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How to Care for Poison Dart Frogs

How to Care for Poison Dart Frogs

Poison dart frogs (Dendrobates sp.) are small, diurnal, largely terrestrial amphibians native to Central and South America. They can be found in a variety of habitats, but generally prefer wet tropical environments.

Poison dart frogs are slender frogs with angular bodies, pointed heads, and smooth skin. They are best known for their color, which can vary from bright reds, yellows, and blues to more cryptic coloration. Both color and pattern are dependent on species.

Although poisonous in the wild, captive-bred poison dart frogs are perfectly harmless due to the difference in diet. They are extremely sensitive to inappropriate husbandry, and are not the kind of pet that you can handle regularly, which makes them an intermediate- to advanced-level pet amphibian. With good care, they should live at least 8 years, with some sources reporting up to 20!

How much space do poison dart frogs need?

Poison dart frogs do well in small enclosures while young, but once they reach adulthood, they will happily use as much space as they are given. Froglets should be kept in a roughly 12”L x 12”W grow-out container for the first six months of froghood. After that point, they should be mature enough to be transferred to a long-term enclosure. The enclosure should offer at least 10 gallons of space per frog. 24”L x 18”W x 18”H is a good starting point for housing two poison dart frogs.

Cohabitation (keeping multiple dart frogs in one enclosure) is standard practice, and they are rarely kept singly. However, it is best to keep only once species/subspecies per enclosure in order to avoid conflicts.

Do poison dart frogs need UVB?

They can certainly survive without it, but it’s still best practice to provide low levels of UVB lighting for optimal health and wellbeing. Providing UVB lighting to your frog gives them all of the vitamin D that their body needs, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.

The best UVB bulbs for poison dart frogs are:

  • Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0
  • Arcadia Forest 6%

The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture, and the frogs should not be able to get closer than 6” below the lamp. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your frog UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover. UVB bulbs decay over time, so don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months to maintain good performance.

Lights should be on for 12 hours/day.

What temperatures do poison dart frogs need?

Poison dart frogs are ectotherms, which means that they rely on the temperature of their environment to help regulate their metabolism and stay healthy. If they’re too cold, they won’t have enough energy to stay active and digest their food. If they’re too warm, they can die from heat stress.

The ambient temperature of the enclosure should stay between 72-80°F during the day, and may drop as low as 65°F at night. Measure air temperatures with a digital probe thermometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure.

If you need to warm the enclosure, a good way to warm things up by a few degrees is to stick a heat pad to the side or rear of the enclosure. It’s best not to place the heat pad on the bottom of the enclosure if you’re using live plants. To make sure it doesn’t warm the enclosure too much, connect the heat pad to a thermostat.

It’s best not to keep dart frogs as pets if you do not have a reliable way to keep the room sufficiently cool.

What humidity levels do poison dart frogs need?

As amphibians, poison dart frogs are very dependent on water — especially when they’re still just tadpoles! Air humidity should stay between 80-100% at all times, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer. If needed, misting your frog’s enclosure 2x daily with a sprayer will help create the right humidity levels. Using an automatic misting system and/or fogger can also be helpful.

Poison dart frogs absorb water through their skin rather than drinking, so it’s very important to keep their environment adequately hydrated!

What substrate is good for poison dart frogs?

Poison dart frogs require a thick layer of moisture-retentive substrate to help maintain healthy humidity levels. As an added perk, it also tends to make the enclosure more attractive.

This substrate should have small particles and hold moisture well. It should also be able to support plant life if you are using live plants, such as Zoo Med ReptiSoil. Bioactive substrate is arguably best for allowing minimally invasive husbandry, but if you’d rather not go this route, natural aquarium gravel or sphagnum moss layered with leaf litter is reported to work well.

If you are not using a bioactive setup, substrate should be replaced every 2 months to maintain good hygiene.

What décor can you use in a poison dart frog vivarium?

It’s terribly boring for a frog to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except land and water. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with.

Décor options for poison dart frogs include:

Whatever you choose to use, make sure that the frog has cover to hide in so it can feel secure in its environment.

What do poison dart frogs eat?

Poison dart frogs are insectivores, which means that they need to eat insect prey in order to get the nutrition that they need. Young dart frogs should be fed daily, but adults should be fed just 4x/week to prevent obesity. Offer as many insects in one feeding as the frogs will clean up in about 15-30 minutes.

Insect options for poison dart frogs:

For best results, offer as much variety in your frogs’ diet as possible. Insect prey should be 1/8" long or less, as poison dart frogs seem to prefer tiny feeders.

Supplements

Poison dart frogs need vitamin and mineral supplements to enjoy optimal health. Here’s a good supplement schedule for starters from NE Herpetoculture:

Do poison dart frogs like to be handled?

Very few amphibians actually “like” to be held, and poison dart frogs are not one of them. Handling is very stressful for them, so it’s best to content yourself with watching them hop around than try to get hands-on.

If at any point you absolutely must grab your frogs, put on a pair of disposable gloves, grasp them firmly but gently, and keep handling time to an absolute minimum.


*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.

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