Poison Dart Frogs

Care Sheet provided by Dart Frog Heaven

Most poison dart frogs are sold as juveniles or babies, so at this size, they do best if housed in a small container. I recommend a sweater box or similar size translucent sided container. Something around 12 inches wide and long, is good. A moist substrate, such as long-fiber sphagnum moss, and a few leaves for hide spots are all you need. Keep one to two poison dart frogs in this size container until they’re well-established in your care, feeding well and growing. The larger your terrarium is, the larger the frogs should be, before you put them into the tank. It is recommended that the frogs stay in these temporary setups for around six weeks.

Keep in mind that the plastic sweater box is recommended for several reasons, and if you wish to substitute a different type of container you need to make sure it will provide the same conditions. In particular the sweater box doesn’t have any ventilation, which is good, it will keep your humidity nice and high. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of air for the frogs, provided by your opening the top every day or two.

Another thing that is nice about these boxes is the fact that they feature translucent sides, not clear, which gives the frogs some security. If you elect to use a clear container, it should be placed against a wall, or two or three sides should be covered with paper. The final benefit of the small container is that it allows the younger frogs, which are more timid hunters, to have a much easier time finding their food. The small container size, and simple setup, serves to concentrate the food and make it more available to your young frogs.

When they grow larger, poison dart frogs enjoy spacious tropical terrarium. Standard glass fish tanks and front-opening terrarium are both good choices. The keys to success are to avoid overcrowding these frogs and to keep a stable group together rather than adding new frogs to the tank. Some rules of thumb are to put no more than two poison dart frogs in a ten gallon tank, three dart frogs in a twenty gallon tank, and so on. You should do your research before putting groups of dart frogs together, some species are more territorial than others, and won’t do well in group settings.

Lighting and Temperature
Poison dart frogs are very easy to care for in terms of lighting and temperature. Even though these frogs originate from hot, steamy rainforests, most poison dart frogs actually live on the forest floor where temperatures are cooler and the lighting is dim.

In the terrarium, poison dart frogs prefer moderate temperatures. Daytime temps between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal. More than a few hours at about 85 degrees can be deadly. Make sure to set your tank up and run it for a few days, while monitoring the temperatures in the tank, before you put the frogs in. Remember your frogs when things get warmer, and the room they are in heats up. The frog tank will run a few degrees warmer than your room does due to the lighting on the tank, so make sure you keep this in mind!

No special lighting is needed for these frogs. Most poison dart frog species need just enough light to see their food. For the usual ten or twenty gallon tank, a 20 watt fluorescent bulb will do the trick. However, the terrarium will look better with brighter lighting, and the plants will do better. Be sure to avoid incandescent bulb lighting, as it is likely to overheat the tank.

Poison dart frogs are strictly insectivores, and will only eat small, live insects. Frog keepers use a variety of insects, but the two most common types are flightless fruit flies and crickets. I strongly recommend flightless fruit flies as the primary food source for your poison dart frogs. Culturing them is fairly easy and should only require a few minutes of work every couple weeks. Supplies to culture your flies are fairly inexpensive. Make sure to dust food items before every feeding with a high-quality calcium and vitamin supplement.

Many beginners are unsure how much food their dart frogs should be eating. Because poison dart frogs eat tiny food items, they need to eat lots of them. Feed juveniles every day, whenever possible, and provide about twenty or thirty fruit flies per feeding. A young-adult poison dart frog is capable of eating 50 to 75 fruit flies in a day, and it should be fed this amount four or five days a week. Once your poison dart frogs are established and doing well with fat bellies, you can leave them for several days without worry of them needing to eat.

Poison dart frogs, like all frogs, do not drink water; they absorb it through their skin, from their surroundings, both from the air in their terrarium, and small water pockets and droplets on leaves and other surfaces in the tank. High humidity is a key to keeping these frogs happy. Dart frogs will be happy with the humidity close to 100 percent, but will tolerate it as low as around 80 percent, before they decide it’s too dry for their tastes and hide. The true gauge of your dart frog’s satisfaction with the humidity level is their behavior. If your frogs are hiding and you don’t see them much, try cutting back on the ventilation. Poison dart frogs don’t need or enjoy ventilation, especially when the air that is “ventilating” their tank is dry household air. Not to worry, the dart frogs won’t suffocate, the plants will provide oxygen, and regularly opening the top for feeding will also exchange the air. High humidity in the tank will keep your poison dart frogs hydrated and active. No water bowl is needed for a poison dart frog terrarium. If you do have a water container, make sure to treat the water with a chlorine-removing product. Also, make sure to change the water regularly, because dirty standing water is a leading cause of bacterial infections.

Handling and Temperament
Poison dart frogs are small and have delicate skin, so they’re best treated as hands-off pets. Handling poison dart frogs briefly to move them or to cup them for shipping is fine. But handling them for more than a moment or two can definitely be dangerous to their health. If you do need to catch poison dart frogs, firmly but loosely grasp them, and put them into a holding container. As stated earlier, captive-bred poison dart frogs have absolutely no poisons in their skin. However, as with any reptile or amphibian, after working with or handling your frogs, you should always wash your hands.

Poison dart frogs can be divided up into two or three different size groups. The species that are most popular in the hobby are medium to larger size poison dart frogs. As adults, these frogs are generally about the size of a large grape, or around one and a half inches in length. Maximum size for any poison dart frog is about two and a half inches.
In addition to the large poison dart frog species, a variety of smaller species are also available. The smallest of these species are called thumbnail frogs, due to the fact that they’re small enough to sit on a person’s thumbnail — with room left over! These smaller species are a bit trickier to keep, and it’s important to get some experience with the larger poison dart frogs before trying the smaller species.

Life Span
Although there have been occasional reports of poison dart frogs living more than 20 years in captivity, a more typical life span is four to eight years.

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