Poison Dart Frogs – A Beginners Guide

Oophaga pumilio Punta Laurent male calling  

Introduction To Poison Dart Frogs

The Dart Frog hobby is still fairly new to the world, especially within Canada. In fact some of the species we work with at Jungle Jewel Exotics, such as the Ranitomeya benedicta and the Ranitomeya summersi were only discovered and documented by science in 2008.  They are truly amazing animals, with striking colors ranging from bright orange, yellow, red, blue, green and some that almost look like they glow neon.  Each frog has its own personality. Some are shy, and others so bold they will jump onto your hand when you reach into their Vivarium, which is the little rain forest you create for them.


How Did Poison Dart Frogs Get Their Name

Yahua_Blowgun_Amazon_Iquitos_PeruThe Poison Dart Frog goes by a few names, depending where you are in the world. Such names like Dart Frog, Poison Arrow Frog, and Arrow Frog. They got their nick name because some of the ancient Indian tribes in Central and South America learned to harness the gifts of nature. They would cover the tip of their blow gun darts with the toxins of the frog to hunt monkeys, birds and wild pigs. Most notably the frogs from the Phyllobates genus, such as the Phyllobates terribilis as they can develop the most toxic neurotoxins.


Are Dart Frogs Really That Poisonous

Unlike some snakes, Dart Frogs are not born poisonous. Even in captivity, they cannot become poisonous. How Poison Dart Frogs produce Alkaloids (poison) such as Batrachotoxin is still a bit of a mystery to science. However researchers know it has to do with the frog’s diet in the wild. It is believed that it by eating, arthropods, mites, and ants (nature’s cleanup crew) they ingest very small amounts of the compounds necessary to produce the poison. Over a long period of time the frogs are able to produce the toxins by excreting it as slime on their backs, when threatened. Even if you were to capture a wild poison frog and feed it the same diet as in the wild, it would lose the ability to produce poison, since the arthropods are no longer eating the compounds necessary.  That being said it is not advised to handle (or lick) your Dart Frogs. You have more poisons and nasty stuff (hair product, perfumes, chemicals etc.) on your hands that can and will harm your Dart Frogs.


Is It Legal To Keep Poison Dart Frogs In Canada

The short answer is Yes. However there are some rules to play by.

The Canadian government implements and administers Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora  Also known as C.I.T.E.S. (CITES) What is CITES?

CITES, is an international agreement between governments with the aim to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival in the wild. It is a Convention of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).”

This is governed  by Environment Canada and is enforced by you local Fish and Wildlife office. Click here to see all the listed species protected and approved by CITES

That being said, there are some exceptions in some provinces. Frogs from the genus Phyllobates, such as the  Phyllobates terribilis are legal for trade in Canada, but can not be kept in Alberta or BC. Jungle Jewel Exotics will not knowingly keep or sell a species that is prohibited by law. However it is also up to you as a responsible pet owner to know your local laws. Please contact you local Fish and Wildlife office for more information.


What Do You Feed You Dart Frog

frog flyDart Frogs need to hunt live prey. They will not accept any flake, pill, kibble or other prepared food. Thus there is no such commercially made food for your Dart Frog. Fortunately their food is easy and inexpensive to culture. Dart Frogs vary in size. As adults they range from only 12 mm in length like the Ranitomeya Reticulata to 3 inches like the Dendrobates Tinctorius La Fumme. Each Dart Frog should be fed a varied diet of live foods. You should feed Springtails, Isopods, fruit flies, and week old crickets to your Dart Frog, depending on its size and species. You should also be supplementing your Dart Frogs diet with Calcium, and other necessary vitamins and mineral. You can achieve this by “Dusting” you flies. For more information regarding what to include in a Dart Frogs diet, please read  What To Feed Your Poison Dart Frog


How Long Does A Poison Dart Frog Live

Dart Frogs live a surprising long time! A common question that is over looked by someone when making a decision of owning any pet, is how long will they live with me? Most species of Poison Dart Frog will live well over a decade. It is common for the genus Ranitomeya to live over a decade and Dendrobates Tinctorius to live to 20 years of age. There are reports of frog keepers having Dendrobates Auratus live for 25 years. A health female will breed for most of that time. I noted earlier that some of the species we work with at Jungle Jewel Exotics were discovered and noted by science in 2008 and not much is really known about them. However if we use examples from other similar species of frogs, and with proper care you can expect a long life from our frogs. Please consider this before making a purchase of any pet. It is your duty as a responsible pet owner to care for the animal’s health and wellbeing for its whole natural life.


What Type Of Home Do I Keep My Poison Dart Frog In

Globe Viviarium

There are many names for the type of homes you can create for you Dart Frog.  The most common is name for it is a vivarium or viv for short. You may also hear terrarium, or paludarium used. Depending on the style and size you create or purchase will depend on the species you wish to keep.

Vivarium literally means “place of life”. You can create one as simple as you like, or as complex as your budget will allow. You can use fake plants however, it is suggested to use live plants. In fact a vivarium will allow you to grow tropical plants you would not normally grow in your house, due to humidity requirements. Such as several Mosses, Orchids, Bromeliads, Creeping Vines, and Ferns.

Poison Dart Frogs come from the Rainforests, and you should try to simulate this for them. Most Dart Frogs don’t hang out in the river, but merely around it. They can swim when needed, but no longer have the need to. For example some are terrestrial, meaning they spend most of their time on the jungle floor hunting for food, such as the Tinctorius. While others are arboreal, and almost never touch the ground, such as Glass frogs

Please take some time to research about where your future foggy friends come from, and what they may need.

What Size Of A Vivarium Do My Dart Frogs Need

Female Varadaro on Hand

Each species of Dart Frog has different requirements. Some are terrestrial, (live on land) while others are arboreal (live in the trees). Some require a water feature, while others don’t. Please keep this in mind when doing your research for you future froggy friends

As a general rule, allow 10 gallons per frog for larger species of dart frog like the Tinctorius Azureus and 3-5 gallons per frog for thumbnail species like the Ranitomeya.  For example, a twenty gallon tank is great for two frogs, and a thirty to forty gallon tank is great for three or more frogs. Please consider if you require a more vertical vivarium or a more horizontal based on the species you wish to keep.


What Temperature Should I Keep My Dart Frog At

Most Dart Frogs come from Central and South America. As such you should maintain certain temperatures to keep your Dart Frog healthy and hopping.  Frogs are amphibians, and as such are cold blooded animals.  This means they have to way of regulating temperatures (like sweating) Most Dart Frogs prefer a temperature range of 20°C to 26°C They will appreciate a temperature drop at night to about 18°C. Most Dart frogs will prefer temperatures on the cooler side, as prolonged temperatures over 26° C will cause stress. Temperatures over 30°C increase the possibility of fatalities. While some frogs are better suited to deal with the heat, others may perish. It is not recommended that you use a heating pad or create a basking area like you would for geckos and other lizards.

vivarium terrarium temperature thermometerPlan ahead for summer with AC. Even if it’s only for one room. Also consider placement of the vivarium in your room. Outside walls can get very cool during Canadian winters. Don’t keep your vivarium in front of a south facing window, as it won’t take long for the sun to increase the inside temperature of the vivarium to dangerous levels. You should have some way of knowing what the temperature is on the inside of the vivarium.  A simple aquarium thermometer will do the trick.

Please take some time to research about where your future froggy friends come from, and what they may need.


How  Much Humidity Do Poison Dart Frogs Like

Frogs and other amphibians have very porous skin, and lose or absorb moisture through it. As such most Dart Frogs will thrive with a relative humidity of 70-100% while others require a “dry” season, where the humidity drops to 60% for a few months. Then increase to 100% for several months. This may be required to encourage breeding of some species of frogs, such as the Amazon Milk Frog.

Adding and maintaining humidity in a Vivarium is done several ways.rain forest jungle

-Keeping ventilation to a minimum

-Keeping a false bottom filled with water

-Utilizing live plants, such as mosses.

-Daily misting, whether done by hand or with and auto timer and misting system, such as a Mist King Product.

-Utilize a ultrasonic fogging machine

Never allow your Dart Frogs home go dry, or without misting!

What Type Of Light Is Needed For My Dart Frog

Most Poison Dart frogs live in the shady undergrowth of a Rainforest. Therefore do not require any extra light outside of the visible light spectrum. Unlike most lizard you will not need to set up a UVB light. Dart frogs come from areas near the Earths Equator, you should try to mimic the day and night cycles for the best health of your exotic friends. The sun is up for 12 hours in the amazon. There are many type of timers available on the market to help you achieve this.

Most of your light requirements will be for you live plants you choose. We at Jungle Jewel Exotics use a combination of LED, Compact Florescent and T5HO (high output) lights for our Little Jungles. You will find lots of great information at your local Hydroponics store.t5 ho vivarium terrarium lighting

How Much Maintenance Is Involved For My Dart Frog

It is surprisingly simple to maintain and care for your Dart Frogs, once you have the basics in place, (outlined above). That said, it is not completely maintenance free. Expect about 30 minutes a week for the hands on stuff. Feeding can be done once a day or so. You will have to make Fruit Fly cultures weekly (or find a stable supplier) occasionally trim back overgrown plants, clean the front of the vivarium glass so you can see inside.(mostly from your own nose prints) If you invest in a timer for lights, and an auto misting system the technical side is taken care of for you.  Otherwise keep a daily misting schedule and stick to it.


How Much Will It Cost To Keep A Poison Dart Frog

The long term maintenance cost of keeping a Dart Frog is very low.  However depending on what you wish to do for your initial start-up will vary. In some cases you can use an old aquarium and do some minor retrofits to create a long-term home for you froggy friends. If your budget allows, some people have built entire rooms dedicated to the keeping of Poison Dart Frogs. (Or convert their whole house to the hobby…) Prices of Poison Dart Frogs can range from $40 to $500 per frog. However most Species range from $60-$150 Please visit our Shop for a list of current available Dart frogs, as well as our Prebuilt Vivarium’s for sale. It is not uncommon for the vivarium, and its set up to be the most expensive part of the hobby. With lights and optional misting systems adding to the initial start-up costs. You don’t need to take out a loan to start in the hobby. Start simple, and work your way up. Most Dart Frog keepers have more than one vivarium in their home.


Final Thoughts About Keeping Poison Dart Frogs

Keeping any animal as a pet is a large responsibility and can be very rewarding. You should make sure to do as much homework as possible. You really cannot be over prepared! Visit our other tutorials, or contact us for other questions you may have. We also recommend talking to other keepers. A great forum dedicated to the keeping of Poison Dart Frogs in Canada is www.canadart.org you will find other long term Dart Frog keepers that are both passionate and willing to help out the hobby.

I hope this guide was helpful to you. If it was please share it with your friends by clicking the links below

Happy Frogging

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