Dart Frog (Dendrobates sp.) care

Dart Frog (Dendrobates sp.) care

Dendrobates species are large, brightly coloured frogs who are typically quite confident in captivity.  All Dendrobates species are diurnal, meaning they will be awake during the day so you can watch them interact with their home. These frogs are great starter frogs, assuming all their needs are met, or an excellent staple in an already well rounded collection.

Quick Stats

  • Minimum Enclosure: 45cmX45cmX45cm (18”X18”X18”)
  • Heat:  18°C-27°C (65°F-80°F)
  • Humidity:  70-100%
  • Food:  Juveniles; D. melanogaster, Dwarf Isopods, springtails | Adults D. hydei, most dwarf isopodsspringtails.
  • Lifespan: 10-15 years, occasionally over 20

Distribution and Natural Habitat
Dendrobates species are found in different regions throughout Central and South America. The different species or colour morphs are split apart by geographical features such as mountain ranges and are specific to their location. In the wild, different colour morphs or “locals” would never encounter each other or interact therefore it is not recommended to keep multiple colour morphs together.

All Dendrobates frogs are diurnal meaning they are awake during the day.  They are terrestrial and live in the understory of the rainforests they inhabit. In the wild they are constantly foraging for small insects, invertebrates and arthropods in the leaf litter. Some of the plants in the rainforests contain various alkaloids and toxins, the micro fauna eat these plants and in turn get eaten by the frogs.  This causes a downstream effect and these amazing frogs have evolved to harness the toxins as a means of self-defense. A combination of their striking colors and the toxins stored in their glands help ward off potential predators. In captivity the tinctorius do not contain any of these toxins due to the diet provided to them. They don’t have access to the food they would be eating in the wild.

While being frogs they are not very good swimmers and great care should be taken when making a suitable vivarium for them to live in. Once mature, the males will boldly perch on a rock or log and call out to attract females. The tinctorius call is barely audible, and is a quiet buzzing sound. When a female selects a male, she will caress and gently pet his back to tell him she is ready to mate. The male will then hop away to a nice quiet place, with the female close behind.  For most tinctorius the adult females are quite aggressive to each other and will wrestle and chase away opponents. In the wild the loser can just hop away to live another day, however in captivity this isn’t an option.

Life in the Vivarium
Like all dart frogs, Dendrobates species require a humidity range of 70-100%. They can survive for brief intervals at 50% humidity if clean water is provided for them to soak in. You can place a bromeliad or small shallow dish of water in the enclosure or add a pond feature to achieve this.  Remember, dart frogs cannot swim well, so ensure that the water source is shallow and easy to get out of. The water level should be no higher than the smallest frog can sit in with his head and upper torso out.

Dart frogs thrive at temperatures near 21°C (70°F) but can survive a range of 18°C-27°C (65°F-80°F).  Never exceed 29°C (85°F) as this can be fatal to the frogs. Generally a heat source such as a pad or light is not needed on a dart frog vivarium, apart from any lighting for plants.  Do not rely on sunshine from a window, because the sun through the glass will heat up to extremely unsafe temperatures very quickly. Keep note of any air conditioning or heaters used in your home as well, as they may affect the temperature in your frog cage.

It is possible to house a single dart frog in a 10 gallon aquarium, we recommend that you use a minimum 45cmX45cmX45cm (18”X18”X18”) enclosure bigger is always better. This size vivarium is suitable to house 2-3 adult Dendrobates  species.

As juveniles you can house several dart frogs together, however as they mature you will need to remove all but one female once you notice the first signs of aggression. Sometimes the males will exhibit aggressive behaviors to each other while defending their territory. If it appears to be stressful you may be required to remove the passive males. This is less common than female aggression, so it may be possible to house multiple males with a single female. The size of the vivarium provided and the individual personalities of each animal will dictate how many frogs you can keep in an enclosure. Because of the female on female aggressive behaviour over mating rights it is common for most hobbyists to house only a pair or trio of two males and one female.

It is common for a healthy dart frog to live between 10-20+ years in a vivarium. Please consider this before deciding to take them home to your family. As with most amphibians they are considered a “hands off” pet similar to a fish. Due to their delicate and permeable skin, it is not advised to handle your frogs. The chemicals, oils and debris on your hands could prove fatal to you dart frog pet when it is absorbed through their skin. It is recommended that you wear powder free rubber or latex gloves if you are required to handle your dart frogs. In an emergency, such as an escape from the enclosure, try to capture them as fast as possible (bare hands will do… if needed) as they will try to hide quickly, and unfortunately this will become fatal very rapidly.

Dart frogs require small live prey to hunt. This is easily achieved by providing them with flightless or wingless fruit flies. Baby and juvenile Dendrobates will eat Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies, and the adults will hunt for Drosophila hydei. But the flies on their own are a poor nutritional source.  We recommend “dusting” your fruit flies with a high quality vitamin and mineral supplement. We use and recommend Arcadia Calcium pro and Arcadia Earthpro-A. You can combine and use other supplements available to you, however please ensure you research what ratio or frequency you can supply vitamins as some can be lethal in high dosages.

It is recommended to build a bioactive vivarium for your dart frogs. This is achieved by introducing microfauna such as isopods and springtails into the environment. These little land crustaceans (no they are not insects!) will eat the decaying and decomposing bio matter as well as any excess feces in the vivarium. Some of these micro fauna will be eaten by your dart frog, as a little snack but this shouldn’t be considered a primary diet.

As with all our frogs, we do not recommend that you house multiple species or morphs together. Please supply each group with a vivarium to call their own.


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