How to Care for the Giant Waxy Monkey Tree Frog

Updated on January 24, 2014

P. bicolor on vine

My P. bicolor frog, notice the groovy green nail polish.
My P. bicolor frog, notice the groovy green nail polish. | Source

Phyllomedusa bicolor Frog Appearance

Giant waxy monkey frogs are large amphibians, with beautiful lime green dorsal (back) coloration. The ventral side is off-white with a number of bright white spots outlined with black.

Add the enormous silver eyes, with vertical pupil slits, and it all adds up to a very peculiar, otherworldly appearance. My frog is called Zoidberg, I really feel he needed a name that would reflect his strange look.

A particularly bizarre feature of a giant waxy monkey frog are its long-fingered, almost human- like, hands, which have a lime green spot at the end of each finger. It appears that the frogs have a very trendy, but unvaried taste in nail polish.

Some Facts About Giant Waxy Monkey Frogs

  • Giant waxy monkey tree frogs belong to the genus Phyllomedusa, more commonly known as leaf frogs (because when sleeping they resemble a leaf and camouflage themselves in the foliage).
  • P. bicolor are the largest in the family (hence the "giant" in the common name). They are native to the Amazon rain forest of Brazil, Colombia, Peru and the Guianas.
  • They live high in the trees, were they are exposed to wind and the conditions are quite dry. To prevent dehydration they produce a waxy secretion which they carefully spread all over their bodies (hence the "waxy" in the common name).
  • Unlike the majority of frogs they can grasp objects with their hands and feet, and instead of jumping, they climb from branch to branch like monkeys. They are nocturnal, and spend the day sleeping perched on thin branches, like parrots.

P. Bicolor's Call

My frog, Zoidberg climbing on a swiss cheese palnt.  Notice the strange, human-like hand.
My frog, Zoidberg climbing on a swiss cheese palnt. Notice the strange, human-like hand. | Source

P. bicolor: a medicine and drugs factory?

The waxy secretions that the frog rubs over its body (the amphibian equivalent of using sunscreen lotion) contain hundreds of bio-active compounds that fight infection, and analgesics that provide pain relief.

Many frogs produce chemicals to protect themselves against bacteria and fungi. The humid, hot environments in which most species are found make them prone to infections. Phyllomedusa bicolor seems to be a pharmaceutical company. It is being actively studied by scientists attempting to develop new compounds. There are more than 20 articles published in peer-reviewed journals listed in pubmed about its secretions.

There are rumours about developing anti-cancer and anti-AIDS drugs from the frog, and some compounds have been patented, but no successful products had been developed yet.

Sadly this has had the unfortunate effect that the species is now in danger from biopiracy, large numbers are being captured and killed and marketed as cures for various diseases.

Female frogs are larger than males.
Female frogs are larger than males. | Source

Shamanic hunting rituals

Long before the frog became of interest to scientists, the hallucinogenic properties of its secretions were used by tribes in its native forests in shamanic rituals.

Frogs are captured, treated rather badly to induce them to secrete, the mucus is then scraped off their skins and dried. The white substance, known as Sapo, is then mixed with the saliva of the best hunter in the tribe (there is a lack of information from the tribe's HR department about the criteria used in the selection for this position).

Then comes the second-most painful part of the ritual, the hunters rub the Sapo into self-induced burns, which they create with sticks heated up in fires. The after-effects of the poison, are even worse then the method of application, they include acute diarrhea, vomiting, tachycardia, and occasionally even death.

However, once that is over, the tribesmen experience hallucinations and a state of hypersensitivity, they can see and hear much better than normally, and incredible energy and stamina. They can hunt for days without food or rest.

P.bicolor frogs are bred in captivity.  CB frogs should make much better pets than wild caught ones.
P.bicolor frogs are bred in captivity. CB frogs should make much better pets than wild caught ones. | Source

Keeping the giant waxy monkey frog as a pet

The giant waxy monkey is a fascinating amphibian species to keep as a pet. However a it is not a beginner species.

It is considered very challenging to keep well. When I first asked my local pet shop (which boards species) to look after it while I was on holiday, they refused and, after much begging, only agreed on condition that I sign a release stating that I would not hold them responsible if the frog died while in their care (it didn't and I have left it with them on numerous occasion after that).

One of the problems is the rarity of captive bred specimen, most Phyllomedusa bicolor on sale are wild caught, and are probably in bad condition even before you buy them. There have been several successful attempts at breeding especially in the US so this might improve soon.

I suspect that much of the failure to keep this frog successfully stems from a lack of knowledge about its terrarium requirements. When setting up its enclosure it is better to think of it as a chameleon, rather than a frog.

The other things to consider is that this is a nocturnal species, during the day it will perch on a branch and remain in the same position pretending to be a leaf until the lights are switched off. So although it is a beautiful and fascinating frog, you will actually not see it "do" much during the day.

The giant waxy monkey frog likes thin branches which it can grap with its hands
The giant waxy monkey frog likes thin branches which it can grap with its hands | Source

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Housing the giant waxy monkey frog

In thinking of how to house your Phyllomedusa bicolor you should be guided by its common name, giant waxy monkey frog. I think the main failure of captive care of this frog is not realising the importance of ventilation for its well-being and health.

Because frogs need humid conditions and dessicate easily, the natural choice of terrarium is a glass enclosure. However, this is a waxy frog, it can handle drier conditions than most other amphibia. The frog seems to do best when it is housed like a chameleon, in a screen terrarium rather than a glass one.

Because it is arboreal it requires a tall terrarium. I have kept Zoidberg in an exoterra flexarium with great success for over 6 years. Although he is doing well in it, there are some disadvantages, it is a black nylon cage, and I think is more suited to temporary housing outside rather than as a permanent enclosure. It is very light and compact, can be folded into a small package but that is more important if you're planning to take it with you, say on a field trip rather than inside.

It is not as durable as normal enclosures, the zip can get stuck, and it can develop small holes through which crickets escape (and hide under your fridge producing their horrific squeaks! the curse of all herpetoculturists). Recently aluminium reptibreeze screen enclosures have become available in the UK, apart from being more "solid", they also promise a better view of their inhabitants. I haven't tried one yet but it is definitely an object of desire.

Terrarium décor

The "monkey" part of P. bicolor's common name dictates the d├ęcor choices for the terrarium, it needs to be able climb and have many perching choices. For a rather large frog, it seems to prefer, surprisingly thing branches for sleeping on, a choice of branches of various thickness should be offered. If you are collecting branches from the wild, ensure that you only get them from places that you know are pesticide and chemical free. Alternatively "branches" can be created from thin bamboo sticks and artificial jungle vine, which works very well when attached to thicker supports in reproducing a tangle of branches.

P. bicolr frogs like to perch on very thin braches.
P. bicolr frogs like to perch on very thin braches. | Source

The terrarium should contain natural plants. Although the frogs don't need high humidity, it should still be maintained at 40%-60%, foliage and daily misting help. Useful plants are monstrera swiss cheese plants, ficus trees or umbrella plants.

The Frog should be provided with a shallow dish of non-chlorinated water which is changed daily. It "drinks" by sitting in the water at night and absorbing it through its skin.

Food

Like other frogs, P. bicolor is insectivorous, which in captivity basically means crickets. Because of its size it requires adult-sized crickets fed 2-3X a week. The "food" should be gut-loaded by feeding it carrots and apples, the frog derives a lot of its nutrition from the contents of the guts of its prey. Crickets should be dusted with a calcium and vitamin powder once a week. To vary the diet I occasionally wait till wax worms metamorphose into moths, which it seems to enjoy. My frog completely ignores the larvae, or any other worms.

P. bicolor amplexus.  The smaller male climbs onto the female's back and holds on with his forearms.
P. bicolor amplexus. The smaller male climbs onto the female's back and holds on with his forearms. | Source

Breeding Giant Waxy Monkey Frogs

I have not bred these frogs myself, however, an increasing number of their keepers are successful producing captive bred froglets. This is a very welcome development since captive bred animals should do much better in captivity, and it allows the hobby to flourish without damaging the environment in their native Amazon forest.

The basic requirements for breeding appear to be similar to most amphibians, a cooler, conditioning period before the attempt, then using higher temperatures and humidity and a rain chamber to simulate the rain season in the forest.

For a more detailed explanation, see the comments from Tom below, a UK keeper who is breeding these frogs.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Chealsy 

        2 weeks ago

        Our waxy monkey tree frog was in a 20 gallon long and we decided to move her into a 20 gallon tall, she is not eating or going into her water dish and her skin looks weird, like she got burned if anyone knows whats going on it would be very helpful, thank you.

      • profile image

        Carolyn 

        6 weeks ago

        What are a monkey frogs predators????

      • profile image

        Bully 

        4 months ago

        Lolly pi

      • profile image

        Brendan 

        8 months ago

        The person who wrote this article needs to do a bit more research. The dried medicine is called Kambô. Sapp means road. They do not hurt the frogs.

      • profile image

        Tom 

        5 years ago

        @Fortigno... Try a guy called Dutch-Rana, he can get them in spot on condition. And a good price too.

        Problem now is at this time of year, is they don't tend to ship them, because of the cold weather. So you could be waiting until next spring/summer to get them.

        Thanks

      • profile image

        fortigno 

        5 years ago

        hello tom I live in Italy I would like to breed these frogs nn know where to buy them, can you help me? thanks

      • profile image

        Tom 

        5 years ago

        Important note!

        I seem to be getting a lot of emails from people who are having problems with their Bicolors suffering from Ulcers, and from bleeding under the hands. My best advice is to take all sharp objects from the tank.

        Sharp objects include.....

        *Vines

        *cork bark

        *certain types of plants

        *sharp rocks

        Most frogs caught from the wild will suffer cuts under the hands from being stressed while in transit, and possibly cut the underhand on some types of box carriers they are transported in. Then by the time you have the frog, infection has already set into the wound, causing painful looking Ulcers....Which are very very common with this species.

        I used a product called BACTYFEC to help cure this problem and it worked a treat, it really did!!!

        I was also told to use PVC piping for my frogs to sit on, this gives them a perfect smooth perching area to be happy on.

        It's a real shame that some care sheets don't say how to properly take care of this species, but i hope this helps out a lot of people with understanding the Bicolors........Its upsets me to see so many people having problems with them.

        Best of luck.

        Tom

      • profile image

        Tom 

        5 years ago

        @Jonnybravo23.

        Hi.

        I read your post and from what i can imagine, you maybe have bought some very stressed/unhealthy frogs. I found out in the past that it is hard to find breeders with healthy bicolor, and most breeders don't have a damn clue how to treat Bicolor, by keeping them in small tanks, too much handling, using wrong wood.branches/plants etc etc.......

        Need to ask you a couple of questions....

        1) How big is the vivarium?

        2) Who did you get them from?

        3) Explain what branches/wood you are using, and live plants???

        The bleeding from random spots is not a good sign, and sounds like a bacterial issue. If the frog is not eating, and becoming very dark in colour, and also using the water bowl a lot, he may die very soon.

        Iv been through this same problem, so your not alone....

        If you need any help email me on miketyson1990@hotmail.co.uk.

      • profile image

        jonnybravo23 

        5 years ago

        Please help. I'm having so many issues with my P. Bicolors. Can anyone help me. 1st one died. Bought him with blisters. He died after a week. Bought 2 more. Mostly beautiful. No bad marks. Seemed great when I brought them home. Then they never ate or moved out of water. Stayed in one spot. Now one of them are dead. Other one seems like he will be too. Idk what to do. I keep an ambience. Lower 70s by the water basking bulb at 90degree area. Perches. Vines. Wood. Fake plants. Humidity 40 to 60percent. Uvb bulb and heat lamp during the day. 4 thermometers to watch all the areas. Complete darkness at night. I have a full time hidden hd cam outside the tank so all day I can check on them from my smartphone. They have never done anything. I change the distilled water daily. Every day. Tried to hand feed. Roaches. Crickets. Worms. They have no interest in foods. What is the problem. Now the last one left seems to be bleeding from random spots on his body. Omg. I really love animals. I have several others. Never lost pets. I want to own bicolors. Someone help please.

      • Kevin Peter profile image

        Kevin Peter 

        5 years ago from Global Citizen

        An informative hub on Giant Waxy Monkey Frogs. Every thing concerned with the frog is described well in the hub. Their hands look similar to that of human beings. Nice pictures. In the first picture it looks like a snake.

      • profile image

        Tom 

        5 years ago

        One last thing for people who might try breed these frogs.

        Make sure the Leaf (cheese plant) is very large and sturdy so the frog can confidently lay her eggs. both the male and female will be in amplexus while hanging from the centre of the leaf. So strong leaves must be used.

        Make sure the leaf is approx 3 feet above water, and that the frogs can attach to other surrounding vegetation when eggs have been laid.

        Personally from what iv already experienced, its a lot to do with the kind of leaf the female is happy with. So make sure lots and lots of large leafs are within the enclosure upon breeding time.

        The Female will spend a lot of time routing for the correct leaf to spawn, this can be stressful if she can't find a leaf, and can actually hold onto the spawn, which can cause internal injuries and result in death!

        Thanks again... Tom

      • profile image

        Tom 

        5 years ago

        Check the frogs thumbs, if there is no sign of a black pad, or light brown pad, then you have a female...

        Yes females sound just like the males, just more feminine i guess LOL.

        Females have bigger/thicker forearms, and legs. even the head of the female will be larger.

        If you have pictures of your Bicolors please send to my email and i shall sex them for you. Just make sure i can see their thumbs.

        If you need any other info, you know where to find me.

        Thanks

      • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

        aa lite 

        5 years ago from London

        Yep, they do. I'm pretty sure they are both males. Do the female vocalisations sound exactly like the males?

        Just got your photos, thanks very much! I can't wait to add some "frog porn" to this page. Your setups look really good. And thanks for the breeder name I will check him (but I must not get more frogs, I must not get more frogs, I must not.....)

      • profile image

        Tom 

        5 years ago

        The Breeder is called Dutch-Rana He has facebook.

        Do both your males have Nuptial pads? People have a hard time sexing Bicolors because of the vocal sounds they have. Believe it or not, but females also vocalize with this species..

        they use the vocalizing as a vibration to let the male know its time to spawn.

        Thanks

      • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

        aa lite 

        5 years ago from London

        Yep I gut load my crickets on carrots and change the water daily. Occasionally the frogs poop in the water which is truly disgusting.

        I've don't regularly hand feed though. I guess it is less stressful but I like the frog to show some natural "hunting behaviour". Not that there is much hunting really, they just sit there and wait for the crickets to get to them.

        They are good eaters, I could hear thuds and slurps (surprisingly loud) after I put crickets in. I do guess you are right and it might be less stressful for them not to have crickets wandering around.

        Not sure if I can really keep any more, recently I got more seriously into trying to L. williamsii geckos, as well as the Phelsuma I already have, so I have too many terraria as it is. But please send me the contact for your European breeder, just in case.

      • profile image

        Tom 

        5 years ago

        I shall send you a good load now.

        One thing i will say is to try keep these frogs stress free. when they get stressed they are a nightmare to keep.

        clean water on a daily basis keeps them very happy. If you can hand feed them, keeps them at a good weight also. I don't really leave any crickets walking around in the tank. Crickets can annoy and stress the frog. At least if you hand feed you can control the frogs diet ect ect.

        also feed crickets on fresh carrots, as carrots have caritin within them, which helps bring out the colour of your frogs....

        Thanks

      • profile image

        Tom 

        5 years ago

        There are some Males and Females for sale in Europe as we speak, in very good condition.

        If you are interested, i can give you the email of the guy who has them. he is a very good and respected breeder.

      • profile image

        Tom 

        5 years ago

        Hi.

        Believe it or not, i am from the UK!!! LOL.

        Breeding isn't as tough, as what people make it to be. the problem is conditioning the females to want to breed. you have to get the females interested in a particular male. this only happens when males fight!.

        Males will vocalize and fight, while a female sits and watches to see who is the Alpha male of the group. Then he will climb on her back, and she will go in route to find the correct leaf in order to spawn.

        They need a 2-3 month cooling period, where everything is kept very dry, and temperatures are no higher than 70-75F , with a drop as low as 60-65F on the night!!

        Then after 2-3 months, you can start the rainchamber, raising the humidity and heat. Put the heat up to 90=100F -70-80 humidity, with very long periods of rainfall. then pray somethings happens haha.

        You will need a lot of males to females. I will have 7 males, and 3 females, so i hope they breed this time.

        You must make sure you fatten up the female a lot in the last week of the cooling period, as she wont eat much during the breeding stage.

        Do you have email, and i will send you lots of pictures. You are more than welcome to use my pictures.

        Thank you.

      • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

        aa lite 

        5 years ago from London

        That's great Tom! I've never bred these frogs (the fact that the "pair" I got turned out to be 2 males might have had something to do with it. I have also heard that it was very difficult to breed them.

        Do you have a website where you describe your setup, how you get them to breed/pictures? I would love to include a link in my page, I do get questions about breeding these fantastic frogs, which I can't really answer, not having done it myself.

        If you'd like to give me a link, you can contact me through my profile page, and I'll put it in the body of the article, or you could just add it to a comment here (but it won't be as prominent).

        If you just have the pictures (say on flickr or photobucket), put it in your comment, I'm sure people would love to see them. I would be very honoured to put your picture on the main page, if you wanted to donate one. I'd link it to whatever page you wanted (well as long as it was on a relevant topic obviously) etc. etc.

        If you would like to donate a picture though, you would have to clearly give me permission to use, or make it creative commons for legal reasons.

        Just out of interest, where are you located and where are you getting the additional frogs from? I am guessing not the UK (almost impossible to find the here).

        Anyway let me know.

      • profile image

        Tom 

        5 years ago

        I have some amazing pictures of my Phyllomedusa Bicolor in amplexus, if anyone is interested?

        I have a huge male and female, and i am currently getting 8 more Bicolor frogs, for my Breeding project this spring.....

        Thanks

      • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

        aa lite 

        5 years ago from London

        Hi Manonito,

        I do use a basking light, usually a 60 or 75 watt bulb either zoomed or exoterra. I've actually never been able to get reliable info about the temperatures for these frogs. I think it needs a warm temperature, but not as hot as the sauvagii frogs which come from the Chaco region rather than the forest.

        My frog is in a large, mesh terrarium, with the spotlight at one end, not far from the really thick piece of bamboo (although these frogs famously perch on thin vines, I've found that mine likes to rest on a really thick branch, which is basically flat as far as it is concerned) as well as thin branches.

        The bamboo underneath the lamp gets very warm, but as you move away from it the temperature drops quite sharply, so there is a gradient, with plenty of places for the frog to sit. So theoretically it can choose the right temperature for itself.

        Except that I have serious doubts about that........if you keep these frogs you will have noticed that as soon as the lights are on they basically turn into a waxy frog statue and don't move until it is dark again. In the seven years I've had mine, I think I've seen them change position less than a dozen time during the day. So I don't really get how they will choose the temperature they are happy at, if they don't move towards it.

        Still my frogs seem healthy, so I guess they're fairly happy with the arrangements.

      • profile image

        Manonito94 

        5 years ago

        Hey, nice care sheet, but i have a doubt

        Do you use basking light or anything?

        Which temperature does the waxy frog enclosure needs to have?

      • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

        aa lite 

        6 years ago from London

        Hi Dave,

        As far as I know very few people have managed to breed Phyllomedusa bicolor. I did read an extensive article from a breeder who had a lot of success a while ago, I remember it was in a Reptilia magazine dedicated to monkey frogs. Somebody else in the States breeds them, they have a site, but it doesn't provide details, but you could try contacting them: Rainforestjunkys.com

        As far as I know, like most tree frogs they need an increase in humidity, possibly some time in a rain chamber. The challenge is that you have to provide vegetation over water, because they lay their eggs in tubes made out of leaves over water, so the tadopoles can fall into the water when they hatch. I think when breeding in captivity most people would remove the leaves and place them in small containers over water. Hope this helps, but I've never bred these frogs so can't speak from experience.

      • profile image

        Dave 

        6 years ago

        Hi i currently have a male and female of the giant waxy monkey species!

        do you have any info on breeding these species.

        thanksyou

      • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

        aa lite 

        6 years ago from London

        Hi oceansnsunsets, thanks for the effusive praise! I have to say the waxy monkey frog is my favourite pet, I wish you could see it in real life, the pictures really don't do it justice!

      • oceansnsunsets profile image

        Paula 

        6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

        Hello Aalite, this is an amazing hub about the Giant Waxy Monkey Frog! I loved that you shared so much information about it, much of which was just fascinating. It helps to know all you can if you were to be an owner of one of these for sure. I thought it cool they absorb water through their skin!

        Thanks for sharing great information in a beautiful and amazing hub! Voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful, and nteresting. That color green is gorgeous!

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