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Waxy Monkey Frog Care Guide

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Table of Contents

waxy monkey tree frog

Waxy Monkey Frog Care Guide

Table of Contents

Ask an Expert

Wax Monkey Tree Frogs are beautiful and amazing.  And they are recommended for beginner keepers.  If you are an owner, or are considering becoming one, we have a community forum waxy monkey frog forum that can help answer your questions.  Our forum is moderated by knowledgable zoologists, who can help guide you to provide wonderful care for your Waxy Monkey Frog. 

What are Waxy Monkey Frogs?

As proof that mother nature has a tremendous imagination, she created an amphibian that hunts at night and sleeps during the day.  Big deal, you say, there’s plenty of species like that.  But here’s the creative part, this frog hunts at night and sleeps during the day, in the sun!  This fascinating arboreal South American frog lives in the tops of the trees and seldom ventures to the ground, even to mate or lay eggs.  This unique species, and really interesting pet, accomplishes this feat of sunbathing by producing and slathering itself with its own skin moisturizer.  The Waxy Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa sauvagii, is truly a wonderful amphibian oddity and a extremely interesting pet, especially for those that like watching yoga.  

waxy monkey tree frog care guide

It is widely known that arboreal frogs tend to display lower evaporative water loss than aquatic or semi-aquatic frogs. Makes perfect sense for terrestrial species that inhabit an ecological niche where pooled water is mandatory for their life cycles, but is also readily available.  But tree dwelling means less reliable access to water, so it’s important they don’t dry out as quickly as aquatic species tend to. This particular species has developed an extraordinary capacity for retaining skin hydration through some pretty unique mechanisms. Between skin secretions and specialized limbs and behaviors, you would have to look a long way to find a more unfrog-like frog.

Are they really waxy?

As is implied in the common name, these creatures are indeed waxy on the outside.  This is deliberate, and takes a bit of work on the frog’s part to make sure they are thoroughly and regularly coated.  Glands on the legs supply the animal with an astonishing assortment of chemicals, many of which are of keen interest to science.  These secretions contain peptides and other compounds that seal the skin from water loss, are anti-microbial, and even repellent to predators. The skin secretions are produced by lipid glands behind the eyes and on the legs and spread over the body through movement of the hind limbs. So effective is this substance the frog can prevent water evaporation up to 102 degrees F!  

Waxy Benefits

It may be that these attributes, especially the anti-microbial properties which favor certain healthy skin microbes and repel harmful ones, contribute to this species’ success in withstanding diseases such as chytrid fungus, currently decimating so many amphibian populations. But while the wild population is secure from disease, it is of course, susceptible to the effects of habitat loss.  There are also emerging indications that because of the complex nature of their waxy secretions, some populations may become threatened as a result of biopiracy.  

These Frogs Have Opposable Thumbs!

When not sitting on small branches with their legs tucked in, Waxys move by walking instead of hopping. This walking/climbing gait is made possible by specialized arms. The forelimbs have elongated and enlarged muscles, accompanied by unusually strong and long tendons. Because they have an opposable thumb they can utilize a precision grip on narrow branches. Other than primates, no other species exhibits a true opposable thumb. Hence the monkey part of the common name. But even monkeys cannot perform the contortions that these amphibians engage in to make sure they are fully coated.  No one is there to slather their backs, so they have evolved to do it themselves, and it is incredibly entertaining to watch. 

Are they good pets? Yes!

Waxys are a great pet for those wishing to enjoy their crazy routines in a hands-off fashion. Waxys will tolerate a little bit of handling, but not much. Excessive handling can stress your frog and introduce harmful chemicals to its skin. Most of the enjoyment of having these pets comes from watching their wiping behaviors after dark when they're most active. 

Sexual dimorphism is present in this species. The snouts of females are rounder than males and females are larger than males, so it is relatively easy to tell adults apart. These frogs are not huge ranging from 2-3 inches in length.  Since the female is 25% bigger than the male, if bigger is better, get a girl.

Like many of the Phyllomedusa genus, P. sauvagii lays terrestrial clutches in nests made out of leaves. The pair places their nest of folded leaves above a water body. Cool fact, amongst the real eggs, there are gelatinous eggless capsules, which, along with the folded leaf nests, decrease chances of desiccation. As they hatch within their leaf nursery, the tadpoles drop into the water below.

Habit Set up for Waxy Monkey Frogs

waxy monkey tree frog habitat set up

One adult can be housed in a minimum of a 18" wide and at least 24" tall glass vivarium. However, they do require much more ventilation than many amphibians, in fact their needs are similar to a chameleon. So, you should consider not only a screened top, but a screened back as well, especially in the more humid parts of the US.  This may require a custom setup that permits greater ventilation than a solid glass tank with a screened top can provide.

You will want to have plenty of foliage and vines/branches for your Waxy to climb on and hide in. If you want to use live plants, Ficus, Schefflera, Pothos, Jade, and Bromeliads are all safe and attractive choices.  Other furniture needed, and for this species not an option but a true necessity, are climbing structures. 

Experienced keepers and breeders swear by sand-blasted manzanita. Two or three for a small 20-gallon enclosure housing one frog arranged vertically are essential, with a 50-gallon habitat containing multiple adults requiring four or five.  A bend at the top of one or more branches will give your frog a daytime basking surface.

Substrate for Waxy Monkey Frogs

Moist sphagnum moss, such as the Zilla Fir & Sphagnum Peat Moss Mix Reptile Bedding, works well as a substrate so long as it is patted down flat. Chopped coir, orchid mix and other soft substrates that hold a bit of moisture are highly recommended.  Gravel, sand, or any organic substrate with prickly surfaces that can snag skin are not advised. 

Do not use distilled or tap water

Frogs drink by sitting in their water bowls and absorbing it through their skin. DO NOT used distilled water or chlorinated tap water in the bowl. Distilled water contains no salts or minerals, and so in a way, it is too pure, causing internal dysregulation of the water content within the cells. This dysregulation over time can sometimes result in serious sickness, and even death.  Dechlorinated tap water that has been aged by exposure to air for at least 24 hours, or chemically aged through dechlorinating additives such as Zilla Aquatic Reptile Water Conditioner should be safe.  Spring water is another acceptable option.  The water dish should be kept 1-2 inches deep only, and changed every day since monkey frogs will regularly defecate in it at night, then climb back up into the branches.

Heating and Lighting

Waxys like it hotter than most frogs. Still, they will need a temperature gradient to thermoregulate and control their body temperature. This essentially means you need to provide a hot and a cool side to your enclosure. All the heat elements should be on one side only. This way your frog can move back and forth between the different temperature zones depending on its needs. In a vertical enclosure, the kind preferred by this species, the hot zone will be on the top, and the cooler zone at the bottom.

Habitat Temperature

A basking area of 85-90 degrees during daylight hours should be provided. The rest of the enclosure can be in the 80-82 range. At night, temps can drop to as low as 75 degrees. A good digital thermometer with a temperature probe is crucial for managing the heating regime. Better still, acquire a digital laser thermometer. It is a worthwhile investment and for around $20, a keeper can take readings from all over the habitat with the push of a button.

Be sure to take readings from more than one spot in the habitat, so as not to overlook hot spots (it is more important to identify these than cool spots).  Readings should therefore be taken at bottom of the habitat, in the center, at the top and in any areas your waxy seems to hang out in quite frequently. Keepers need to remember that the ambient temperature of the room can affect that of the enclosure, so frequent readings are strongly recommended.  If your home ambient temperature routinely drops below 70 degrees F at night, and many homes do, you will need to add a low wattage heat mat under the enclosure, also on a timer so that it is only on during the nighttime hours. 

Provide a photoperiod of 10 to 12 hours per day.  An automatic timer can be helpful in ensuring that the lights go on and off at the same time every day. And although many amphibians do not require UVB, this species definitely does. Offer low-strength UVB lighting, such as the Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0 UVB Fluorescent Mini Reptile Lamp or a 13-watt UVB Exo Terra 100.  Position this over the screened top of the enclosure above an area, such as a ledge or crook in the branches, where the frogs sleep during the day.  Waxys need UVB lighting to help in the absorption of calcium and the synthesis of vitamin D3. However, in the wild, the UVB lighting is filtered by the tree canopy. That is why placing it on top of a screen, rather than inside the enclosure, and using low wattage will make your frog the happiest.  Remember to keep an extra bulb on hand at all times.  


Because these frogs live high in the trees, they are exposed to wind and much drier conditions than you would expect for an amphibian. Therefore, maintain humidity around 40-50%. Misting the enclosure at least once daily will usually provide enough moisture in addition to the water dish, but a nice humidity gauge can help you in this area. Hand misters are usually sufficient but if your lifestyle makes daily hand misting problematic, an automatic mister like the Exo Terra Monsoon is a nice option.

Diet and Feeding

Providing a varied diet of live insects is important to the long-term health of captive Waxys. Crickets, roaches, silkworms and waxworms can be offered to adult frogs at least once every three days, or more frequently if needed, in quantities of around two to eight food items per frog. Juvenile frogs must be fed every night, and they can be offered fruit flies, termites, and springtails. As adults, most breeders concur that crickets will be their mainstay.  

Make sure to supplement your frog's insects 1-2 times a week with a calcium and vitamin supplements such as the Critter Depot's gut-load dry mix. Coat food items in the powdered supplement before every feeding for juvenile frogs and at every other feeding for adults. This supplement should contain calcium, vitamin D3, vitamin A, and be phosphorus-free. Make sure to replace the supplement every 3-6 months since the quality of vitamins degrades over time once opened.

When to Feed Waxy Monkey Frogs?

Feed at dusk or at night when they are awake, active, and ready to eat. Whatever food items you offer, remember that they should never be larger than the distance from the Waxy’s nose to its eye, or the distance between the eyes. 

For maximum benefit for your waxy, gut load your feeder Insects before offering them to your herp friend.  “Gut loading” means placing the feeder insects on an enriched diet for at least 24 hours prior to being offered to your Waxys. This enhances the nutritional value of the insects substantially. A purchased gut loading supplement, such as those offered by reptile hobby stores, is easily available and affordable.  The convenience of a dry gut load diet, purchased from a pet supply house, is undeniable.  However, many experienced breeders and keepers have found these products inadequate, so for the really persnickety keeper (and you know you should be) the following formula for gut loading your feeder crickets or roaches is suggested.

  • 24 pbw whole wheat flour (not self-rising) 
  • 8 pbw calcium carbonate with vitamin D3  
  • 4 pbw brewer's yeast (Not baker's yeast).
  • 3 pbw soy powder
  • 1 pbw paprika (this is to provide beta carotene)

The ‘pbw’ stands for parts by weight, whatever that weight may be.  Think of this formula as a table of ratios. For instance, if you begin with 24 tablespoons of whole wheat, you would add 8 tablespoons of calcium carbonate and so forth. So for every unit of whole wheat flour, you would add 1/3 as much of the same unit of calcium powder and so forth. Place your feeder insects onto this feed for 24 hours and then release a couple into your frog’s habitat. 

How to Clean their Habitat

Real plants should be removed and cleaned by wiping down and spraying off (including the underside of the leaves) monthly.  Plastic plants should be removed monthly and placed in the dishwasher on the top rack (so they don’t melt).  This convenient form of sanitizing the furniture is appropriate monthly if there is no lingering odor or evidence of illness produced by microbes or fungi thriving in the habitat.

If your Waxy is ill, or if the habitat just seems smelly within 24 hours of cleaning, suspect that normal maintenance is not sufficient.  Remove all elements from the habitat immediately.  Soak any artificial furniture in a 10% bleach solution for at least one hour and then allow to air dry.  Remove and destroy all loose substrates.  Remove tiles or other durable substrates and sanitize the sides and bottom of the habitat with bleach solution, paying attention to the bottom corners in particular.  Allow it to air dry for at least 3 hours.  Sanitize any tiles or plastic furniture in the dishwasher with a bleach rinse afterward for good measure. Replace the live plants with new ones (do not use the old ones again for at least 6 months), and the newly sanitized synthetic furnishings and tiles.  These extreme measures may seldom be necessary if your Waxy stays healthy, and with any luck you will not have to resort to this process more than once a year.

While you are doing the monthly cleaning, you may want to have your Waxy in a temperature-controlled station. A large Rubbermaid type container with paper towels on the bottom, and a sensibly warm spot for the duration will do better than asking a friend or family member to hold your pet for 2-3 hours, which is way too long for their comfort. I like to just remove the undertank heating pad and place it under the Rubbermaid tub, with a hand towel between the plastic bottom of the tub and the pad.  Let it preheat for an hour, check the temperature, mist the towels thoroughly and place your friend inside while you clean.  Remember to preheat the main habitat again after cleaning and drying is complete and to mist all leaves and furniture.  Your pet will not have had a chance to drink during cleaning, so don’t ask them to wait any longer, just give them moisture right away. 

Ailments and Diseases

Due to their unique behavior and physiology, waxy monkey frogs in captivity suffer from a fairly unique ailment.  Because of their waxy coating, full of anti-microbials, they tend to suffer fewer skin diseases and even seem to be fairly immune to chytrid fungus.  However, in captivity, their habit of basking in hotter temperatures than normally sought by other amphibians comes with a downside.  Stones.  In the bladder, huge ones.  Oh yuck. Fatal when not surgically removed. This problem is common in captive frogs, and almost unknown in the wild.  

These stones are made of ammonium urate. As part of this animal’s defense against dehydration urine is retained in greater concentrations within the body, and the urinary tract becomes supersaturated with urate. When the frog descends from its toasty perch to the cool forest floor, or the bottom of its tank, the urate condenses and may begin the process of nidation.  Like a grain of sand that attaches to the inside of an oyster’s shell and over time becomes a pearl, after attachment of the initial urate grains, (nidation), more development follows, and the stone will grow.  This process of heating and cooling could result in stones in wild frogs, and probably does from time to time, but does not seem to be common.  The big difference…diet.  The varied diets of the wild animals include prey items low in protein.  A high protein diet contains excess purines, and purine metabolism leads to uric acid.  The same thing happens to humans that indulge in high protein diets that result in gout, but the end result is expressed differently.  

So what can the owner do to prevent this potentially fatal condition? Provide a varied diet.  Researchers on this species have found a strong correlation between a diet of exclusively crickets and the development of life-threatening stones. So, it is really critical to offer something besides crickets to your pet on a weekly basis, something not high protein. You may have to take the finicky cat approach, that is, if they are hungry enough, they will eat it. The researchers mentioned above specifically recommended the addition of silkworms to the diet, but any insect offering that your pet will eat that is low in protein will help greatly.  Dehydration has also been linked to development of stones, therefore daily misting once or even twice daily along with a clean water bowl is preventive. Easy peasy prevention, as long as you know that this ailment is an odd and specific health risk for this species.

The trick with Waxys is to keep them well hydrated, while not overdoing the humidity.  Once that routine has been established, good nutrition and a pleasing habitat should keep your Waxy healthy and entertaining for all 8 years of its usual life span.

Happy Frogging!


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