Keeping Cuban Tree Frogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis)

Cuban tree frogs are some of the largest, most impressive and easily-kept tree frogs available to exotic pet keepers. This complete care sheet discusses how to keep Cuban tree frogs as pets, direct from an expert with 20+ years of experience in keeping reptiles and amphibians. A few years ago I got a phone call from a concerned individual. They had been contacted by a local firm that imported fruit, and in amongst their latest Caribbean shipment they’d found a sizeable treefrog.

To cut a long story short I ended up agreeing to rescue the frog, who came home to live out his days in my care.

Named Rodrigo, this was the very first time that I’d kept Cuban tree frogs, but after the experience I’ve had it most certainly won’t be the last.

Cuban tree frogs can make wonderful pets. Granted, they’re not as colorful as some of the more popular treefrog species (such as the Red Eyed Treefrog) but they’re large, active and confident animals with a whole lot of personality.

Whether you’re just starting off with exotic pets or you’re an experienced keeper, read on to find out how best to keep these fantastic frogs in captivity…

Wild Habitat

cuban tree frog photo

It should come as no surprise that Cuban tree frogs are a Caribbean species. These hardy frogs aren’t just found on their namesake island however, but also the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands.

Cuban tree frogs are great “colonizers”, and have also been introduced (accidentally or otherwise) into a range of other areas. Today they may be found in Hawaii, the Lesser Antilles and Florida to name just a few.

Sadly, Cuban tree frogs are generalist predators, and will eat almost anything that will go in their mouths. This includes other tree frog species, and many Floridians have found that as Cuban tree frogs move into their neighbourhood, so other “native” species start to decline. For this reason, many biologists see the Cuban tree frog as something of a menace.

As treefrogs, this species spends most of its time off the ground; sitting, sleeping and hunting in the bushes and trees.

Studies of Cuban tree frogs in the wild suggest that their preference is for forested wetland areas, though they may be found almost anywhere with a suitable body of water and plenty of food to eat. Indeed the only time I saw my Cuban tree frog come down the floor of his cage was to wallow in his water bowl occasionally. Besides this they’ll barely leave the safety of the canopy.

Coming from Cuba these frogs are used to warm – even hot – conditions with plenty of precipitation.

These elements are important for keeping Cuban treefrogs happy in captivity. You’ll want to provide a very warm and damp cage, with plenty of vertical height to allow them to clamber about safely. In addition, you’ll want to choose food items which are happy to climb or fly, rather than those which spend the majority of their time on the floor of the cage.

Caging

cuban tree frog photoCuban tree frogs are quite a large species, and require a comparably large cage.

They’re excellent jumpers and climbers, and many times Rodrigo would scare the living daylights out of me as he jumped from one branch to another with an audible “bang” when he landed.

This activity, combined with their nocturnal nature, means that they might not be a species to keep in your bedroom if you’re a light sleeper!

As mentioned, Cuban tree frogs will spend most of their life off the ground, so a good measure of vertical height it also to be recommended.

Personally I suggest a cage measuring no less than 18″ wide, 18″ deep and with as much height as you can accommodate. These requirements mean that housing Cuban tree frogs can be somewhat problematic, as the majority of cages on offer simply won’t be suitable.

Wooden vivariums, as sold for snakes, won’t provide enough vertical height, and can soon rot or buckle in moist conditions. Instead you’re most likely going to have to rely on a glass tank built specially for reptiles and amphibians.

In my opinion one of the very best solutions for housing Cuban tree frogs are the larger Exo Terra terrariums. These come in a range of sizes, and I would suggest that you select the 18″x18″x24″ model at a minimum, and ideally even a larger version such as the 18″x18″x36″.

Keeping Cuban tree frogs in such a terrarium I found a huge number of benefits. Firstly these cages provide excellent all-round visibility, making it easy to keep an eye on your frogs daily, both for pleasure and to monitor their health.

Secondly, the front-opening glass doors make feeding much easier. It can also be handy to open just one of the doors, thus minimizing the chances of your tree frog making a break for freedom!

Exo Terras are made primarily of glass, which helps to keep in moisture and warmth, yet have a metal gauze lid for ventilation. Lastly, they are constructed with a raised glass floor, under which you can easily place an artificial heater.

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In short, Exo Terras (or one of the handful of equivalents being introduced at present) in my opinion represent the most practical and attractive solution for keeping Cuban tree frogs in captivity.

Heating

Cuban tree frogs will require artificial heating almost throughout the year (you might opt to turn them off on the very hottest days). A minimum temperature of 25’C should be applied, ideally with an even warmer area. If you’ve ever visited Cuba yourself you’ll know just how hot the country can get!

As with all exotic pet cages, a “thermal gradient” should be applied. This means that one area of the cage should be warmer than others, allowing your tree frog to move around and select the temperature that suits them best.

As Cuban treefrogs like a very warm environment you’ll likely want to rely on two different heating sources. Firstly, a low-wattage heat mat should be used to provide a gentle background heat. This can be placed beneath the tank, or alternatively affixed to the outside of one of the cage walls. This heater can be left on around the clock, helping to take the edge off cold winter evenings.

In addition to this, however, it may well be necessary to add a further heater to really bring such a large cage up to a comfortable temperature during the day.

Fortunately the Exo Terras mentioned have “hoods” which fit to the top of the cage, complete with fittings for heat bulbs. A low power (such as a 25 watt) bulb can then be added to provide a really nice hotspot for your frog.

Note that when providing artificial heating you must be just as careful that your frog doesn’t overheat. The thermal gradient you produce will certainly assist with this, creating cooler areas in the cage. However it is also critical to use a suitable thermostat, especially for the heat lamp, in order to avoid it overheating.

I suggest leaving the lamp on during daylight hours (roughly 12 hours a day), while relying on just the heat mat during the night. Doing so provides a more natural daily rhythm, with the bulb mimicking sunshine, then the temperature dropping slightly as “night” falls.

Water & Humidity

cuban tree frog photoWhile Cuban tree frogs benefit from a moist, humid environment it is also important that stale air is avoided.

An entirely enclosed cage which is kept continually damp can result in mould growing, with not only looks unsightly but can also be harmful to the health of your frog.

As a result a two-stage solution is required to keep your frog healthy.

Firstly, place a good-sized bowl of water on the floor of the cage. This will not only gently raise the humidity, but also ensures that your frog always has access to moisture.

The water should be changed regularly and the bowl scrubbed clean to keep it hygienic, and you should choose a bowl that provide more than enough space for your frog to immerse itself. It is not uncommon to find your frog sitting happily in this from time to time.

Secondly, a cycle of spraying then drying should be established. Either use a houseplant spray gun, or gently pour water into the base substrate, which will start to evaporate thanks to the warmth of the cage. In doing so the humidity will rise as the water gently evaporates away.

As the cage becomes dry again after a day or two, reapply the same process. In this manner the humidity in the cage will gently cycle, from moister to drier. The dry periods will prevent mould growth, and the provision of a water bowl will mean your frog can still bathe if it requires a “top up” of moisture.

Generally speaking I would recommend a decent spraying of the cage every day or two, allowing it to dry out slightly in between.

It is important to point out here two critical factors. Firstly, the kin of tree frogs is famously sensitive, so you’ll want to avoid the use of any harsh chemicals in the water. Secondly, tree frogs can be “startled” by spraying, especially if the water is cold.

As a result there are a few finer points worth mentioning. Firstly, the water used should be luke warm – not cold and straight from the tap. Secondly, in terms of both the water bowl and the spray gun, you should use dechlorinated water (dechlorinating liquid is available cheaply from most aquarium shops).

The spray gun that you use should be bought specially and used just for your exotic pets, to avoid the risk that it has contained houseplant feed or pest treatments in the past. Lastly when it comes to spraying the cage, do you best to avoid spraying directly on your treefrog. Instead spray the sides and floor of the cage, leaving your frog undisturbed.

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Cage Furnishings

One of the best things about keeping tree frogs is the creativity you can apply to their surroundings. While many pet snakes are kept is relatively “boring” environment (for practicality’s sake) with tree frogs you can really go wild.

Rodrigo’s cage was in essence a “micro rainforest” and providing not only a fantastic focal point in my reptile room but also a very natural habitat for him.

The first thing you’re going to want to place into the cage is some form of substrate that will help to retain moisture in the cage. Here I suggest either potting compost, bark chippings or – my personal preference – coir. This is available in tightly-packed little “bricks” in many reptile stores.

Just soak it in water for a few minutes and it’ll expand into loose, friable, delicious-smelling substrate that you can use to line the base of the cage. Don’t worry too much about depth, as tree frogs won’t dig.

Generally just a centimetre or two is enough especially if you’ve placed the heat mat under the cage and so won’t want the substrate preventing the warmth from getting through.

Next you’re going to want to provide something for your Cuban tree frog to climb on. Remember that these are good-sized frogs that jump well so you’ll want to make sure that whatever you choose is sturdy and won’t break or fall when you frog lands on it.

Personally I used a mixture of long pieces of cork bark stood up on end, plus some reptile-safe driftwood like the one in the picture below. This allowed me to create a range of climbing and hunting surfaces, and also provided plenty of options for my tree frog to hide on during the day.

As with most reptiles and amphibians, Cuban tree frogs like someone secret to conceal themselves while they’re sleeping. Adding a few fake plants can not only look fantastic but also provides somewhere damp and private to sleep.

A final worthwhile investment when decking out your tree frog cage is a thermometer and hygrometer. These allow you to carefully monitor the temperature and humidity in your tank, ensuring that they are within the accepted limits.

Feeding

Cuban tree frog.

Unlike some of the exotic pets covered here like ball pythons, you’re unlikely to find any problems with Cuban tree frogs refusing to eat! These are greedy little fellows who happily gulp up anything big enough to put in their mouths.

Almost any popular livefood will be suitable, though it is important to remember that these tree frogs rarely make their way down to the floor of the cage. Consequently the best food types tend to be insects that will happily climb, rather than spending most of their time on the floor of the cage.

This means that in many ways suitably-sized locusts are in my experience the best basic food type. This can of course be supplemented with other foods such as crickets and cockroaches, though mealworms and waxworms may not appeal quite as much as they won’t climb.

As with all insect-eating reptiles and amphibians a varied diet is important to ensure your pet receives all the nutrition it requires. Mixing up the food stuffs on a regular basis is therefore a very smart idea.

Lastly, as with many other exotics, it is wise to use supplements in order to ensure your tree frog receives all the calcium and phosphorus it needs. There are a range of dusting and gut loading supplements which are available from good reptile stores.

Handling

Cuban tree frogs are not suitable pets for holding. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, their skin is tremendously sensitive, and manually handling them risks damaging this.

Secondly, and just as importantly, Cuban tree frogs are strong jumpers and can be quite skittish; the risk when handling therefore is that your frog may leap from your hands and injure itself in the process.

For these reasons I recommend against handling your tree frog if at all possible. Instead try gently placing a clear plastic container (such as an empty cricket tub) over the top of them and then gently slide the lid underneath. Once this is secured in place you can safely remove your tree frog without risk of it getting harmed in any way.

Cuban tree frogs are some of the largest, most impressive and easily-kept tree frogs available to exotic pet keepers. This complete care sheet discusses how to keep Cuban tree frogs as pets, direct from an expert with 20+ years of experience in keeping reptiles and amphibians.

Photos c/o Larry Crovo & mbarrison

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