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.