowflake – Speckled with numerous white spots, snowflake white’s generally show most of their spotting around their sides.
- Super Snowflake – snowflakes with an exceptional amount of spotting can be considered super snowflake White’s treefrogs. These animals typically have spotting around the sides of their head and nose, as well as their backs.
- Blue Eyed – this morph is defined by pale, blue eyes. On many animals, the base green color tends to be a bit more pale than usual.
- Golden/Honey – instead of a base green coloration, these frogs exhibit a dried straw or yellow coloration. Some consider goldens and honeys to be different morphs, with goldens being on the more yellow end of the spectrum.
White’s Treefrog Enclosures
How you house your White’s treefrogs depends primarily on two factors – the frog’s age and how natural you’re willing to approach their housing. In my opinion, all young White’s should be set up in a simple, basic enclosure to allow for easy observation and quick growth. For subadults or adults, the question is a bit more complex – basic or bioactive?
For young White’s treefrogs (under 1.5 inches in length), keep it simple. These frogs have a lot of growing to do, and if you’re new to the White’s scene make it easy for yourself. At Josh’s Frogs, we raise young White’s in 10-gallon glass aquariums with a screen top that’s half covered with glass. Substrate consists of damp paper towel, layered three thick that is changed three times a week. A simple water bowl (for us, in the form of an 8oz deli cup, but any easily cleaned water bowl will work), a few easily cleaned fake plants, and an artificial bendable vine make up the cage hardscape.
For lighting, we provide a 5 percent UVB source for all White’s Tree Frogs. We do not provide a heat source for young frogs, but maintain them at an ambient temperature of 74-78°F (23.3-25.6°C) during the day, and 68-72°F (20.00-22.2°C) during the night. Humidity is maintained at 50 percent between mistings, with spikes up to 70 percent or so right after misting (typically two to three times a day). It’s vitally important to accurately measure temperature and humidity. The best way to do this is with a digital thermometer and hygrometer.
For older frogs, you can choose to go with an easy to clean, utilitarian setup, or choose to recreate their own little forest in a glass box. I personally feel that bioactive is the way to go, but understand that a more spartan enclosure can be a better fit for some keepers. Either way, you’ll want to make sure you’re providing enough space for your White’s – big frogs need some serious room, even if they seem content playing the role of couch potato most of the time.
I’d recommend at least a 20 gallon high aquarium or 18x18x18 terrarium for a single White’s tree frog, and add about 10 gallons per additional animal. Glass enclosures offer an easy to clean surface that allows for observation. A solid, secured screen top is a must. Depending on humidity levels, you may need to cover part of the top with glass or plastic.
Adult White’s treefrogs can take it a bit drier than young frogs, but don’t let them drop below 40 percent, and spikes up to 60-70 percent after misting are fine, best monitored by a digital thermometer and hygrometer. We prefer a low wattage incandescent bulb if your temps are not going to reach at least 75°F (23.9°C) during the day. A night bulb is necessary if temperatures drop below 65°F (18.3°C). A 5% UVB bulb, run for 12 hours a day, will help with D3 production and maintain your frog’s circadian rhythm. Either setup will require a large, easy to clean water bowl that’s replenished daily.
In a utilitarian setup, avoid loose substrates when possible. Some keepers choose to utilize damp paper towels, but we find this gets gross quickly and needs to be changed several times a week. At Josh’s Frogs, we prefer frog foam, an animal-safe foam that can easily go a week between cleanings. When it comes time to clean the frog foam, simply remove it from the tank, wash and squeeze under running water to remove any debris, soak in ReptiSan disinfectant, then rinse well with dechlorinated water.
Cage décor can consist of strong, broad-leafed fake plants, bendable vines, and other easily cleaned (typically artificial) climbing and hiding surfaces. When done carefully, the result can be an aesthetically pleasing, although artificial, enclosure that your White’s treefrogs will thrive in.
Bioactive Enclosures For Amphibians
Keeping White’s treefrogs in a bioactive or naturalistic vivarium is more involved, but well worth the effort. We recommend Biobedding Tropical, a unique substrate that’s great for plant growth, maintaining microfauna (tiny bugs that help keep things clean), and already comes seeded with beneficial fungi. Add three to four inches of this substrate to your enclosure, then top with leaf litter. It’s important to cover the top of the substrate, as you don’t want your frogs accidentally ingesting substrate as they chow down.
Carefully place some pieces of wood (cork bark, manzanita, Malaysian driftwood, and moapani are all great choices) so they provide some climbing structure and will not shift under the weight of a large, jumping frog. Add springtails and isopods – temperate springs and dwarf tropical white isopods are a great fit – to the substrate, then add some plants (for help selecting the right plants, see the sidebar “Perfect Plants”). Mist heavily the first week or two to help the plants grow in and microfauna establish. I recommend letting the tank grow in for a month or two before adding frogs, so you can be sure the environment has stabilized. When set up properly, you’ll be trimming plants and adding leaf litter every few months, and changing part of the substrate every year or two.
White’s treefrogs are big and heavy – just moving around does a number on their surroundings. As such, you want to make sure you’re picking out some tough plants to put up with these fat frogs! Below are some great green recommendations. Take them or leaf them:
- Pothos – the ever popular houseplant also moonlights as an amazing tree frog plant! It’s fast growing, climbs over anything, doesn’t care what kind of light you put it under, and looks great doing so.
- Philodendron – this group technically includes pothos, but is broad enough to merit mentioning twice. Broad leaves, fast growth, and durable enough to tolerate frogs climbing all over it.
- Dieffenbachia – commonly known as dumb cane, this plant offers sturdy growth and big leaves. Combine that with the fact that it comes in a ton of different color and patterns, and it’s a sure win. It is toxic if consumed, but luckily for us (and the plants), White’s are strictly interested in eating bugs.
- Ficus – another common houseplant with a lot to offer. Ficus often drops leaves when moved to a new environment, but then quickly regrows. It has smaller leaves and a more woody stem, but looks great when it grows in.
- Bromeliads – native to Central and South America, White’s Tree Frogs would never encounter these plants in the wild. That being said, they are really unique looking and come in some crazy patterns and colors. Spineless varieties will fit right in to a White’s Tree Frog habitat.
Feeding the White’s Treefrog
White’s treefrogs like to eat. It’s completely normal for a newly acquired frog to take a couple days to settle in, but after that (given a proper environment), they never seem to stop eating. They eat a ton, and they need to – these frogs can grow very quickly! We recommend feeding every day, or at least every other day, for young frogs. For frogs over 1.25 inches, feeding two to three times a week is fine. White’s treefrogs are nocturnal and may prefer to be fed right before or after “lights out” at night, but often are gluttonous enough to wake up at any time in order to eat.
Variety may be the spice of life, but there are a couple commonly available feeder insects that should make up the bulk of your White’s tree frog menu – crickets and dubia roaches. Crickets (either banded or European house crickets are fine, but we do prefer the more quiet banded cricket at Josh’s Frogs) are available at nearly any pet store. Offer four to six appropriately-sized crickets (length of the cricket should be about the same distance between the frog’s eyes for young frogs, and a bit bigger for larger frogs) at each feeding, dusted in an appropriate vitamin and mineral supplement. We dust with Repashy Calcium Plus once a week, then rotate between RepCal Calcium with D3 and RepCal Herptivite for the other feedings.
Dubia roaches are another great staple feeder. Unlike most roaches, dubia roaches are easy to contain, have virtually no smell, and are quick to breed. Young White’s often ignore dubia roaches, but older frogs absolutely love them, especially when offered via a feeding bowl or tongs.
Nine to Dine
What will a White’s treefrog eat? A better question may be “What won’t they eat?”. These frogs have a voracious appetite and a big mouth and are not afraid to use it. Variety is the spice of life, and fortunately many feeders are commonly available that will greedily be consumed by your White’s. Remember to dust feeders with a quality vitamin/mineral supplement. White’s tree frogs tend to be obese in captivity, so feed sparingly!
- Crickets – the staple feeder insect of the pet trade, and for good reason. Easy to keep, gutloads well, and available in sizes that’ll suit freshly morphed froglets, all the way up to adults.
- Dubia Roaches – more recently popular, less smelly alternative to crickets. Nymphs do not really move around a lot and tend to be ignored. Adult White’s eagerly accept ¾-inch or larger dubia, especially when tong fed.
- Black Soldier Flies and Larvae – larvae are very high in calcium, and many treefrogs will accept them from a bowl or when offered via tongs. The larvae will eventually pupate and turn into scary looking (but harmless) flies, which young and juvenile White’s relish.
- Mealworms and Superworms – not great staples, but nothing wrong with offering a couple as an occassional treat. Never feed more than one to two at a time.
- Nightcrawlers – Nightcrawlers can be chopped to size, depending on the frog that’s going to partake. These worms are highly nutritious and easy to keep in the fridge.
- Waxworms – high in fat, waxworms are a great way to put weight on an animal, or encourage a picky eater to chow down. If they’re allowed to pupate, young and juvenile frogs enjoy chasing down the moths.
- Hornworms – hornworms come in all different sizes, but only offer them to White’s that are at least half grown. Offer via tongs.
- Silkworms – similar to hornworms, but a bit smaller. Great to offer via tongs to larger frogs.
- Butterworms – A great occasional treat to offer on tongs, but can be difficult to acquire during some parts of the year.
Breeding White’s Treefrogs
So you’ve decided having one or a few White’s treefrogs is great, and you want more – perhaps several thousand more! Maybe it’s time to breed your frogs, but first there’s a few things to consider:
- What are you going to do with all the babies? A successful White’s treefrog clutch can consist of more than a thousand frogs. Do you have a way of ensuring they all find proper homes? White’s treefrogs are very much in demand, but without connections it can be hard to find that many buyers.
- Can you afford to take care of so many frogs? Breeding frogs and raising the subsequent offspring can be a costly process, both in time and money. Those frogs are going to need to eat, so expect to have to purchase several thousand crickets a week, on top of needed supplies. You’ll spend hours a week cleaning and feeding your army of babies. You’ll need to care of the babies for several weeks – at Josh’s Frogs, we generally raise them for 8-10 weeks before offering them for sale.
- Do you have the space? We house about 20 baby white’s per 10 gallon aquarium. One clutch may result in the need for 50+ 10 gallons just to house them – that’s a lot of room!
Assuming you’ve the why figured out, let’s talk about the how.
Breeding White’s treefrogs is not a very complicated process, but it’s also not the easiest thing in the world. Basically, you put multiple animals of each sex together for a week or so, and come back to thousands of small, black eggs clustered at the water’s surface. In the past, getting White’s to breed was a frustrating exercise in futility for us. Now, we’re about 50/50. Here’s what you can do to increase your odds of success:
- Cycle your animals. Put your adult frogs through a couple months of cooler temps associated with less food and reduced misting, then raise the temperature up and mist and feed the heck out of them for a month or so before putting them into the rain chamber.
- Set them up for success. White’s like to breed in water that’s several inches deep, and like a bit of room. We utilize 40B aquaria as rain chambers – they’re set up with a pump and spray bar to “rain” for several hours overnight, and maintain a water level of three to four inches at the bottom. Several cork branches and flats provide plenty of places for the frogs to stay out of the water.
- More the merrier. In the wild, these frogs congregate in huge groups when breeding. If you have two or three adults, success is unlikely. Aim for at least eight, but even more is beneficial. It’s better to have more males than females.
- Give them time. Chances are breeding isn’t going to happen right off the bat. Give them a week or so to do the deed.
White’s Treefrog Egg and Tadpole Care
Now that you have a lot of White’s eggs, it’s time to tend to them and prep for incoming tadpoles. Use a turkey baster to remove any obviously bad eggs daily – these will generally appear discolored, furry, or simply fall apart. Change half of the water every day. Soon, you’ll see the eggs begin to change shape and develop into tadpoles, which hatch pretty quickly (24-48 hours!). The tadpoles will initially fall to the bottom of the enclosure and won’t move much. Don’t do anything with them until they absorb their yolk and begin to move around. Then, it’s time to thin them out and feed them.
Once the tadpoles are free swimming, set them up in a cycled aquarium, ideally providing ¼ to ½ gallon of volume per tadpole. The more volume you have per tadpole, the easier it will be to keep water quality up. We use sponge filters for filtration, and change half of the water every other day. We keep our tadpoles pretty dense – about 200 tadpoles per 30 gallons of water. Use an aquarium heater to keep the water at 76-80°F (24.4-26.7°C). Higher temperatures cause the tadpoles to leave the water faster, but they will be smaller than tadpoles raised at lower temperatures.
The tadpoles will eat a ton, and should be fed three to five times a day. We alternate between Josh’s Frogs Tree Frog and Toad Tadpole Food, brine shrimp flakes, and frozen bloodworms. Make sure to keep up on water changes – lots of food equals lots of poop!
Tadpoles will begin developing legs and leaving the water after about four weeks, and will continue to come out of the water for another month or so afterwards. As you find them stuck to the sides of the tadpole container, remove them to a small container with damp paper towels at the bottom and a shallow water bowl – half of a petri dish works well. Place the newly minted froglet in the petri dish, and allow it to eventually come out of the water on its own. After its absorbed its tail, remove it to a 10 gallon and feed daily.
White’s treefrogs are one of the most popular pet treefrogs on the market today, and for good reason. Their dumpy, somewhat comical appearance, easy going nature, toleration of occasional handling, and wide availability make them economical and easily attainable pets. As more people work with White’s treefrogs, there’s sure to be more and more different color and pattern morphs available. Without a doubt, these frogs are a great introduction to the world of amphibian keeping.
Zach Brinks is a lifelong herpetoculturist and has worked with reptiles and amphibians for over 30 years. Starting with a ribbon snake, his hobby grew until it became his profession – he now oversees all of the live animal, insect, and plant operations at Josh’s Frogs, which produces thousands of animals every year for zoos, public aquaria, and pet keepers all over the world. He also created and organizes Josh’s Frogs Annual Amphibian Conservation Grants, which currently aid amphibian conservation in five different countries. He has a BS in biology from Michigan State University, and maintains a small collection of rare amphibians at home.