The White's tree frog is a green or blue-green frog native to Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea. It's a popular pet because of its petite size and facial expressions, which include sleepy-looking eyes and a smiling mouth. Its skin also has a waxy coating that allows it to tolerate more arid conditions than other common tree frog species, making it a better match for home environments. A White's tree frog is a good choice for a beginning frog owner.
Common Name: White's tree frog, dumpy tree frog
Scientific Name: Litoria caerulea
Adult Size: Three to five inches long
Life Expectancy: Typically up to 16 years, although 21 years has been reported
White's Tree Frog Behavior and Temperament
White's tree frogs are nocturnal, which means they are more active in the evening and night hours. These frogs are quite sedentary and docile; they often become fairly tame and tolerant of handling.
However, all amphibians have very absorbent skin that will take up chemicals easily, so extreme care is needed when handling them. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and rinse well with non-chlorinated water, preferably tank water; even the natural oils and salts found on human skin are damaging. Do not use lotions or even soaps before handling your pet as the residues they leave behind are also toxic to frogs.
Housing the White's Tree Frog
White's tree frogs in the wild spend most of their time in trees so they need an enclosure with lots of climbing enrichment. A tall or high 15 to 20 gallon aquarium is recommended for housing one adult frog. A hexagonal tank is optimal.
A tight-fitting lid is essential, as these frogs have suctioning footpads that will let them easily scale the glass walls of an aquarium. You can keep more than one frog together in a single habitat, as long as they are of similar size; otherwise, your larger frogs may attempt to eat the smaller ones.
A piece of paper a few inches tall placed around the outside of the bottom of the tank may help if the frogs tend to rub their nose along the glass in an attempt to wander beyond the habitat; frogs don't understand transparent barriers as much as you'd hope (they will try to move toward objects they can see), but they do understand black walls.
Provide many branches, large pieces of cork bark, and foliage for climbing, keeping in mind that these surfaces need to be quite sturdy to support the weight of these stocky frogs. Use natural live plants that are hefty and strong-stemmed. Make certain that they are free of fertilizer or pesticide residues on the plant and in all plant soils. Live plants in the terrarium should be kept in small, moveable pots to make cleaning the tank easier.
Covering the back surface of the tank with dark paper helps the frog find a secluded and dimly lit area to sleep during daylight hours. Placing a large piece of bark diagonally across the cage, a few inches from the back wall will allow the frog to cling to the back of the tank under the cover of the bark to sleep. Alternatively, use any sort of thick plant cover or interior place with many exits to allow the frog to hide out and rest.
Spot-clean your frog's cage every day, wiping off any large bits of waste matter from the plant leaves and the bottom of the tank. Use non-chlorinated water to change the water dish daily.
Placed a basking light or heater outside of only one side of the cage to create a gradient of 80 to 86 F (27 to 30 C) during the day, with a drop to 72 to 78 F (22 to 25 C) at night. Use both hand-held and tank-side sticker thermometers to confirm that appropriate temperatures are being maintained.
Lighting should be subdued, and if a light is needed at night, use only a nocturnal bulb. Create a regular light-dark cycle; 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark works well. These frogs are nocturnal, so there are no special lighting requirements. Exposure to UVB is not necessary, although some exposure won't hurt your White's tree frogs.
Even in the case of this arboreal frog, building a good substrate in the enclosure will help to create and maintain an environment similar to its native warm and wet tropical habitat. Build the foundation of the floor of the tank with large-sized washed gravel covered by chemical-free soil. Large pieces of bark can then be used for more foundation; cover any exposed soil with sphagnum moss, which helps to retain the moisture that will provide humidity these amphibians need.
Avoid small-sized gravel or shavings of bark that frogs might accidentally ingest. Some keepers prefer a barer approach for temporary tanks, by simply lining the tank with paper or paper towels to facilitate cleaning. However, it is much harder to maintain the appropriate humidity with this minimal floor covering.
Use a hygrometer inside the tank to measure the relative humidity; as hygrometer meter readings can drift over time, calibrate them once annually. Maintain the humidity for this frog's enclosure at 60 to 70 percent by misting daily with dechlorinated or bottled (not distilled) water. A dish of the same water should also be provided. To off-gas any dissolved gases, and to come up to room temperature, allow all water that will be used in the enclosure to sit in an open container at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours.
Do not use fresh tap water with frogs and other amphibians, due to the presence of chlorine and chloramine used in the water purification process. If a chlorinated source of water must be used, treat it first with a dechlorination kit (available at pet stores). Alternatively, bottled water can be used, but never use distilled water as it lacks the essential minerals that all animals need in their water.
Food and Water
Feed your White's tree frogs a diet primarily of live crickets. Other live foods can include insecticide-free moths, beetles, cockroaches, grasshoppers, and earthworms. Fully grown White's tree frogs may even take pinkie mice on occasion. Place live insects in the cage or offer them using blunt-tip or flexible-tip forceps, but make sure the forceps will not injure the frog's mouth or tongue on impact.
The amount of food your frog needs will vary somewhat, but keep in mind that White's tree frogs tend toward having obesity issues, so do not overfeed. As a very general guideline, feed large frogs (greater than three inches long) a few large crickets every two to three days, adjusting based on the frog's activity and body condition. Offer smaller frogs three-week-old crickets roughly every two to three days, and feed juveniles daily.
The best way to judge how much to feed is by looking at the frog's body condition. Look for ridges just above the frog's eardrum. If there are no noticeable ridges, the frog is likely underweight and should be fed a larger volume or more often. If the ridges become prominent and start to sag or fold over, then the frog is obese: reduce feedings by no more than 50 percent.
All insects fed to amphibians must first be gut loaded with nutritious foods. In addition, it is important to dust the prey items with a calcium-vitamin supplement. Perform this dusting only once a week for mature frogs, two or three times a week for mid-sized frogs, and daily in very young frogs.
Frogs like to get into their water dish to rehydrate and soak, so use a dish that is large enough that the frog can comfortably sit in the dish, but not too deep that there is a risk of drowning; tree frogs are not strong swimmers.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
The most serious threat to the White's tree frog's health is a disease known as chytridiomycosis, which is caused by the chytrid fungus. This fatal disease spreads quickly in the wild and has caused a large decline in the populations of most amphibians worldwide. This disease is characterized by lethargy and weight loss; few treatments are available.
Choosing Your White's Tree Frog
Chytrid fungus exposure is the main reason why it's important to buy your White's tree frog only from reputable breeders who will verify that your pet has been captive bred and is free of disease. As with many exotic pets, White's tree frogs that are bred in captivity are the more robust animals when it comes to the captive environment. Frogs caught in the wild may not handle the stresses of captivity well.
Wild-caught amphibians may also bring parasites or other infections to your habitat. Reptile shows and online breeders are a good place to start when looking for a new pet amphibian. However, avoid buying any frog you haven't had the chance to see in person; ideally, you should be able to watch it eat to make sure it has a healthy appetite which is a sign of good health.
Similar Species to the White's Tree Frog
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Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your pet!
Ferrie, Gina M. et al. Nutrition And Health In Amphibian Husbandry. Zoo Biology, vol 33, no. 6, pp. 485-501, Wiley, 2014. doi:10.1002/zoo.21180
Keep it Clean to Protect Frogs and Toads. Michigan State University Extension.
Maclean, Bruce. Exotics: Exotic Species Fact Files: White's Tree Frog. Companion Animal, vol 13, no. 9, 2008, pp. 68-73. Wiley, 2008. doi:10.1111/j.2044-3862.2008.tb00542.x
Young, Sam et al. Defects In Host Immune Function In Tree Frogs With Chronic Chytridiomycosis. Plos ONE, vol 9, no. 9, Public Library Of Science (Plos), 2014. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0107284