Description & Natural History
The Red-Eyed Leaf Frog is probably the single-most photographed amphibian species in the world, and are often referred to as the poster-child for the rainforest. It inhabits tropical rainforest in both the Pacific and Atlantic lowlands and foothills of Central America, from the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Veracruz, southward towards Panama, with their range stopping at the Columbian border. At present the Red-Eyed Leaf Frog is considered a common species in most of its range and is not threatened.
(Photo: Tammy Raabe Rao/rubicat.com)
|Family ||Hylidae (Treefrogs)|
|Subfamily||Phyllomedusinae (Leaf & Monkey Frogs)|
|Origin||Central America (Southern Mexico to Panama)|
|Adult Snout-to-Vent Length||Male: 50 - 55 mm (1.96 - 2.16 inches); Female: 65 - 70 mm (2.55 - 2.75 inches)|
|Life span||4-10 years in captivity|
|Temperature||Day: 26-28 °C (78-82 °F); Night: 22-24 °C (71-75 °F)|
|Food||Crickets, moths, and other active insects|
Male and female Red-Eyed Leaf Frogs in
amplexus (Photo: Dr. Peter Weish)
The Red-Eyed Leaf Frog is a slender arboreal frog belonging to the family Hylidae and subfamily Phyllomedusinae. The dorsum is a bright leaf green during the day and a darker shade after dark, with the venter being a white to creamy color. Some individuals may have white spots upon their backs. The eyes, as the common name suggests, are red with a vertical pupil. The hands and feet are orange, with fingers and toes having well-developed discs and partial webbing. Specimens from the southern part of this species' range have blue to purple on the inner surfaces of their arms and legs, and in the northern parts of their range these surfaces are orange in color. Southern individuals have blue sides or flanks with three to eight pale yellow, vertical bars. In northern specimens the flanks can be more towards the brown or red side with the barring being a darker shade of yellow than that of the southern populations. All specimens that I have seen in the reptile trade are of the southern population. During the day all these hues are hidden and all you will see is the frog's green dorsum. When awoken these colors are exposed. So, it is thought that its bright colors are used to flash and startle predators just long enough for the frog to make its escape.
At night during the rainy season, which lasts from late May to December, males call from vegetation that is 1-3 meters off of the ground. This vegetation is found near or around quiet bodies of water such as flooded pastures, roadside ditches, and forest ponds. They also may occasionally call from a height of 5 meters or more. The call itself is a "cluck" or "chock" which may be either a single or a double note. Choruses of several hundred males are known to occur. When not breeding they can be found in trees at a height of 10 meters or higher. During the day, this extremely nocturnal frog can be found plastered against the surface of a leaf, with which it blends so well that is becomes almost invisible to the observer.
Reproduction occurs with the onset of the rainy season. As mentioned above, males will call from vegetation located near standing water, thus attracting the larger females. Once the female has been attracted, the male will engage her in amplexus, grasping her at the armpits with his forelimbs. Carrying him on her back, she will make her way down to the water, drawing it into her bladder. Without doing this her eggs, once laid, are likely dry out. She will then climb back up into the tree or bush and pick a leaf or branch above water to which to attach her eggs. The male fertilizes the eggs as the female lays them. The pale green eggs will be in a jelly mass for the next 5 to 9 days before hatching. Once hatched, the tadpoles will drop to the pool of water below and continue their development there. Occasionally eggs are laid above the ground. Tadpoles from these egg masses are forced to use their tails for limited movement on land if they are to make it into a pool of water. Groups of tadpoles will sometimes gather at the surface of the water at a 45° angle with their heads towards the surface, usually in a sun lit part of the pond or pool. Metamorphosis into froglets can take from 7 to 9 weeks.
As with most frogs, red-eyes are insectivores, and in my experience seem to be more attracted to fast moving insects, ignoring prey items like caterpillars that are slow. I have read that they are known to prey upon smaller frogs, but I cannot find any other literature to back up this claim.. They are in turn are preyed upon by bats, birds, and snakes. Cat snakes of the genus Leptodeira are known predators of the eggs of the red-eyed leaf frog.
I have had a long history with Agalychnis callidryas, and it hasn't always been very good. I have made my share of mistakes. I think the biggest mistake I have made was improper housing; rubbermaid boxes are not good homes for most treefrogs and I found this out the hard way. They may be good homes for salamanders and snakes, but not for arboreal frogs. In these types of enclosures red-eyes have a tendency to wither away over time and die. The proper caging for these types of frogs is an enclosure with good ventilation. A glass aquarium with a screen top works well, as do plastic "critter keepers," and mesh cages.
Agalychnis callidryas, Red-Eyed Leaf Frog
(Photo: Tammy Raabe Rao/rubicat.com)
I have used 10 gallon (38 L) aquariums for 2 to 3 adult frogs, and various sizes of "critter keepers" for juvenile frogs. Due to the arboreal nature of these frogs, the taller the enclosure the better, and I have used an extra high 20 gallon (76 L) aquarium as a breeding/rain chamber with great success.
Of course with an "open-air" enclosure, humidity might seem somewhat tricky to maintain, but it can be done with a daily misting. I usually do this at night just before going to bed. I use distilled water, as it leaves no mineral deposits on the walls of my enclosures.
The main source of water for my frogs is a dog or cat bowl. I use these because they are much cheaper than the bowls that are sold in the reptile section of pet stores. The frogs are able to easily climb in and out of these bowls, however their food is not usually able to at all. Crickets drown very easily, so I make a "cricket ladder" out of needlepoint mesh that I cut into strips. So, if a cricket does jump into a bowl, it usually can climb back out using the "cricket ladder." Always keep the water bowl clean! If it becomes soiled, change it immediately. Dechlorinated or spring water is advised for all amphibians, especially for tadpoles. Only use distilled water for misting, as it is devoid of minerals and therefore unsuitable for your frogs as their primary water source.
I like to keep things simple, so the substrate I use for most of my treefrogs is white paper towels. It is easily changed, will show any feces, and is affordable. I also like to use it on all new acquisitions to my collection. It makes it easier to monitor their health. With some treefrogs, along with my salamanders and terrestrial frogs, I use sphagnum moss. It works fairly well at keeping and maintaining moisture. It doesn't show off feces as well as paper towels do, so spot cleaning can be problematic. Under no circumstances should one use aquarium gravel. It can be accidentally and easily swallowed, and this can lead to gastrointestinal impaction, which frequently leads to death.
Cage furniture for my frogs comes in the form of artificial plants. Large-leafed species are best. They provide a place for the frogs to sleep and to hide from prying eyes. When and if you decide to breed them, it will be a place for them to lay their eggs. Other furniture you can use include vines and branches for climbing. There are artificial vines on the market that bend to shape, and they look somewhat natural. They are available in most pet/reptile stores. If you want to use branches from your yard, I suggest that you bake them in the oven for an hour at 150-200 °F (66-93 °C). This will kill any nasty bugs living in them. Let them cool off before handing them over to your frogs.
If you want a more natural looking enclosure, this can be accomplished by using what is called a false bottom. The false bottom allows for water to drain off while keeping the substrate moist, but not soggy. Some live plants can be rooted in this type of substrate, but keep in mind that most plants do not do well with an overly wet substrate and their roots will begin to rot.
What you will need to make a false-bottomed terrarium will be a sheet of white egg-crate panel made for drop-ceilings, 3/4 inch PVC pipe, a 3/4 inch PVC cap, and needle point mesh to get started (if using metric measurements, piping appoximately 2 cm in diameter should be used). Start by cutting the egg-crate to the inside dimensions of your enclosure. Cut a hole in the egg-crate large enough for the PVC pipe to snugly pass through. Make this hole towards a back corner of the terrarium. The needlepoint mesh should be cut likewise. Next, cut the PVC pipe into six lengths of a 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) or so in length; these will serve as the supports for the false bottom. Next cut a length of the pipe to an inch (2.5 cm) shy of the height of the enclosure. So, if the tank is 10 inches (25 cm) tall, cut the pipe to nine inches (22.5 cm). This will be the drainpipe and it will be used to siphon off old, stale, or soiled water. For better flow when siphoning off water, make grooves or notches in the bottom of your drainpipe.
To put it all together, place the support pieces in the tank in an upright manner, then place the egg-crate on top of them, being careful not to knock the supports over. Next place the mesh over the egg crate. Insert the pipe into the hole you cut and place the PVC cap on the exposed end. This will prevent crickets and small frogs from climbing down and under the false bottom, where they will most likely die and foul the enclosure.
The next two materials you will need are LECA and sphagnum moss. LECA, Light Expanded Clay Aggregate, is a lightweight ceramic pebble that can usually be found in garden centers and the like. If you are unable to get LECA, pea gravel will work but is much heavier. Rinse either before using. Cover the mesh/egg-crate with the LECA (or pea gravel); next cover that with the sphagnum. I like to boil my sphagnum before using it. Boiling adds much need moisture to it, as well as killing any nasty stuff that may be in it. Drain off any excess water using a colander. Live moss can be placed over the layer of sphagnum and live plants such as bromeliads and anubias can be planted directly into the sphagnum. The live plants will feed off of the frog manure but the enclosure will still have to be spot cleaned from time to time. This is not a maintenance free system and eventually any natural set will need to be broken down and cleaned up. So keep this in mind and monitor the conditions of your enclosure.
Agalychnis callidryas, Red-Eyed Leaf Frog
(Photo: Tammy Raabe Rao/rubicat.com)
Dealing with New Animals & Preventing Disease
Whenever possible, buy captive bred animals. They are almost always in much better heath than wild caught specimens and they don't suffer stress as easily. Most wild caught reptiles and amphibians will have some sort of gastrointestinal parasite in their guts. Normally this isn't too much of a problem, except when they are under stress. When under stress an animal's immune system weakens and parasites are able to take advantage of this and multiply, quite possibly killing their host. So, whenever I acquire a new animal, especially an amphibian, it is treated with metronidazole and then about a week or two later, with fenbendazole. Metronidazole (Flagyl) is an antiparasitic that will kill protozoan parasites in the GI track. Fenbendazole (Panacur) treats worm infestations of the GI track. By treating them with these drugs a new animal will have a better chance to survive and adjust to captivity. Please keep in mind that sometimes captive bred animals may also have parasites. So, if you buy from a pet store or vendor that also sells wild caught animals, the chances are higher that the captive bred animals he/she has for sale have been exposed to these pathogens and will need to be treated as well. The medications mentioned here should only be used by a veterinarian or by an individual practiced in their administration - incorrect dosages will kill or seriously harm your new pet.
In any case, you will need to take any new animal to a veterinarian for an overall check up, fecal exam, and to be treated with previously mentioned drugs, as they are not usually readily available to the general public. Pick your vet wisely, you need to find one that knows how to treat amphibians and most vets do not. For a fecal exam you will need some fresh feces, no more than twenty-four hours old. Any older than that and the sample will not test well. Under a microscope, your vet will be able to identify any parasites that may be present in your frog's GI track and treat them accordingly. My vet automatically treats new animals, in the manner I have previously described, with metronidazole and fenbendazole, unless, of course, a fecal sample tells him to do otherwise. Your vet will also treat any other ailment he/she may find.
All new animals should also be quarantined, if possible in another room, for a period no less than 30 days, even if a vet has checked it out. The substrate should be white paper towels as previously mentioned. Never put new animals with already established animals until they have been fully quarantined. To do so, you risk the health and lives of your animals. Any and all equipment, cage furniture, water bowls, and so on that come in contact with new animals should not come in contact with already established animals. You can sterilize most of these items with a bleach and water solution, and you should thoroughly rinse them before they come into contact with any of your animals. It is also a good idea to wear surgical gloves when handling new animals or items that have been exposed to them. Dispose of the gloves after use and never use them twice. Follow these protocols and if you do have a new animal with some sort of horrible disease, like chytridiomycosis, it will reduce the liklihood of it spreading to other animals in your collection.
As previously mentioned, red-eyes don't appear to be attracted to slow moving insects, such as caterpillars and mealworms. Crickets work well with them, and moths are even better. You can also try other captive-cultured insects, such as cockroaches and phoenix worms. The latter is high in calcium, but sadly my frogs don't seem to be the least bit interested in them. It’s probably the fact that they, too, are slow moving.
Captive bred frogs are usually small enough, when purchased, to eat smaller items like fruit flies. There are two species of flightless fruit flies available, Drosophila hydei and D. melanogaster. If using fruit flies, use Drosophila hydei, as they are the bigger of the two species. You can distinguish them from D. melanogaster by size and by their wings. Cultured Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies will have no wings, but D. hydei do. Don't worry, even with wings they still can't fly. If using fruit flies you will need to keep them from walking up and out of your frog enclosure. Unlike crickets, they can and will walk up any surface. To prevent them from escaping, I keep my young red-eyes in a "critter keeper" with a paper towel between the cover and the bottom part of the keeper. This allows for air and water to pass through, but not the flies.
What ever the prey item you offer to your frog, you should regularly dust the food with a calcium/vitamin supplement. This supplement should have vitamin D3 in it. This is very important, as I have seen calcium deficiencies in various captive amphibians, including red-eyes. Calcium cannot be absorbed without vitamin D3. Signs to look for in a calcium deficient treefrog are lethargy and a treefrog that sleeps on the floor of its enclosure. To fully diagnose the problem, X-rays need to be taken by vet. A calcium deficient frog's bones are not likely to appear on an x-ray. Your vet will prescribe the best course of treatment. For optimal absorption of vitamins and minerals, a separate vitamin/mineral supplement and a calcium supplement should be used at different feeding times (not together/at the same time).
I dust with every meal offered to my animals. Also, when feeding your frogs, you might want to feed just before going to bed yourself. These frogs are strictly nocturnal and if you feed them earlier in the day, by the time they wake up to feed, the crickets (or whatever insect you are feeding them with) will have managed to clean the calcium/vitamin supplement off itself. I would recommend this for just about all amphibians, as most have a tendency to be more active at night.
Male and female Red-Eyed Leaf Frogs spawning
(Photo: Devin Edmonds / amphibiancare.com)
Breeding red-eyes is not all that difficult. All you need to do is simulate rainforest weather conditions, particularly the rainy season, and that can be done within a rain chamber.
I built my rain chamber using an extra-high 20 gallon (76 L) aquarium, a submersible power filter, two different widths of vinyl hose, 1/2" PVC pipe and fittings, 2 & 1/2" PVC pipe, egg-crate, and needlepoint mesh. The filter I used is a Marineland Dueto; it comes with an adapter, so it can be hooked up to 3/8" hose. With an adapter the hose can connect to 5/8" hose, which will fit around the 1/2" PVC pipe. The pipe runs up two of the back corners of the tank and across, just two inches below the top. Across the top the two pipes run parallel with smaller lengths connecting them together. These smaller pieces have small holes drilled in them. I find it works a little better if the holes face upward. When the pump/filter is turned on "rain" will flow from the drilled pieces. That's the plumbing part of it in a nutshell. You will have to measure your tank of choice and play around with it till you get it right and obviously countries that use metric will have slightly different piping dimensions and compatibilities. I should mention that I set the tank up with the shorter sides of it facing forward. I can get more tanks in on a shelf when they are set up length-wise.
I cut the 2 & 1/2" pipe into four lengths of 6 inches (15 cm). I also notched them at one end to let water flow through them more easily. These are the supports for the platform in which artificial plants, and later on the froglets, will rest. The platform itself will be made out of egg-crate and needlepoint mesh, very much like the false bottom mentioned earlier except that this time the egg-crate/mesh will only be 2/3 the length of the tank, and moss and LECA will not be placed on it. I also cut out the corners of the back end of the platform to allow the PVC pipe to run upwards and for the platform to fit flush against the back of the tank. Before putting the platform in, set your supports up with the notched ends down. Place the egg-crate down, being careful not to knock over your support pieces, and then place the mesh on top of that. Carefully fill the tank up to the bottom of the platform. The pump/filter should be on a timer. Set it up so that it rains some time after dark.
Eggs of Agalychnis callidryas, Red-Eyed Leaf Frog
(Photo: Alex Shepack)
While in the breeding chamber, continue to feed the adult frogs. Also, clean up any feces or dead crickets immediately. I have read that you should remove the eggs from the chamber once your frogs have mated and rear them elsewhere, but I have chosen to remove the adults instead. The rain chamber has filtration and, of course, "rain," which picks up oxygen as it falls and the agitation of the water aids gaseous exchange. The tadpoles will need clean filtered water and the unhatched eggs will need to be kept moist; the adults can manage with a simple water bowl.
Red-eyes generally lay their eggs on leaves that over-hang standing water. So you will want to have some sort of artificial plant positioned on the platform with their leaves over-hanging the 1/3 part of the tank that the platform doesn't cover. You will also need to have these leaves be on the broad side.
The eggs will be laid in jelly masses and once laid it will take about 6-9 days for them to hatch. Incubation temperatures should be between 23 and 26 °C (74 to 78 °F). At temperatures below this development will be slow; above this and there is possibility of embryonic death. Upon hatching, the tadpoles will drop into the water, where they will continue their development. The tadpoles will be dark brown in color, giving no clue to their identity. Unlike their parents they will be active during the day. You will see them attached to various surfaces, like the sides of the tank or the PVC pipes supporting the platform. You will also see them positioned midwater with their heads up at a 45° angle. Don't be disturbed by this behavior - it is normal.
Embryos of Agalychnis callidryas, Red-Eyed Leaf Frog
(Photo: Dr. Peter Weish)
If you have ever kept fish, then you know water quality is important. It’s the same for tadpoles. Water temperatures should be maintained within the incubation temperature range: 23-27 °C (74-80 °F). As with the eggs, low temperatures will lead to slow development and overly high temperatures can cause death. Frequent partial water changes should be performed to remove debris and uneaten food. This helps to keep harmful chemicals, such as ammonia and nitrite, from building up. I keep the pH neutral or slightly acidic (pH 7.0-6.8). This also helps to keep the effects of ammonia in check: below a pH of 7.0, more ammonia is present as ammonium, a much less harmful chemical; at higher pH levels, ammonia can be quite lethal.
Tadpoles can be fed with crumpled fish food flakes. Other fish foods such as trout chow can be tried as well. As with fish, do not over-feed, as this will foul the water. As froglets emerge from the water they can be fed small insect prey, like fruit flies and pinhead crickets. Remember to dust your feeder insects with calcium/vitamin D3. I know it may seem difficult to dust such small insects, but it can be done.
Tadpole of Agalychnis callidryas,
Red-Eyed Leaf Frog
(Photo: Dr. Peter Weish)
The Red-Eyed Leaf Frog is a beautiful amphibian. In fact, its species name callidryas means "beautiful tree nymph". However this frog is not for everyone: if you want a frog that is colorful, then maybe this frog is for you, but if you want a frog that is colorful and active during the day, then look at Poison Dart Frogs and Mantellas. If you want a frog that is somewhat interactive, in other words a "pet", then look at White's Treefrogs, Marine Toads, or even Gray Treefrogs. Keep in mind that red-eyes are not really a good display animal, nor are they a decent "pet". They will sleep during the day, looking like a green lump on the glass of your terrarium, and when they do become active you will be a big lump in your bed. So if you are going to keep and raise Agalychnis callidryas, do it because you just love this frog, as I do.
1. Campbell, Jonathan A. Amphibians and Reptiles of Northern Guatemala, the
Yucatán, and Belize 1998; University of Oklahoma Press.
2. Walls, Jerry G. Red-Eyes and other Leaf-frogs 1996; TFH Publications.
3. Norman, David Common Amphibians of Costa Rica 1998; Asociacion Conservacionista Yiski.
4. Sihler, Amanda & Greg Poison Dart Frogs 2007; TFH Publications.
5. Ready, Drew Care and Breeding of Popular Tree Frogs 1996; AVS Inc.
6. Bartlett, R.D. & Patricia Red-eyed Treefrogs and Other Leaf Frogs 2000; Barron's.
AmphibiaWeb Record: Agalychnis callidryas
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