African Tree Toad – Description, Diet, Behavior, And Fun Facts

By Kevin Myers | 2023 Update

Introducing the fascinating African Tree Toad, a marvel of the animal kingdom that hops above the ground, defying the typical toad stereotype! Instead of lurking at ground level, this amphibian prefers the treetops of Africa’s rainforests, lending it its apt name. 

Skilled in camouflage and gifted with a unique vocal repertoire, the African Tree Toad is not only an incredible survivor but also plays an integral part in the balance of its ecosystem. Join us as we leap into the intriguing world of this often-overlooked creature. Who knows what fascinating secrets we might uncover?

CharacteristicAfrican Tree Toad (Nectophryne afra)
Scientific NameNectophryne afra
HabitatPrimary and Secondary Forests
DistributionWest Africa (Ghana, possibly Ivory Coast)
LifestyleArboreal (Tree-dwelling)
BreedingLay eggs in water-filled tree holes
Conservation StatusUnknown as of 2021
Unique FeaturesArboreal lifestyle, unique breeding habits

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What is an African Tree Toad?

Origin and Evolution

The African Tree Toad, also known as Nectophrynoides viviparus, belongs to the family Bufonidae. This family, commonly referred to as the true toads, has a widespread distribution, covering all continents except Antarctica and Australia.

The evolutionary lineage and origins of the Bufonidae family, which includes the African Tree Toad, are still active areas of research. However, based on available evidence, it’s believed that the ancestors of these toads first appeared around 90 million years ago, during the latter part of the Cretaceous period.They diversified extensively during the Tertiary period, a period marked by significant changes in Earth’s climate and geography, which facilitated the evolution of various species.

The African Tree Toad is a part of the Nectophrynoides genus, which is endemic to the Eastern Arc Mountains of Kenya and Tanzania. This unique geographical isolation led to the evolution of specific adaptations in these toads, making them quite distinct. For instance, they are among the very few species of frogs and toads that give birth to live young, a feature likely evolved in response to the constraints of their arboreal lifestyle.

Moreover, unlike most amphibians that are highly dependent on water bodies for their lifecycle, the African Tree Toad’s adaptation to an arboreal lifestyle, including its ability to retain moisture in its skin, reduces its dependence on standing water.

Remember that our understanding of amphibian evolution is continually evolving itself, with new discoveries and genetic studies often refining or redefining what we know. It’s an exciting field, with much still to learn about these intriguing creatures.

Physical Appearances and Adaptations

The African Tree Toad, like its other counterparts in the Nectophrynoides genus, is a modestly sized amphibian. Its size can be from 1 to 2 inches, with females often being slightly larger than males.

In terms of color, African Tree Toads usually display a range of shades between light brown and green, depending on their habitat. This natural coloration serves as an effective camouflage among the leaves and branches, keeping them hidden from predators and prey alike. 

What’s truly remarkable about this species, though, is its adaptation to life in the trees. Equipped with long legs and enlarged toe pads, they have an exceptional grip, which is useful for climbing and hopping between branches.

Their skin, like that of most amphibians, is semi-permeable, allowing them to breathe through it. This trait, coupled with a unique adaptation that enables them to retain more moisture in their skin, helps them to survive in their arboreal habitat where access to water bodies can be limited. 

Another unique adaptation is their mode of reproduction. The African Tree Toad is viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young, a rarity among amphibians. This adaptation likely evolved in response to the lack of suitable water bodies for laying eggs in their treetop environment.

Furthermore, they have a distinct vocalization used for communication and during the mating season. Males call out to females with a sequence of soft, melodious trills, a sound that’s as enchanting as the toads themselves. 

Behavior and Lifestyle

African Tree Toads, as their name suggests, live an arboreal lifestyle, meaning they spend most of their lives in trees. This is relatively uncommon among toads, making this particular species quite unique. Their elongated legs and sticky toe pads give them exceptional climbing ability and the means to hop from branch to branch with ease.

Mostly nocturnal in nature, African Tree Toads are more active during the night when they hunt for insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates. Their natural camouflage aids them in this task, allowing them to stealthily approach their prey. 

These toads are known for their solitary lifestyle. Outside of the mating season, they typically live alone, only coming together to breed. The males call out to potential mates with a distinct, melodic trill that can be heard through the forests on calm nights. 

Their unique mode of reproduction—giving birth to live young instead of laying eggs—means their breeding habits differ significantly from other amphibian species. The female retains the fertilized eggs inside her body until they develop into fully formed toadlets. This adaptation protects their young from many threats typical to eggs and tadpoles, such as predation and fluctuating environmental conditions.

Despite their seemingly simple lifestyle, the African Tree Toads play a vital role in their ecosystem. As insectivores, they help to control insect populations, and as prey for larger predators, they contribute to the overall food chain. Their behavior and lifestyle, therefore, not only ensure their survival but also help maintain the balance of their forest homes.

Eating Habits

African Tree Toads, like many of their toad relatives, are carnivorous and feed primarily on a diet of small invertebrates. They have a voracious appetite for insects, which form the bulk of their diet. This includes a variety of bugs like beetles, spiders, ants, and caterpillars.

Hunting mainly at night, these nocturnal predators use their excellent camouflage to their advantage, remaining virtually undetectable until they pounce on their unsuspecting prey. Their hunting technique is largely sit-and-wait, where they stay motionless and ambush their prey when it comes close enough. 

Toads don’t have teeth to chew their food, so they swallow their prey whole. They have a super long, sticky tongue which they shoot out to capture their prey. The speed at which this happens is incredibly fast, often too quick for the human eye to see clearly.

In consuming such a quantity of insects, the African Tree Toad plays an essential role in controlling insect populations in its habitat, preventing any one species from becoming too dominant and ensuring a healthy balance in the ecosystem. Furthermore, their dietary habits have a trickle effect on the food web, impacting the populations of other predators, prey, and even vegetation indirectly.

Reproduction and Lifespan


The African Tree Toad’s reproductive habits are truly unique in the world of amphibians. They’re unique species that give birth to live young, a trait known as viviparity. This characteristic is thought to have evolved as an adaptation to their arboreal lifestyle, where suitable water bodies for laying and hatching eggs can be scarce.

The breeding season generally occurs during the rainy season when temperatures and humidity are at their highest. During this time, males will call out to females with a distinctive, melodious trill, inviting them to mate.

Once a female accepts a male’s call, the pair will mate, and the female will carry the fertilized eggs inside her body. Instead of developing into tadpoles, these eggs hatch into fully formed toadlets within the mother. The gestation period varies, but it generally lasts several weeks. The mother then gives birth to the toadlets, which are miniature versions of the adults, completely bypassing the aquatic tadpole stage.


In terms of lifespan, like many toads, African Tree Toads are relatively long-lived compared to other amphibians. Although there’s a lack of specific data for this species, related species in the wild are known to live up to 10-12 years. In captivity, where threats such as predators and disease are controlled, they may live even longer. However, these figures can fluctuate based on various factors like environmental conditions, availability of food, and levels of predation.

Distribution and Habitat

African Tree Toads, belonging to the Nectophrynoides genus, are endemic to the Eastern Arc Mountains, a chain of mountains that runs from northeastern Tanzania to southeastern Kenya. This region is known for its biodiversity and endemism, due in large part to its long-term stability and the wide range of habitats it offers.

In this region, African Tree Toads are found in tropical rainforests, where they spend the majority of their lives in trees, hence the name “tree toads”. Their preference for an arboreal lifestyle is aided by their physical adaptations, such as elongated legs and sticky toe pads, which give them excellent climbing abilities.

Their habitat has a high canopy, providing plenty of hiding spots and abundant food sources in the form of insects. It also has a humid climate, which is critical for these amphibians as they need moisture to keep their skin hydrated and breathe properly. 

While the African Tree Toad’s distribution is currently limited to the Eastern Arc Mountains, it’s worth noting that habitat loss due to deforestation and human activities pose a serious threat to this species. Conservation efforts are vital to preserving their unique habitats and ensuring their continued survival.

Predators and Threats

Being relatively small creatures, African Tree Toads naturally have a number of predators within their ecosystem. These include various species of snakes, birds, and larger amphibians, all of which may feed on the toads or their young. Certain mammals and reptiles may also prey upon these toads.

The toads’ primary defense against predation is their excellent camouflage ability, which allows them to mix in with the foliage and bark of the trees in which they reside. Their nocturnal lifestyle further reduces the risk of predation, as they are active when many of their potential predators are not.

However, beyond natural predation, the African Tree Toad faces other significant threats, many of which are human-induced. Deforestation and habitat destruction for agricultural development or urban expansion pose major challenges to this species’ survival. As their natural habitat shrinks, so too does the population of these toads.

Additionally, pollution, particularly in the form of pesticides and other harmful chemicals, can contaminate their habitat and food sources. As amphibians, toads have semi-permeable skin, making them particularly sensitive to environmental changes and pollutants. 

Lastly, climate change and its associated impacts, such as changes in rainfall patterns and temperature, can adversely affect these toads’ survival. Given their reliance on a humid, stable climate, shifts in these conditions could have serious implications for their reproduction and overall life cycle.

Given these threats, conservation efforts are key to preserving the African Tree Toad’s habitat and ensuring the survival of this unique species.

Conservation Status and Life Today

The conservation status for the African Tree Toad, Nectophrynoides viviparus, is Endangered. 

Like many other amphibian species, African Tree Toads face significant challenges. These threats include habitat destruction due to deforestation, pollution, and the broader impacts of climate change pose significant challenges to their survival.

Given their limited geographic range and specialized habitat, these toads are particularly vulnerable to changes in their environment. Protecting their tropical forest habitat is crucial for the continued survival of this species.

Conservation efforts, including habitat protection and restoration, are key to preserving the biodiversity of the Eastern Arc Mountains. Other measures, such as reducing pesticide use and curbing climate change, are also essential to protect these unique toads.  

5 Incredible Fun Facts About African Tree Toad

1. Arboreal Adaptation

Unlike most toads that live on the ground, the African Tree Toad spends its life up in the trees. It’s adapted to this arboreal lifestyle with elongated legs and sticky toe pads, providing a superior grip for hopping between branches.

2. Live Birth

African Tree Toads are among the very few amphibians that give birth to live young, bypassing the tadpole stage entirely. This unique reproductive strategy, known as viviparity, is thought to be an adaptation to their tree-dwelling lifestyle.

3. Camouflage Masters

The coloration of African Tree Toads allows them to blend seamlessly with their surroundings. This natural camouflage aids in hiding from predators and hunting for prey.

4. Melodic Mating Calls

During the mating season, male African Tree Toads produce a distinct, melodic trill to attract females. This sound adds a unique harmony to the chorus of the forest’s nightlife.

5. Insect Controllers

As voracious insectivores, African Tree Toads play a significant role in controlling insect populations in their habitat. By eating a variety of insects, they contribute to maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

African Tree Toad FAQs

Q:Where do African Tree Toads live?

A: African Tree Toads are endemic to the Eastern Arc Mountains of Kenya and Tanzania. They live in the tropical rainforests of these regions and are primarily arboreal, spending most of their lives in trees.

Q: What do African Tree Toads eat?

A: African Tree Toads are carnivores and mainly eat small invertebrates. Their diet includes primarily of insects such as beetles, spiders, ants, and caterpillars.

Q: How do African Tree Toads reproduce?

A: African Tree Toads are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young. This is a rare trait among amphibians. After mating, the female retains the fertilized eggs inside her body until they develop into fully formed toadlets. 

Q: What are the main threats to African Tree Toads?

A: The major threats to African Tree Toads are deforestation, habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change. As their natural habitat shrinks and is polluted, their population faces significant challenges.

Q: How long do African Tree Toads live?

A: Although there’s a lack of specific data for this species, related species in the wild are known to live up to 10-12 years. In captivity, where threats such as predators and disease are controlled, they may live even longer.

Q: What adaptations do African Tree Toads have?

A: Their primary adaptations include their arboreal lifestyle, camouflage, viviparity, and unique vocalization. They have elongated legs and sticky toe pads for climbing and hopping between branches, coloration that helps them mix in with their surroundings, and the unique ability to give birth to live young. Their distinct calls are used for communication and attracting mates during the breeding season.

Q: How do African Tree Toads contribute to their ecosystem?

A: African Tree Toads play an integral role in their ecosystem. They help control insect populations, acting as a natural pest control. Also, they serve as prey for larger predators, contributing to the overall food chain in their environment.