White’s Tree Frog Care Guide
Table of Contents
What are White Tree Frogs?
Where do they come from?
The White's Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea), also known as the Dumpy Tree Frog or Smiling Tree Frog, is easy to keep and is a great beginning amphibian keepers’ choice. Native to Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea, they are most commonly found in coastal areas, but may also be found in drier areas near cisterns, man-made water reservoirs, and other ponded areas. Although they need a local water source, they spend much of their time in the canopy of tropical rainforests.
What do they look like?
They tend to sport a blue/teal color, although some maroon specimens have been observed, as have piebald (white and green mottled). It should be noted that any given frog can change its color drastically based on temperature, mood, and time of day. If stressed, it may appear gray. They are available in a variety of morphs from several breeders. A basic blue will run about $40, while a snowflake will run about $75 and upwards.
How long do they live?
Under ideal conditions, the White's Tree Frog can live up to 20 years, although 15 is more common. Females are usually larger than males, reaching up to 5 inches in size. During breeding season, the males will develop a dark "nuptial pad" on the inside of the "thumb." This helps them grip the female during mating and helps the keeper to identify sexes.
Although sometimes available as wild caught animals imported from Indonesia, captive bred White’s tend to be hardier pets, and much easier to keep alive in captivity, being free from disease and parasites when purchased from a reputable breeder. Plus they will be better adapted to life in a glass box, and usually a bit more calm than their wild caught counterparts. Comfort with living in glass will not deter escape from an open top, however, as they have suction-cup-like structures on the bottoms of their feet and can climb glass with ease.
White’s tree frogs are nocturnal, but they can also be active during the day. They are placid by nature, and unlike most amphibian pets, easy to handle. Skin toxins explain this specie’s placid nature. When distressed it produces a milky secretion known to kill blowflies outright. When a peanut butter odor is detected it’s wise to keep the frog well away from your face, since inhaling deeply near a distressed Dumpy may cause the handler to suffer nausea and headaches.
If allowed to overeat and become obese, older Dumpy Treefrogs grow fat layers on the tops of their heads, hence the name "dumpy." Although it’s cute, excess weight can compromise the animal’s health.
The males will call from the tops of trees during the day, and then come down at night to call from rocks on the ground. When threatened, they will emit a piercing distress call. Their usual vocalization sounds like a tiny duck quacking a “ribit” sound. Most keepers find it charming and amusing, but light sleepers may not want to keep this species housed in their bedroom.
Designing a Habitat for White Tree Frogs
The size and active nature of these semi-nocturnal frogs is part of their appeal, but also necessitates an appropriately large terrarium. A pair of adults could be maintained in a 20-gallon terrarium, but bigger is always better for these jumpers. Since this species is truly arboreal, a vertical tank is a better choice than a horizontal arrangement.
This species can be housed together, but if housing a group of 4 adults, then living space such as that provided by a 20-gallon vertical arrangement will be cramped and a 40 gallon is preferable. It is wise to determine how many frogs you wish to maintain before you purchase the habitat. A good rule of thumb is one frog per ten gallons of tank space. Giving your frogs as much space as possible leads to healthier, bolder frogs that will be visible more often, and allows you more latitude with plants and furniture when designing the terrarium. Be advised not to mix species, it will not go well.
Naturalistic Habitat is Preferred
Most experienced keepers and breeders recommend housing your White’s in a naturalistic vivarium. A naturalistic vivarium is an aquarium that has been designed to create a miniature, virtually self-contained and complete ecosystem, or bioactive design. In this ecosystem, there are plants, soil, and a drainage layer to keep the soil from becoming completely saturated. A naturalistic vivarium creates a balance in which the animals waste is used by the plants. Once established the only inputs are adding food items for the frogs and the only maintenance is cutting plants back as they grow. No removal of waste and/or tank cleaning is necessary, making both the frogs and the keeper cheerier.
These frogs tend to poop in their water, so even a well-functioning bioactive set-up that maintains proper humidity will need a daily change of water in their bowl.
These animals need a lot of humidity. Bearing that in mind, a new keeper should design the habitat with 2-3 inches of drainage material at the bottom of the tank. A new keeper can purchase products such as the Exo Terra Bio Drain Terrarium Draining Reptile Substrate or they can purchase pea gravel, hydroton (an artificial clay pellet used in hydroponics), or Featherlite, a pumice like artificial rock specifically intended for use as a base layer in damp terrariums. Water will drain through the upper, organic layer of substrate and collect here. Cover the drainage layer with a piece of fine mesh screening that will not rust, such as fiberglass screen. On top of this place 6-8 inches of organic substrate. Orchid mix (refer to other posting on this site for composition) mixed with sphagnum moss can be used, provided it is free of artificial additives and perlite. Top this with a layer of terrarium appropriate leaf litter. Live oak leaves are the most popular, but magnolia leaves and sea grape leaves are popular as well.
Furniture and Plants
Most tropical plants can be planted right on top of the screening for the drainage level of the substrate. The roots will go through the screen eventually, lending additional support to the plant. If you decide to remove the plant for some reason, bear this in mind in order to avoid ripping out more of the substrate than you intended. Popular choices include begonias, philodendron, pothos, aloe, spider plants, ficus, and dracaenas. They can be planted directly into the enclosure substrate and lightly watered a few times a week. Pepperomia sp., Hoya sp., and a number of attractive tropical mosses can make for a nice tableau. Small bromeliads for decorative purposes are sometimes used, but can rot if kept continually damp. If they are used, the keeper may need to replace them annually. Floating Crystalwort (Riccia fluitans), is a favorite of arboreal frog keepers as a carpet forming plant. As long as it is kept moist it will grow like a weed and the frogs love it.
A large water bowl is a must, and one that can be placed in a corner will be most convenient for both the keepers and the frogs as long as it can be easily removed and replaced after cleaning.
White’s require a high level of humidity (at least 60%). Humidity should keep around 60%-75% for younger Dumpies; however, after they reach the size of a half dollar the humidity should be between 45% - 70% throughout the day. Unlike many amphibians, they do not easily suffer from respiratory problems, so restricting the airflow will not harm them if that is what is needed to keep the humidity up. Misting twice a day is recommended, so for many keepers using an automatic mister such as those produced by Zoo Med or Exo Terra ($50-$75) is the most convenient way to go.
Despite being a deeply tropical creature, Dumpies do well at relatively low temperatures. A daytime range of 65-80 °F is appropriate, followed by a drop at night to as low as 60 °F. This species does not tolerate temperatures in excess of 80 °F. Therefore, as long as your household ambient temperature is within the comfort zone for humans, no further heating is necessary. If the house gets hot in the summer, a fan blowing on the glass sides of a terrarium can help to whisk away a couple of degrees of excess heat, acting like a swamp cooler. However, until a keeper knows that this system is working well, a laser thermometer to take the temperature in at least 3 spots within the habitat daily is highly recommended.
Lighting is needed primarily for the plants in the habitat, not the frogs. These frogs fulfill their vitamin D3 requirements from their diet rather than sunlight. Be sure that the lighting chosen, such as a ‘growlight’ with both fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, is suspended at the proper height to benefit the plants but not raise the temperature of the enclosure. Be advised that new bulbs can be hotter than the old ones, so use that digital laser thermometer several times a day after bulb replacement or do what many keepers do, elevate the ballast/hood at least 6 inches higher than it was, and slowly lower it to the desired position over the course of the next 30 days. A day/night period of 12 hours on and 12 hours off is recommended, which can be managed by herp lighting timers, or by the keeper if one has a very standardized schedule.
What should a White Tree Frog Eat?
For juvenile frogs, crickets should be no more than 1/4 inch size. Some frogs may not like them because of their tougher exoskeleton, but some don’t seem to mind. When in doubt, smaller than the width of the frog’s head is a good standard. Also, don’t feed too many at a time, as they may be able to elude the frogs and eventually grow to full size. It is recommended to remove crickets if you notice them growing larger in the vivarium. Experienced frog and lizard keepers often raise crickets at home, but if this is not your thing you can easily purchase them from Critter Depot. They appreciate a varied diet, and should be offered hornworms, dubia roaches, black soldier fly larva, and waxworms occasionally. Although superworms are a popular feeder for many bearded dragon and leopard gecko owners, they are typically too large for white tree frogs
Gut Load your Crickets
As with any insect fodder, it is recommended that you ‘gut load’ your crickets prior to presenting them to your frog. Gut loading means placing the feeder insects on an enriched diet for at least 24 hours prior to being offered to your frogs. This enhances the nutritional value of the insects substantially. A purchased 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 waxworms 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)
- ½ small, very fresh, raw potato for moisture
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 herp’s habitat. Replace the potato half every week or so. When greens or shredded carrots are on hand, you can offer those to the crickets, but do not leave this items in with your gut load base longer and 2-3 days, or the decomposing vegetable matter (particularly greens) can contaminate the entire gut load base, causing you have to throw it out for your pet’s safety.
Do not Gut Load with This Popular Forumula
After moderating the forum associated with this site for almost 3 years, I have been surprised at the number of folks who gut load their crickets with a very popular brand of cricket gel. Dismayed is not too strong word. For one pound of this popular ‘gut load’ you pay about $8.00. The ingredients are listed as “Water, Polyacrylamide copolymer, calcium, and F&D yellow #5.” Note the complete absence of any vitamins or trace minerals. Many new keepers believe that this provides a fully nutritious gut load for their feeder insects. The fact is that you are paying $8 for a pound of water, artificial ingredients and a little calcium. A dry formulation like the one above will last for over a year when stored properly, and will cost the same amount. There are other dry formulations that run for about $1 an ounce and do have all of the nutrients required for a proper gut load. Please do not give your feeder insects a hydrating gel only, because this will shorten the life span of your pet and may encourage malnutrition and poor growth. I’m not knocking the company in general, because they make some very well balanced dry gutload formulations that can go for as little as $.50 ounce or less when on sale. If you are going to add a vitamin and mineral supplement to the gutload, then over the course of a year the formulation above will be more than adequate and save the owner some dinero.
In addition to gut loading insect offerings before feeding your frog/frogs, most keepers also dust them with a commercial supplement such as Repashy Calcium Plus, Rep-Cal Calcium with D3, and Rep-Cal Herptivite. Dusting every other feeding seems to be adequate to keep frogs in perfect health.
How to feed White Tree Frogs
The most effective way to feed this species is to place a small amount of the food item in the habitat and check the next day for any remaining food items. If there are still some food items left in the enclosure for the frogs, then do not fed them. If there are none in the vivarium, then it’s OK to feed the frogs again. If you have a bioactive set up where prey items can hide, you may need to spend a couple of days per week closely observing the feeding behavior of your Dumpy to see if all items are being consumed. If prey hiding seems to be a persistent problem and there is concern about hungry prey items nibbling on your pet, switch items from crickets to worms for a while or feed your pet in a separate area designed for dining.
Health and Disease Prevention
Don't Handle or Pick Them Up
It is important to note that these frogs should not be picked up and handled very often, although they don’t seem to mind it. If there is a valid reason that you need to touch them, wear nitrile gloves. This will protect the frog from anything you may have on your skin and will protect your own skin from the exudate.
Although fairly hardy, this species can be susceptible to certain ailments and diseases such as those listed below.
- Chytridiomycosis – This fungus attacks the skin and then progresses to internal damage, mostly to the nervous system. The process of eating away at the skin is microscopic but apparently painful, and a frog will show the discomfort by adopting a rather "withdrawn" (tucked in) posture. When handled, it might cringe when affected skin is touched and will seem lethargic. They will change their behavior from climbing up on their favorite plants and vines to spending all of their time in their water bowl. There may be redness under the body (ventral surface) and wet, discolored crumbling bits of cuticle skin flaking off. As the disease progresses, the breathing and heart rate on the frog slows down to dangerously low levels. If the disease progresses to the point that toe curling, head tucking, limb paralysis, and other signs of nervous system damage is apparent, these symptoms indicate a terminal stage in the disease and death will ensue. This fungus thrives under cool conditions, so providing an area where the frog can rest in a temperature of 80 to 82 degrees F for a while will inhibit fungal growth (never higher than 82 F and even that temperature for only a few hours). This is a very contagious disease and extremely common is certain regions that ship frogs for the pet trade. This is one very important reason to purchase your pet from a reputable domestic breeder.
- Obesity – This species is voracious and prone to overeating. It will be important to control your frog’s food intake. An adult tree frog should be fed three or four large crickets or similar sized insects twice a week and no more. A healthy frog that is good weight will have arches over its eardrums. If they grow and start to roll over the eardrums, your frog will need to be put on a diet. Veterinarians have reported frogs that have gotten so large the fat arches have covered their eyes. Not good.
- Endoparasitism - Symptoms of infestation are an animal with a good appetite that eats and eats, and yet still loses weight. Two groups of internal parasites routinely occur in this species. Nematode worms are parasites that can be easily treated with orally-administered fenbendazole (Panacur) at 100 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg), repeated in two weeks. Various flagellate protozoans and amoebas are the second type. They are also easily treated with an inexpensive wormer. This product is also effective against anaerobic bacteria. However, it should be noted that many amphibians normally harbor some flagellates as part of their typical intestinal flora, so treatment for these parasites is recommended only when a frog is showing signs of illness and flagellate numbers are unusually high. Dosage is critical for treatment to be safe and effective, so beginning keepers should see a veterinarian for the first dosage, and then if they feel confident, they can apply the second dosage two weeks later themselves to help save on veterinary costs.
Careful management of husbandry considerations such as nutrition, humidity and temperature will ensure a pleasingly plump (but not too much!) amphibian friend for years to come.