Exposing frogs, toads and salamanders to an artificial “rainy season” is hands down the surest method of encouraging captive breeding in most species. Fortunately, even someone with my limited building skills can easily construct a simple rain chamber.
Timing and Temperature
Before placing potential breeders into a rain chamber, it is important to research the species’ natural history, as timing, temperature and other factors are important considerations. For example, Smoky Jungle Frogs (Leptodactylus pentadactylus) and certain other tropical Anurans have surprised me by breeding at nearly any time of the year, and without temperature manipulations, but Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica), Marbled Salamanders (Ambystoma opacum) and other temperate zone amphibians need a cooling-off period beforehand.
Opportunistic breeders dwelling in habitats subjected to droughts, such as Colorado River Toads (Bufo alvarius) and Spadefoot Toads (Scaphiopus spp.) sometimes begin calling when I dump extra water into their enclosures! On the other hand, White’s Treefrogs (Litoria caerulea) reproduce most reliably when exposed to conditions that are both dry and cool before the “rains” set in.
Water temperature can be critical as well – usually rain brings a drop in temperature, but warm rains will of course do the opposite.
Building the Rain Chamber
You’ll need a submersible water pump to power your rain chamber and flexible tubing that you have perforated to deliver the “rain”.
Attach the perforated flexible tubing to the pump’s outflow and run the tubing up the side of the aquarium. Using cable ties, attach the tubing to a screen aquarium cover; run 3-4 parallel rows of the tubing across the entire cover to ensure wide dispersal of the “rain”.
You can set a timer to allow for intermittent showers throughout the day and night, or simply run the rain system overnight – both strategies seem to work equally well.
The water within the rain chamber should not be so deep as to force the animals to be continually swimming – this is particularly important for terrestrial species such as Horned Frogs (Ceratophrys spp.) and Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra). Be sure to add floating live or plastic plants as well, so that the animals can rest. Depending upon the species, a platform or piece of cork bark might be needed as well.
Keep a sponge filter or corner filter handy for use once the eggs are deposited and the adults removed.
The Zoo Med Canister Filter comes equipped with a spray bar…I’ve not yet tried, but since the filter can be operated with a very low water level it should make for an easy-to-install rain chamber.
Some folks have reported that exposing Red-Eyed Treefrogs (Agalychnis callidryas) to Misters and Foggers is sufficient to induce reproduction. This is certainly worth trying on other tropical frogs as well.
Please see my article Breeding White’s and White-Lipped Treefrogs for specific info on these popular amphibians.
Check out this video of Wood Frogs at a breeding pond – if you don’t keep these interesting little guys, by all means try to observe them outdoors (they are one of the first spring breeders in the NE USA, often beginning by mid-March).
Frog in frogspawn image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Salimfadhley
Nice to hear from you again. Axolotls live their entire lives in water and never come onto land. How many you should keep depends upon the space you have available. A single animal would need a 15 gallon aquarium plus a strong filter; a 20 gallon “long style” aquarium could house 2 adults.
Good luck and please keep me posted.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.
Hey Frank, its Tom from the UK who sent you the pictures of the giant suriname marine toad……Remember???
I wanted to know if you have much experience with Phyllomedusa Bicolor? I have been keeping this species for a while now, and just wondered if you have much info on the breeding of this large tree frog?.
I currently have them in a 7ft high x 4ft wide x3ft deep greenhouse, housing 10 Bicolor which consists of 7 males and 3 females. Although i have not entered the females yet, until i start the rain process next week.
The males are very aggressive at trying to amplex with the females, so want to make sure everything is done right, so they dont over stress my big girls.
Here is a forum with the bicolor i have – http://www.dendroboard.com/forum/breeding-eggs-tadpoles/95873-breeding-phyllomedusa-bicolor-question.html
I hope all is well.
I recall that a former co-worker tried, after moving from the Bx Zoo to St Louis, I believe, but I came up empty after a quick search (came across this article, I assume you have it..; not sure if she succeeded, I’ll try again; I’ve not bred them. Extra Males will break up pairs, etc…competition likely not needed to spark reproduction, so perhaps remove others once amplexus is seen.
I try to follow pattern of natural habitat re cycling…shortened version, but similar timing, etc.
Diet can be impt for some species, re breeding prep and long term health. Arboreal frogs tend to favor climbing, flying insects…not easy with these guys, but silkworms, roaches worth trying, perhaps an occ. Anolis /house gecko?
The right leaves of right size/location/thickness and the ability of the frogs to “arrange” them seems impt., heavy planting to give them many options would be ideal.
Please keep me posted, enjoy Frank
Hi thanks for getting back to me.
I wanted to use the rainchamber as their whole living quarter, as it is pretty large.
Once i enter the males, it will only take one night for all females to have a male on their back, thats how desperate the males are wanting to breed.
My worry is that the females may not be conditioned enough to want to spawn, but can you give me an idea of how the female decides to start producing spawn within her belly? Does it happen once male has won her over, and got into amplexus? Or does it happen when the rain season starts?.
The females are very fat, and the males are quite muscular looking, all in perfect condition and very large wild caught animals. 8 of them have just been caught from the wild 6 weeks ago, when the rainy season was at its highest. So you can see why the males are being very dominant….
Thanks for clarifying. Eggs are produced prior to amplexus, but at what point we do not know for sure. In general, the right combination of temperature and/or rain starts the process, but species vary greatly as to details. It’s difficult to judge whether eggs are present or not via size alone, at least for most species. In zoos we use ultra sound, results are often surprising. If the females have no eggs, males will hold on anyway, so watch them. keep an eye on multiple males grasping the same female as well…single and multiple males have killed females of other species. On the other hand, if the females have eggs and do not deposit them, you may lose them to peritonitis. Not sure how picky they are re de[position sites, but some frogs will not lay if all is not ideal. Lots of variables, I know..sorry, but it’s an exciting project and worth the trouble. I hope all works out. pl be sure to update me, good luck, Frank
Can you explain the ultra sound part please?
I have lots of huge plants within the rainchamber set over a pond, which uses a pump to be used as rain water. I just hope they do spawn.
Ultrasound is similar to an x-ray, but detects soft tissue, eggs, etc; Private exotic animal vets generally have access, but it’s use with amphibians requires some special considerations. Usually not practical, esp as the process is stressful and can impede reproduction. Enjoy and hope to hear some good news, Frank
My last question…..
I know in south america within peru, suriname, guyana there tends to be a dry atmosphere for pretty much the whole year, until rainy season. I have kept mine at 88f and 30-40% humidity, then i was going to set off the rain in hope some kind of reproduction would work. I was going to have the rain going for 24 hours a day for 3-4 weeks, then if no spawn, just start the dry period again.
I heard that this species can actually breed all year round, but tend to be most active for breeding in the raint season.
Have you had alot of success with getting females prepared in your experience within zoos? If so, can you tell me about some of the tougher species you might have bred?
Im trying to understand the females as well as possible.
Thankyou, your a great help
Thanks for the kind words, pl write as often as you wish.
My notes stretch back further than my memories, but without checking back some of the more difficult I recall were Surinam Toads, Smoky Jungle frogs,. Australian bell frogs (Litoria auria), Spring peepers (Hyla crucifer), White-Lipped treefrogs, spray toads (Nectophrynoides…these produce tiny live young, amazing!)…..peepers needed very cold temps, rain at right time, etc, Pipa pipa needed declining water levels followed by flooding, nectophrynoides responded to year-round misting systems…no set rules.
Some require “priming” at the right time of year in the country where they are being kept, others will breed only during the right time of year in their habitat, regardless of conditions in captivity..circadian rhythms/internal clocks are key; if we knew more about them, I’m convinced our successes would increase. newly captured animals are often tied to natural breeding cycles, so it’s good that this species may breed year round. collection site within range may be impt, esp for those with wide ranges. I’ve not looked into this recently re yours, but where I and colleagues have worked in n. SA, there were dry/wet seasons of almost equal length. I wouldn’t let rain go 24 hrs; I’ve never used more than a 12 hour period for any species; 24 not common, could be stressful. Periodic rains set via timer can be useful; a good book or other resource on the climate of their range would be your best guide.
various hormone shots can be effective for difficult species. One type is commercially available here in USA for use with Xenopus; I would only consider as last resort, would need to research a bit.
I understand exactly what your saying now. I too kept white lipped tree frogs, but got annoyed with the amount of poo they can leave. they can be very messy frogs.
Can you give me an example of how i would do the natural habitat re-cycling with this species?
What would be a good way to have a shortened version of the breeding ritual?.
This is really great help by the way, i find it very interesting.
I haven’t looked into climate and such in their range, but that would be the starting point..when does it rain, temps, light cycle, etc.
How long a species needs to chill, dry out, be rained on varies greatly. Pipa needed 4 weeks of reduced water levels, spring peepers needed a long cooling off period – 2 months or so i believe, other frogs were fine with 2 weeks.
We usually start with 2 weeks of dry/cool whatever, 6 weeks for snake hibernations, but since your frogs seem to breed opportunistically, timing etc may not be as important. Such animals often breed as soon as the trigger – rain, etc, occurs, and may have semi-developed eggs year round (as in Xenopus). Diet can be impt, best to have females well fed, with a variety of food items.
15-20 years ago, a small zoo in Central American had a group of Giant Amazon River Turtles Podocnemis expansa, some of which had been there for 40-50 years; kept in an outdoor pool, did fine but no breeding. One day the pool was accidentally emptied (prior to that, only partial changes were done) then re-filled. Stimulated by the 1st dry/rain cycle in decades, the turtles bred… If only they were all so accommodating. I’ll leave you to draw parallels to human behavior!
Wow That was a really nice read Frank.
The females are very fat, in fact they are eating upto 15-20 crickets a night, which are dusted 3 times a week. They seem to eat fast moving crickets, rather than locusts or roaches or even worms. they hate being anywhere near worms.
My frogs are very well fed indeed, i love them to bits!!!
I will take your advice, and let you know how i get on. I shall also send you pictures of my rainchamber, and my frogs, so you can maybe see what might need changing etc etc….
Feel great getting advice from yourself, you really know your stuff.
Thanks for the feedback, Tom, look forward to more.
After you’ve tried breeding, you might consider keeping them hungry so they’ll try new foods. Crickets alone, even when supplemented, rarely provide adequate nutrition long term; we really are shooting in the dark when it comes to powdering insects, no real handle on what they need, or what they are actually utilizing; we see this especially in long-lived species; 10-15 year old animals are thought to have done well when they expire at those ages,, when in actuality the lifespan should be much longer (i.e. 35-50 years for Af bullfrogs, etc…even among smaller creatures, long lives are not uncommon; I have a Bl Chinned Red salamander that is 27 or so, Dusky salamanders have reached 20+, a Xenopus tropicalis age 23, etc- just to brag, also a Musk turtle that I got while working in a pet store in 1969, but nothing all that unusual about that, they are tough…).
Earthworms are one of the best amphib foods, but treefrogs rarely touch them..seems too “foreign”. They tend to favor climbing and especially flying insects. Consider lab cultures of houseflies, flightless or otherwise, and wild caught inverts if safe to collect where you are. Moths, crane flies etc always spark enthusiastic feeding responses. Canned grasshoppers etc good also if they will tong feed. But hunger works best of all…you’ll have a tough time starving a well fed frog, they simply shift metabolic gears if in good health,. so don’t worry. This article has some more suggestions, pl let me know if you need more info on this. Enjoy, frank
Frank your a star! This is fantastic info, it really is.
Id say about 6 of the frogs will eat from my fingers, the other 4 can be very shy, so i just leave them to it.
The frogs are all in the greenhouse as we speak. I just have to find a decent pond pump, and figure out a good spray for the rain, and i reckon i should pull this off.
I completely understand what your saying about a varied diet, i will do my best to get them well fed.
Thanks again for this info.
I shall be intouch very soon.
Can you leave me your email, and i shall send you pics of the rainchamber/frogs?
Very kind of you, thanks, Tom.
I look forward to your photos and updates. Pl continue to post here, so that others can view. Photos can go to firstname.lastname@example.org
I popped the males in the greenhouse about 3 hours ago with the females, and all females have a male on their back! It hasnt taken long for them to amplex……..Its Crazy haha
Wow…no need for all our speculating! I’m guessing they are opportunistic breeders int he wild, as you mentioned. Enjoy,and be sure to take notes..will be useful for others and also maybe for breeding related species, Frank
I have two rain chambers and have had success in breeding Agalychnis callidryas in them. Attempting to breed other species has failed and loss of red-eyed froglets has been great. My piping is PVC and I am beginning to think this may adversely be effecting my results. The water is usually kept acidic with leaves such as Indian almond or magnolia. Last thing I attempted to breed was Dyscophus guineti, tomato frogs after a long drying period. The male did not sing like he did the last time in the chamber and both frogs ended up dying on me. It was at that point that I began to think that PVC might be toxic. What are your thoughts on this.
Thanks for the post, I hope all is well.
I’ve not looked int the possibility of toxins, but have always used PVC in zoos, as have others, with no problems; even set up trout (gharial food), which had proven very sensitive, with PVC supply lines, etc. problems I’ve seen with frogs may be related to timing of breeding efforts, nutrition of parents, possibly inbreeding (although little work done in this area), etc. Tad nutrition also tough…generalists often eat most anything vigorously, but do not always thrive. In an experiment with X. laevis tads, even they suffered from poor nutrition…survivors did not last long as frogs. Best, frank
Frank – You are the best! Just bought the filter and tubing and following your article here. You might remember me – the guy with the male and female oak toads. My small male is now getting a little old and so I’m going to try to mate him with the female so I have a couple of his “progeny” to take care of once he’s gone. Overly sentimental about my little toads, I know, but it’ll be really interesting too. Prepared to drive down to VA to let the rest of the tadpoles go there, since oak toads are becoming endangered in that state.
They’ve already formed the amplexus a couple times on their own, so this might work. I’ve been planning this for months now, at your suggestion to really wait til their breeding season 🙂
My oak toad has been with me for nearly 3 years, and it was caught chirping during breeding season, so I figure that adds at least 1 year for sexual maturity. So at the youngest est., he’s 4 now. Only one scant data point on their longevity in the literature – one specimen, 4 yrs in captivity. But I did an extrapolation of about 25 cold blooded amphibs and reptiles of body weight vs longevity, given that long-noted trend in comparative physiology, and at the 2.5-3.5g range, all those animals tend towards 3-5yr lifespans. So likely they’d only live to ~4 yrs.
Wish me and my wife luck!
Thanks so much for writing in with the good news and kind words!
As for longevity, toads break the general rules re size and all, and most of the captive records you’ll find are based on animals acquired as adults. I checked a zoo-based longevity records that I have (unfortunately, no longer updated, but had been operating for 20 yrs); several small toads in the same genus have lived well into their teens, even when acquired as adults; same re poison frogs and other tiny amphibs; I have a 4″ long Red Salamander that is now 32-35 years old, so ….
Please keep notes and let me know how all goes, good luck and enjoy, Frank
Hi Frank – I’ve finally gotten all the pumps, tubing, etc that you recommend above, and am trying to set up a rain chamber for my pair of oak toads.
Mundane question: How do you suggest making holes in the tubing?
I’ve tried poking tons of holes with a thumb tack all along part of the hose that I’ve threaded across the terrarium lid. While water beads up, very little comes down once it starts flowing well. My “rain” chamber isn’t living up to its name yet 🙂 I figure I just need to drill bigger holes with a Dremel, but figured I’d ask you before I do something that might risk cutting the pressure too much.
Thanks! – Sejong
Good to hear; those more skilled than I (almost everyone) have used drills and such..I just punch holes as you describe; pressure depends on pump, distance and all so there are no general rules; maybe by trying just a few larger holes you can get a better idea of how to proceed? I hope all goes, well, Frank
Thanks Frank! I got it to work using a 5/16″ drill bit. In case anyone else ever has the same issue I did – the problem was with my particular tubing the holes would close up if I just used a thumbtack (rubbery plastic). The thicker drill bit made thicker holes (only drilled through one side of tubing), but they still closed up unless I kept the drill going for a few seconds after it punctured the tube. I think that cleaned out the holes.
My oak toads are now in a nice rain chamber, surrounded by looping audio of an oak toad chorus, which I’ve used before to catch species by getting them to call in response. It’s been about an hour, and nothing yet nor any chirping – based on your post, I figure if this doesn’t work there could be any of a few things:
– they need to be chilled first
– it’s too cold (80 in the room)
– the shower needs to start and stop
– wrong time of day (I’ve seen videos of oak toad choruses in evening after rain had stopped – this species is unusually active at day, so I’ve made it look like dusk in the room to start).
Thanks so much again for your wonderful website! Such a resource!
I appreciate the kind words, thanks so much.
Great idea re the recordings; with other species, I’ve used a timer have showers start/stop at various times if I wasn’t sure about natural situation. I’ve found other US native toads calling mainly at night…sometimes in rain, sometimes after a rainy day; no set patterns that I could see. Chilling can be critical, as gonads often do not develop into breeding condition w/o this, but lots of variation by species and also by range…looking forward to updates, enjoy, Frank
Thanks Frank! That’s really helpful – I’ll try using a timer and night. Yesterday I kept them in for about 12 hours, had a few “false start croaks” but that was it. This species is common from Florida up to the coastal Carolinas.
On chilling, I read this from your article on breeding fire-bellied toads – pouring warm water in their enclosure, or: “Alternatively, keeping the frogs at 60 F for a month or so almost guarantees that they will be ready to breed once temperatures rise.” Would you recommend that with my oak toads?