Table of Contents
- What to feed poison dart frogs
- Breeding Poison Dart Frogs
- Types of Poison Dart Frogs
- Frequently Asked Questions
The poison dart frog (or poison arrow frog) is between 20 – 50mm, very colorful, active and are currently split up into four general genus – Dendrobates, Phyllobates, Epipedobates and Minyobates. There are currently sixty-five recognized species, but new species and sub-species are still being classified. They are often referred to as poison arrow or poison dart frogs but this is misleading due to the fact that only three species (Phyllobates terribilis, P. bicolour and P. aurotaenia) are known to be used by American Indians to tip the darts for their blowguns. Poison frogs make fascinating terrarium inhabitants, being fairly easy to keep and active during daylight hours (diurnal). Nowadays many species are captive-bred. Such specimens can be a better choice, especially for beginners, than imported animals which can be difficult to acclimatize.
Poison dart frogs are extremely attractive, relatively easy to cater for and make fascinating captives. The sheer variation in the different species will ensure that every frog lover will have their own personal favorites. The fact that they are diurnal makes them ideal for densely planted terrariums and their willingness to breed in captivity will ensure that their popularity will increase for years to come.
In my opinion they are without doubt the most attractive and interesting amphibians you could wish to keep.
As a general rule, most poison dart frogs inhabit lowland areas and live amongst leaf litter and in small burrows, although some species are more arboreal and will inhabit Bromeliads growing higher up on tree stumps. This habitat is relatively easy to recreate in the terrarium. Temperatures in the rainforests do not often vary that much and in captivity a maximum day time high of 25 degrees C and night time low of 20 degrees C should be a guide. As with most amphibians, a slightly lower temperature will do far less harm than excessively high temperatures.
All-glass terrariums with mesh ventilation at both top and bottom generally work well as they provide adequate air circulation and prevent air from stagnating but also allow the necessary humidity. Many substrates can be used (bark chips, sphagnum moss are two commonly used examples) but I find tree fern slabs (Xaxim) covered with leaf litter works well. I provide pieces of cork bark for my animals to use as hides.
Daily misting provides the necessary humidity to prevent the skin of the frogs from drying out and can also aid in plant growth, especially Bromeliads. Bromeliads can make an attractive decorative feature and can serve well as retreats and breeding areas for many species. Planting your terrarium with real plants makes it into a real focal point and provides an excellent and naturalistic habitat for the inhabitants. If you do not want the extra work of maintaining real plants an excellent range of artificial alternatives are now available from most good reptile shops. It is a good idea to provide a shallow water bowl, but make sure that the frogs can climb out easily and that the depth does not exceed ½ inch. These measures should prevent accidental drowning.
Poison frogs should be exposed to a 12 hour day / night light cycle, a fluorescent light connected to a timer will produce a natural lighting source and will aid plant growth.
Building a Natural Terrarium
Poison Arrow Frogs when kept in captivity are usually harmless. Choosing them for pets has some requirements. The most important would be making naturalistic terrariums where they can live in.
In making a terrarium for Poison Arrow Frogs, there are things that you need to keep in mind. First of all, you will need to know what size of enclosure to use. The size of this would be dependent on how many frogs you will keep in it. In general, a single frog would need approximately 10 gallons of space. This is important since some of these frog species can be territorial. If you are to opt for a glass aquarium or choose to use other materials, always remember that these sorts of animals need an 80-100% amount of humidity. Since that amount is high, the terrariums should be made of waterproof material. Another thing you need to keep in mind is that these type of frogs like jumping and climbing so the top of the enclosure must be secured.
Another consideration is the background of the terrarium. If you have terrestrial frogs like auratus, tinctorious, azureus and leucomelas, you would need to make terrariums with extra ground space. On the other hand, if your frogs are arboreal, you may need to make “levels” in the terrariums. This can be done by using rocks or wood of different sizes and choosing plants of different sizes. For backgrounds, you can choose from a wide variety of cork bark, tree ferns, coconut fibre and also coconut panels. You may also combine different sorts of materials. You can secure these by using a silicone rubber sealant that should not contain any mildew inhibitors since these substances can kill frogs.
A part of the terrarium which is very important is the drainage. A good system would keep plants from drowning in water and saturating the subtrate. One of the ways to make drainage is by using a false bottom. This is good because you would not need to make a hole in the bottom of the tank to serve as drainage. You can also make use of Hydroton or some alifor to serve as the layer of drainage. These sorts of pellets are fired clay and are lightweight. They are also neutral in their pH level. Because they are large in size, the pellets make good drainage and also allow air to circulate for the roots of the plants. The drainage layer should be covered about two inches of the clay pellets. However, for false bottoms, one inch of clay pellets is sufficient to top the plastic eggcrate. This will provide additional drainage. When you make use of a false bottom, utilizing a fibreglass window screen to cover the egg crate will prevent the pellets from falling unto the holes. Another fibreglass window screen is needed to cover the pellets so that the subtrate is kept separate.
Subtrates are to serve as the flooring for your terrarium. You may purchase these from the pet stores or you can search on the Internet to make your own. You may make use of live tropical moss, sheet moss, sphagnum moss, dead oak, magnolia leaves or java moss as subtrates. The subtrate to be used should be apt for the plants you want to grow in the enclosure. Do not use potting soil since plants just tend to use up all the nutrients they contain. Check the subtrate for Styrofoam pellets since these can choke your frogs or they can hinder digestion if they are ingested.
Now the fun part in making a terrarium for the frogs is landscaping. Try being creative and imaginative. You can incorporate a “rainforest” look into your enclosure. This would be nice to look at and also would make your Poison Arrow Frogs feel at home. You can also create a “pond” or even a “waterfall”. You should also put a breeding hut, some drift wood, cork barks or rocks for your frogs to climb on. Plants also make the landscape of the terrariums look interesting.
Using plants is recommended. These make terrariums a lot more natural and alive. You may opt to use artificial or real plants. If you choose real plants, make sure to choose those that are suited to high humidity. Bromeliads are a good choice. There are also a variety of vines and creepers which you may use.
Lighting the enclosure is another thing to consider. Poison Arrow Frogs would need about a 12-hour cycle for night and day. The lighting system is also good for the plants. This should come from artificial light sources since direct sunlight is harmful to the frogs. Temperature in the terrarium is to be kept at 70 to 80 degrees in Fahrenheit. Humidity level is to be kept at 80% up to 100%. Daily hand misting can help to keep humidity.
Always make sure to use products which are chemical free for your terrariums. Chemicals may kill your frogs when they get absorbed by their skin.
What to feed poison dart frogs
What the Poison Arrow Frogs eat would determine its health and its appearance. In their natural habitat, these tiny animals feed on insects which are exclusively found in Central and South America. That sort of food contains alkaloid chemicals which are then transformed into poison. On the other hand, if these frogs are reared in captivity, they are absolutely harmless. This is because their food is no longer rainforest insects but cultured crickets, termites, fruit flies, etc.
They have good appetite so make sure that you have an ample stock of food for them. Culturing the food of these amphibians is a good step to have the amount you need. They would need to be given food on a daily basis.
One of the insects you can feed to your pet frog would be fruit flies. You may culture the fruit flies on your own, but you initially need to purchase them together with supplies from pet shops. Suppliers of fruit flies sell the hydei and melanogaster varieties. The melanogaster is suited for smaller frogs and froglets while the hydeis are good for the adults. These types of fruit flies do not have any wings and simply crawl. This makes it easy to put them into the terrariums.
Another type of food which you can utilize would be crickets. This sort may be expensive but it’s effects are beneficial. They induce a rapid growth and have more nutritional value as compared to fruit flies. These insects may have the tendency to dry fast so it would be a good idea to keep them in a material which is a lot like Rubbermaid. You would also need to give the crickets a water source. For this, you may use a damp sponge or gel which can be bought commercially. Also use an egg-carton for them to crawl on. When the time comes to give the crickets to your pet frogs, you may use a funnel for transferring them into the tank. The use of the funnel can be done for most of the insect foods.
You may also add variety to the frogs’ food by feeding them springtails and termites. These are suitable for warmer months. You may also utilize some house flies, beetles and ants as food.
Giving your frogs ample amounts of vitamins together with minerals is essential. On a once a week basis, the frogs’ food should be dusted with supplements. Multivitamins such as Repti-cal or the Herptivite are available in the market. To use these supplements, simply place in a container together with the insects and shake. Make sure that the food is dusted well before putting it in the terrarium.
Breeding Poison Dart Frogs
Poison dart frogs are readily available as captive bred animals, reflecting the fact that captive breeding is not overly difficult. Adults are often very territorial so it is best not to overcrowd the animals. Two to five animals will make a suitable size breeding colony. Most frogs will be sexually mature at around fifteen months of age and many species will to some extent be sexually dimorphic at this age. Males tend to be somewhat more slender and have pads on the front toes.
Make sure your frogs are in optimum condition before attempting to breed from them. Increasing humidity, such as regular misting with luke-warm water can trigger many species to breed. Make sure the terrarium requirements match the needs of your frogs for breeding. Some species lay their eggs in bromeliad funnels, whereas others will lay eggs in streams or pools of water.
I find covering a petri-dish filled with water with a coconut husks works well with some species. A small hole cut in the top of the husk will provide access and should be just large enough to allow the frogs to pass through. A leaf should be placed in the dish and will be used for depositation of the eggs. A cheap and easy alternative to a coconut husk is to cut the bottom off a soft drink bottle and cut a small access hole, but do ensure that there are no sharp edges.
Once the adults have become used to the nesting site the male will lead the female inside where mating will take place. Disturb the frogs as little as possible during the mating period. Up to fifteen eggs will be laid, hopefully on the leaf provided.
If the eggs are left in situ the parents will tend them but most keepers remove the eggs for incubation. The incubation temperature is actually the same as the adult poison dart frogs are maintained at so leaving them in situ is not necessarily a problem. The main problem associated with eggs is fungus. This can largely be avoided by regular checking and removal of infertile eggs as the “go off”. All things being well, the tadpoles should hatch in about fifteen days.
Most Phyllobates and Dendrobates species can be raised on fish flakes and defrosted gnat and mosquito larvae. Tadpoles can be reared in shallow aquaria with adequate filtration and suitable plants, but be aware of cannibalism.
After about twenty-five days, the hind-legs should start to develop and at around forty days the color and pattern will begin to show. At around fifty days, the front legs will appear and the tail will start to be absorbed. Once metamorphosis starts to take place the froglets should be segregated from the tadpoles. A tank, or plastic container, with a gentle slope, facilitating a wet and dry area makes the most suitable habitat for the juvenile frogs. At this stage cannibalism is no longer a problem and the young can be raised together. Froglets can be reared on springtails, fruit-flies and micro-crickets.
Types of Poison Dart Frogs
Blue Poison Dart Frogs
Blue Poison Arrow Frogs (or blue poison dart frogs) are part of the Poison Arrow Frog family. Its scientific name is Dendrobates Azureas. This amphibian is commonly known as Blue Poison Arrow Frog. It is unique to the Sipaliwini District that is in the southern rainforest of Surinam. This frog usually stays on the forest floor where it is dark and moist. It may also hang about rocks that are close to bodies of water such as streams or ponds.
Their appearance is blue in colour with patches of black on their heads. The hue of it’s blue shade may vary from powder blue, sapphire blue or cobalt blue. The skin of this frog contains neurotoxins which are very deadly. This is one of the larger species of the Poison Arrow frogs. The size is of about 3 to about 4.5 cm in it’s length. The females are a bit bigger compared to the males. The male frogs have larger toe cups and also have vocal sacs in their necks. The males also make a rapid sound similar to drumming. They also have an obvious hunch back. Distinguishing their gender is easy and can be known even in the juvenile age. Blue dart frogs live to an approximate of four to six years when they are in their natural habitat.
The Blue Poison Arrow frogs have a diurnal circadian cycle which means that they are awake during the day. They are very aggressive and outgoing. These frogs have the tendency to be territorial, specially the females. Female frogs may brawl over best place to lay eggs or may fight over male frogs. They may engage in wrestling and even pinning. These frog fights may go to the extent of one frog sitting on another. However, mating pairs do not usually go into fights.
The diet of the Blue Arrow Frog includes fruit flies, ants, crickets and termites. These insects from the rainforests are the source of the alkaloid chemical. These in turn are synthesized into a form of poison. This poison is secreted through the skin. It is utilized as defensive and adaptive mechanisms.
In terms of mating, the female frog is the one to start. Courtship may involve wrestling and chasing. After this, the female lays eggs. Then the male would in turn fertilize them.
The tadpoles hatch from their eggs after 12 days. The young frogs have the tendency to eat their siblings. To avoid this, parent frogs would likely keep them separately. Female frogs would make visits to lay eggs that are unfertilized. This would serve as the tadpole food. The Blue Poison Arrow tadpole would metamorphose into an adult frog after about 12 weeks. The Blue Poison Arrow frogs can be kept as pets. They are non-poisonous when reared in captivity since their diet no longer has it’s original blend of poison inducing rainforest insects.
Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs
The Strawberry Poison Arrow Frog (aka Strawberry Poison Dart Frog), scientifically known as Dendrobates Pumilio, is one of the species that belongs to the Poison Arrow Frog family. They are locals to the Caribbean area of the Central America, with a large population on countries of Costa Rica, and Nicaragua up to Panama. They live in rainy and moist places such as rainforests. Being plentiful in those nations, these frogs can even be found in banana plantations or piles of coconut shells which have been discarded. They exhibit well adaptation with humans.
These poisonous frogs are small in size. Adults usually measure to about 18 to 20mm in length. They are very light, weighing only an approximate 0.5 ounce. They also have different hues. These colours range from Blue, Red, Green, Orange, Yellow, Red and White, as well as Black and White, Green and Yellow, Orange and White and a whole lot more. They may also have patches which can either be big or small or have none at all. They come in about thirty different variations, making them a popular choice for frog-keepers. These colours are aposematic in nature which means the frog’s skin contains amounts of toxins. It serves a warning sign to predators. The hide of this frog is quite thin, allowing the said toxic secretion to coat their skin continually. The gender of this frog can be distinguished easily since the male frog has a grey neck area.
These amphibians also exhibit a high level of aggressiveness and territorial behaviour. The male frogs fight other males when they hear one another making breeding and territory calls. Females also tend to show signs of aggression.
In mating, the male frog would make chirping sounds. The female would then heed this prompting. When the mating is done the female would lay her eggs. This is usually on Bromeliad leaves. Shortly the eggs are fertilized.
The Strawberry Poison Arrow frogs have demonstrated parental care of a high degree. Both the male and females of this species have such behaviour. The male frog uses his cloaca to transport water so as to ensure that the eggs are hydrated. When the eggs hatch into tadpoles after ten days, the female frog carries them on her back to a water retaining place. She deposits them one in each site, since they tend to be cannibalistic. After that, she would come back in every few days to lay unfertilized eggs for the tadpoles to feed on. These types of frogs are obligate egg feeders. This is because tadpoles will not accept any other food except unfertilized frog eggs. In a month’s time, they metamorphose into juvenile frogs.
This frog specie is one of the most widely collected of its kind. Hobbyists like them since they are very colourful and have different variations. The blue jean variant of these frogs is one of the most commonly sold in the market. They are recently exported from frog farms in the regions of Central America.
Currently, it’s specie classification was changed to Oophaga Pumilio from the original Dendrobatees Pumilio. This happened last August 2006 based on a study of Grant et al. The original classification of Dendrobates Pumilio is still the more widely used scientific name to pertain to this frog.
Yellow-Banded Poison Dart Frogs
Known as one of the largest members of its family of species, the dendrobates leucomelas can be found in the northern regions of the continent South America. These creatures, referred to by the simpler name of yellow-banded poison frogs, look like their name indicates; their body is covered with yellow and black stripes, or bands.
As with most members of its genus, the dendrobates leucomelas is highly poisonous and uses its brightly colored skin to scare away other members of the wild looking for a meal. The frog has enough toxins to cause a fatal injury to a human being. Thankfully, the yellow banded poison frog only uses its poison for survival and is not a threat if left alone.
One of the more unusual aspects of this creature is the way it goes about caring for its young. After the male and female of the species have mated and laid eggs which have hatched, the care for the young is then passed fully onto the male dendrobates leucomelas. This is a stark contrast to other members of the same genus, who split the duties of caring for tadpoles in half.
Tadpoles are also often stored within plants which contain water, rather than within a river or small bed of water. Each plant holds only one tadpole as the mistake of putting two in the same area results in one being eaten by the other. During the time the young leucomelas need to develop, the male parent is in charge of disbursing additional water and protecting its young until they are old enough to care for themselves.
Another unique feature of the yellow-banded poison arrow frog is the sounds they emit. Unlike other poison-dart frogs, this species has a wide array of noises they can use to communicate with one another. It is not uncommon to mistake the cries of a dendrobates leucomelas as the chirps of a bird.
The primary diet for the yellow banded poison frogs are insects. As with other poison frogs, the creature derives its poison from the food it eats. Ants, in particular, contain the proper toxins and compounds to create the deadly defense mechanism of the species.
The yellow banded poison dart frog is an important creature. The poison it creates with its natural bodily functions can be used as a hunting tool and as a source for medical progress in finding cures for various diseases.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the poison dart frog’s natural habitat in the wild?
Poison Arrow Frogs, the most common among the Dendrobates family, were reported to have been commonly found in the tropical regions of the Central and South Americas. These regions of the earth that surround the equator from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south (from Nicaragua and Costa Rica to Southeastern Brazil and Bolivia) are known to be home to a hundred different species of Poison Arrow Frogs.
These regions scatter a number of tropical rainforests where trees grow as high as 60 feet and experience an average of 50 to 250 inches of rainfall yearly. In these rainforests, the temperature is fairly warm and humid, and the terrain is rocky, mossy and flowing with streams. These rainforests are known to be the natural habitat of the Poison Arrow Frogs.
A rainforest has different levels, and the Poison Arrow Frog usually stays on the forest floors where the area is usually completely shaded, receiving very little light due to their terrestrial nature. Being amphibians, they opt to stay near water sources such as ponds or streams where the soil is thin, dark and moist so they can easily breed and manage their body temperatures. Poison Arrow Frogs are cold blooded or Poikilothermic. This means they need to stay in an environment where the temperature is somewhat constant since their body temperature is affected by the temperature of their surroundings. It is said that if the temperature falls, they act lethargic and if it gets warm they become very active.
The forest floor also offers a lot to the Poison Arrow Frogs where there is an abundance of smaller insects such as termites, crickets and ants and a litter of organic substances that falls from the bark and leaves of the trees. They live mainly on the forest floor and will occupy a “territory” by either “sumo-fighting” other frogs or by making a distinct buzzing sound using their throat sacs. But they will come out into the forest canopy or about 5 meters up in the trees when mating with each other and breeding. They use the water-filled holes in the trunks of the trees or in water pools created by the large leaves of some jungle plants to deposit and fertilize their tadpoles.
The Poison Arrow Frogs are known to produce its toxicity from the diverse plants and insects that it feeds in when living in this type of pure and wild natural habitat. Most Poison Arrow Frogs that were bred in captivity were not able to obtain the same toxicity as those who were originally kept in their wild natural habitat.
How can you tell the difference between male and female poison dart frogs?
Sexing can be difficult in younger frogs but, as a general rule, males are often smaller than females, have thicker toes and their vocal sacs can often be seen as a small greyish area on the throat.
How can I tell if a frog is a poison dart frog?
These extremely colorful, and highly variable, frogs come in virtually all the colors of the spectrum, from bright reds (Dendrobates pumilio), to bright green and black (D. auratus) to bright blue (D. azureus). Not all are as brightly colored but all are very beautiful in their own ways. There are also many color variations within a single species. This is clearly illustrated by Dendrobates tinctorius and D. auratus, which have numerous forms ranging from very dark with flashes of yellow and green to vibrant yellow frogs with blue legs (D. tinctorius citronella). Other species, such as Dendrobates. pumilio, are also highly variable.