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Reed Frogs (Afrixalus, Heterixalus, and Hyperolius species)

Hyperolius mitcheli

Introduction: Reed frogs are small, semi-arboreal amphibians, native to sub-Saharan Africa. In the wild, they spend their days asleep resting in the sun, often perched on reeds or other emergent vegetation, hence the common name reed frog. There are over 150 described species, varying greatly in pattern and color. Individual reed frogs can change color dramatically depending on the environmental conditions they are exposed to, with some displaying attractive brightly colored stripes and spots. Most mature to a size of around 1 inch in length (2.5 cm), and because they are small and nicely patterned, they are often kept in captivity.

Frogs of three genera are found for sale under the common name reed frog: Afrixalus, Heterixalus, and Hyperolius. Heterixalus is endemic to the island of Madagascar, with the starry night reed frog, H. alboguttatus, and Madagascar blue reed frog, H. madagascariensis being most often available. Afrixalus and Hyperolius are both native to mainland Africa, and are more frequently available than Heterixalus species. The argus reed frog (Hyperolius argus), painted reed frog (H. marmoratus), Mitchell’s reed frog (H. mitchelli), common reed frog (H. viridisflavus), banana reed frog (Afrixalus fornasinii) and clown reed frog (A. paradorasalis) are a handful of the more commonly encountered species in the pet trade. The basic captive care for all is essentially the same.

Hyperolius    Heterixalus madagascariensis    Heterixalus albogutattus
Left to right: 1) Hyperolius mitcheli 2) Heterixalus madagascariensis 3) Heterixalus alboguttatus

Reed frogs can be acquired from pet stores, dealers, and fellow frog hobbyists. The overwhelming majority of reed frogs are wild-caught, and sometimes are not found for sale in the best condition. Starvation seems to be fairly common, with thin, malnourished frogs being seen for sale frequently. Choose your reed frogs carefully, and avoid those that are thin or otherwise look unhealthy. It's best to locate captive-bred reed frogs if possible, helping avoid the risks associated with those from the wild.

Cage: Being small amphibians, reed frogs do not require large enclosures, though they are very active and will use all of the room provided to them. A standard 10 gallon aquarium that measures 20 inches long by 10 inches wide by 12 inches high (50 cm by 25 cm by 30 cm) is large enough for a group of four to six reed frogs. Smaller cages can be used temporarily, but should not be used as permanent homes for reed frogs. Use a tight-fitting screen cover to offer ventilation and prevent escapes.

A simple cage setup can consist of moist paper towels or sphagnum moss as a substrate, a potted plant or two, and a water bowl for soaking. Soil mixtures and ground coconut husk fiber also work well as substrates. Pieces of driftwood, thin bamboo poles, and manzanita wood branches can be added as perches for the frogs at night, and are particularly useful when placed under a small heat lamp to provide a warm, brightly lit area for resting during the day. Both pothos (Scindapsus aureus) and snake plants (Sansevieria species) are good choices for reed frog enclosures, though many Sansevieria species will eventually outgrow the average-sized cage. It’s best to rinse plants off under tap water and grow them outside of the cage for several weeks to allow leaf shiners, fertilizers, and other potentially harmful chemicals to dissipate before placing them in with the frogs. If you do not have luck with live plants, artificial ones can be used as an alternative. Reed frogs also do exceptionally well when kept in planted tropical terrariums. See the article about tropical terrariums for more information.

Enclosure for Hyperolius

An important part of creating the proper enclosure for reed frogs is lighting. While most amphibians have no special lighting requirements in captivity, reed frogs do best when kept in brightly lit enclosures. Standard fluorescent bulbs can be used for this purpose, and one or more should run the length of the cage. It’s best if these bulbs have a color temperature between 5000K and 6500K so that they produce a bright white, natural light. Set them on an electrical timer to provide a photoperiod of around 12 hours.

Temperature and Humidity: Within the cage, it’s best to provide a thermogradient which allows the reed frogs to regulate their body temperature properly. A low-wattage heat lamp can be placed above one section of the cage, preferably over a branch or perch, to create a warm spot that approaches 90°F (32°C) during the day. The rest of the cage should vary between 70°F (21°C) and 80°F (27°C). At night the heat lamp can be turned off, decreasing the temperature. Reed frogs are tolerant of many conditions, and healthy individuals can cope well with temperatures outside of their preferred range.

In the wild, reed frogs experience varying humidity levels depending on the season. During dry months of the year, it does not rain often, and the humidity level remains low, while during the rainy season, their environment is very humid. In captivity, the enclosure reed frogs are kept in can be misted with water several times a week to maintain moderate humidity levels. Sometimes this isn’t necessary if the room the frogs are kept in is already humid enough. To induce breeding, it’s recommended to spray down the cage heavily several times a day to keep the humidity level high, similar to what wild frogs would experience during the rainy season.

Water: Clean water should always be available for reed frogs to soak in, which they do often at night when they are active. Use water that does not contain chlorines, chloramines, or other harmful chemicals, and is otherwise safe. Tap water can be treated with a water conditioner if necessary.

Food: In contrast to their small size, reed frogs have a huge appetite, and will readily feed on most insects the size of their head or smaller. Crickets can make up the majority of their diet. Three to six can be fed per frog several times a week. Additionally, flightless fruit flies, houseflies, and small moths can be offered regularly to vary their diet. Coat their food in the proper calcium and vitamin supplements every couple feedings. Juvenile frogs should have their food supplemented more often.

Last updated 07.27.07

Online Resources
Exotic Pets - African Reed Frogs
Frog Garden - Marbled Reed Frog Care
Hyperolius puncticulatus: Notes on reproduction and care