How To Set up An Arboreal Terrarium
Many frogs and some snakes are arboreal animals, which means that they spend a lot of their time in trees in the wild. Obviously they don’t have access to trees while they’re in captivity, though they can have access to branches, sticks, vines and plants that can replace trees. To have enough space to be able to provide them with this natural environment, you need either a terrarium or a vivarium that has height. Vertical space is a must and we’d recommend at least 18 inches for frogs.
The rest of the dimensions for the enclosure depends on what animals are in there. For frogs this can range from 1 foot to 2 feet wide depending on how many you’re keeping.
The most common enclosure for arboreal frogs is a glass terrarium. You’ll want to go for a tall one - preferably at least 18 inches. Use branches and stick decorations to build up areas for them to explore vertically. You’ll also want to include either plastic plants and vines for them that will create hiding spaces and fill out the terrarium, or you can opt for live options. The live options are obviously more difficult to look after as they’re another form of life you need to sustain, but it’s not hard to keep them thriving and they provide you with many benefits which we’ll discuss further on.
We can’t specify what heat levels and level of UVB you’ll need, as this is a general guide to a basic set up - if you have a specific frog in mind, you can check out our blog posts for a specific care guide on them! For a lot of the other stuff though, we can stick to general rules. In terms of sizes for your terrarium, a 12 inch wide by 18 inch tall terrarium will house 2 small frogs, such as the red eyed tree frog. However, frogs such as the White’s tree frog or the Amazon Milk Frog are larger, so two of these would need a larger home.
If you have a larger terrarium, such as an 18” wide by 24” tall one, you can home 3 to 4 small frogs, or 2 larger ones. It might seem like they have a lot of space when you first get the vivarium and you see it empty - but once you’ve got climbing things, the substrate, some hiding holes and such in there’ll be less space. Be sure to position your terrarium where you want it set up, as once you add everything else in it’ll be pretty heavy. You’ll also want to give it a clean down with distilled water or vinegar first - don't use any cleaning products as even when heavily diluted, they can hurt your frog's delicate skin.
Substrates and potential live plants
Now it’s time to think about the substrate, and whether or not you want life plants. Live plants, as we’ve said, have many benefits - they’ll help keep the tank humid, provide a small amount of fresh air as they photosynthesise, grow to fill your terrarium and provide more hiding places for your frogs. They’ll also be safer to chew on, should you have any exceptionally hungry frogs. With live plants you’ll need to provide them with a suitable substrate to plant them in so they can get nutrients and their roots can spread out. You can have soil in the bottom of the tank to plant your greenery in and then a substrate such as bark for your frog to live on top of. You can also turn the substrate into a bioactive substrate by adding beneficial life forms.
Bioactive means that waste from your frogs is used as food for a smaller life form, which then creates waste that the plants can use to grow. There’s a range of little life works that you can use but we recommend using Spring Tails.
Spring tails are tiny hexapods averaging around 0.5 mm in length. These little guys will live in the topmost layer of your bioactive substrate and consume any waste that they come across. When they themselves have taken what they need from this food source they excrete the excess nutrients which goes back into the soil to be used by any live plants you might have in the enclosure. They are very efficient and once a colony is established should work fairly quickly to keep the cycle moving. There are foods available you can add to your substrate for the spring tails but usually they are pretty self-sufficient. By doing this you’re keeping the tank clean(ish) from frog waste, while also feeding your plants too!
If you don’t want live plants or a bioactive substrate layer, you can just stick with a basic frog substrate such as Eco Earth.
As we’ve mentioned, you’ll need to include branches, sticks or logs to let your frogs climb and explore. In the wild, tree frogs spend most of their time on tops of trees and other vegetation, so they’ll need several climbing spots in their terrarium. Which option you go for, as well as the type of wood you choose, is up to you. If you’re going for high humidity, you’ll want to opt for a hardwood - something which can be waterlogged without becoming mouldy or fragile. Cork Bark works well in all conditions though. You should lay the tank out with decorations which creates different routes to climb, and climb from one branch to another, providing you have space, as well as different places to stop off at and rest. Whether you’re using fake or live plants - vines make a great climbing apparatus!
Even though tree frogs are amphibians, they’re not great at swimming. Because of this, a low sided dish will be the best option for giving them a source of water. If you have live plants and see that your frogs aren’t drinking from the bowl much, don’t worry - they like to sip on water drops from the leaves! They’ll also sometimes sleep there too if you have suitable leaves.
Make sure you’re misting the tank daily too - this will provide them with the humidity they need but also provide the plants with those little water drops that your frogs will love to sip on. Make sure you're using dechlorinated water that’s free from toxins. You can use tap water in addition to a dechlorinator such as seachem’s prime or Rptisafe. You can also use bottled spring water.
You’re in the last stretch now! All that’s left is to add any remaining gadgets you need. These items depend on the individual needs of the treefrog you’re keeping. Should your frog or live plants require special lighting, you can install that now. Other products include automated misting systems and foggers.
Those items, as I mentioned, may or may not be required depending on the species you’re building the habitat for. For all frogs, I recommend a nice digital thermometer hygrometer. Thermometer hygrometers are fairly inexpensive and they measure the humidity level and temperature inside your terrarium. With this information, you can manually adjust the temperature by use of a heating pad or basking light. As for humidity, well, simply mist the enclosure using a spray bottle.
A hygrometer thermometer combo can be placed in the top corner while an additional thermometer can be placed in the bottom. Checking the temperature at the top and bottom of the enclosure gives you a better understanding of what’s going on in the terrarium. This is ideal for checking a temperature gradient, where the top of the enclosure is meant to be warmer than the bottom. Achieving a temperature gradient like this is most effective by the use of a basking lamp, which is positioned above the enclosure. Anyway, don’t worry about doing this unless it’s a recommendation for your tree frog.
The Big Mist
Now that you’ve got everything in place, you need to give it a good misting. The substrate, the leaves, the branches and everything else you’ve got in there - get it sprayed. This is a good chance to check your hygrometer is working. Keep an eye on it too - if you notice your humidity level drops quickly, consider covering a portion of the top screen to limit how much humid air can escape.
Now, you’re ready to introduce your frogs to their new home! Congratulations!