Complete Poison Dart Frog Care Sheet In 2022

poison dart frog Care Sheet

Welcome to the Poison Dart Frog care sheet and section, this area is divided into several separate sub-sections – the introduction (this page), the housing Dendrobates page, temperature, and humidity, feeding Dart Frogs, and breeding Dart Frogs sections.

Poison Dart Frog Care Sheet

Poison Arrow Frogs are also known as Dart Frogs or Poison Dart Frogs, they belong to a group of South American rainforest frogs which belong to a group collectively known as Dendrobatidae.

There are around 170 known species that belong to this and other related groups such as Phyllobates, Epipedobates, Minyobates, Allobates, Aromobates, Colosthetus, and Mannophryne.

These are small frogs of around 1.5 to 2 inches when fully grown. Although they are often thought to be fatal to humans only three species are known to be this toxic on adults, Phylobates terriblis, Phylobates aurotaenia and Phylobates bicolor are the deadly ones with the P. terriblis having the most potent toxin.

One of these frogs can contain enough toxins to kill up to 10 adult humans!

So why are they called Poison Arrow Frogs? The Choco Indians of the Colombian rainforest use these tiny frogs to coat the tips of their blow darts which are used for hunting.

By capturing a frog using a leaf to handle it! they rub the backs of the frog with the tip of their dart and thereby collect the toxins secreted by the frogs skin.

Once this dart is fired in to say a monkey it will rapidly cause symptoms similar to curare or hurare.

The prey will begin to feel dizzy as paralysis sets in shortly followed by convulsions and death.

The food caught in this way is not going to affect the Indians as the poison has to gain entry in to the bloodstream for it to act – if they have a mouth ulcer they may want to hold off a little!

One other feature that all the Poison Arrow Frogs share with a few exceptions is the vibrant colours and marking on their skin.

Ranging from purest black through bright reds, gold’s, greens and even bright blue – some almost seem to be metallic.

Of the most colourful ones around 50 or 60 species are kept by hobbyists because of their colours, over a period of time the frogs will lose a lot of their poisoning abilities and toxins as they are thought to be gained from eating forest insects which have the poison in their system, once the frog eats the insect it passes to the frog for use.

In captivity they don’t get the insects they would in the rainforest so the toxin diminishes over time.

Captive-bred frogs never really attain the full potency of the wild ones.

For the purposes of this section, we can consider that unless otherwise stated all have the same or very similar keeping requirements in terms of temperature, feeding, and so on.

Buying Dendrobate Frogs

These frogs are poisonous so you are unlikely to see them in your local pet shop so they must be purchased from a specialist supplier. They should never be bought for children, in fact they are not good pets for children as they are not only poisonous but some are difficult and labour intensive to keep.

You should always make sure that their new home is ready and heating, lighting, etc are in working order before contemplating buying them, there’s no point buying Dendrobate frogs if you can’t provide for them.

If you are buying these frogs via mail order then you should ask how they will be sent, in the UK it is illegal to send these frogs via mail except under license.

As they come from South America they will need a minimum temperature of around 20°C (68°F) and a maximum of 24°C (75°F) whilst in transit, they will also have to be packed in appropriate packagings such as damp sphagnum, soft damp foam or another inert moist packing.

The outer package should have enough air holes to allow the frogs to breathe and should be waterproof – to prevent the absorption of the moisture from the moss, etc.

If your chosen supplier can’t provide these safe packaging measures then you may be disappointed when your frogs arrive, they may be limp, dehydrated, weak, and may even be dead

In order to preserve the natural population you should ONLY buy captive-bred Dendrobates, no one wants a world without these fantastic creatures, and keeping them at home is too high a price to pay for their extinction – ask the supplier before making a purchase and NEVER buy wildly collected frogs.

Immediate Aftercare

Once your Dendrobates have arrived safely it is advisable (if you have a colony) to keep them separate from your existing frogs to make sure that they have no diseases.

You should keep your new frogs in a separate tank for about 2 weeks and monitor them closely if they are feeding well and are healthy then you can introduce them into your colony.

If you are just starting and these are your first Dendrobates then you can place them strait into their new home once they arrive.

Do not be tempted to have a tank with a few off all sorts of species as it is likely that they will poison each other! If you plan on keeping several closely related species together then you are likely to end up with some hybrids too.


Housing Dendrobate Frogs

As we mentioned earlier these are small frogs and will require a tank or vivarium around 24 inches x 18 inches x 18 inches high for terrestrial Dendrobates such as Dendrobate Azureus, this will be large enough to maintain a small colony of around 2 to 4 Dendrobates.

If your chosen species is a tee climbing one such as Dendrobate pumilio then you may decide for a taller tank to allow for tall plants to be included in the setup.

This type of tank could be 24 inches long 36 inches high and 18 inches deep.

They are highly territorial frogs and each one (particularly males) will patrol their chosen living area, if the tank is too small then they may become stressed by the invasion of other frogs in their territory.

Conversely, if it’s too large they may never meet each other and breeding will be affected.

As they thrive on humidity the tank and contents will need to be sprayed at least once a day with clean water, if your tank is too large then keeping the humidity level up will be difficult.

Setting up a Basic Tank or Vivarium

Whether you’re using a fish tank or a tailor-made vivarium the basic internal setup will be the same, here is a list of items you will need:

The tank – see above
Under tank heater and thermostat – preferable to overhead heating
Sphagnum moss or other substrate – for base – see below
Small water container – 5cm deep max & 15 – 20cm diameter
Some rocks for effect
Some bogwood or driftwood logs for effect and hiding places
Optionally some suitable plants either real or artificial
Background photo for back and sides of tank for effect
Setting up an advanced tank or vivarium
For a more advanced set up including waterfalls you will need:

The tank – see above
Under tank heater and thermostat – preferable to overhead heating
Sphagnum moss or another substrate – for base – see below
A large piece of cork bark for waterfall
Water pump
Pipes for pump
Sump for water
Butyl waterproof pond liner 12 inch x 18 inch for ‘lake’ at bottom of the waterfall
Some rocks for effect
Some bogwood or driftwood logs for effect and hiding places
Optionally some suitable plants either real or artificial
Background photo for back and sides of the tank for effect

The base of the tank should be covered in 3 inches of fresh moss or a mixture of 2 parts orchid bark, 2 parts sphagnum moss 1 part sphagnum peat, and 1 part small charcoal pieces and topped with rocks, logs, and leaves for effect and hiding places.

That’s it, the heating will be under the tank in the form of a heated sheet and the lighting from above from the tank hood – see heating.

Cleanliness in a warm, moist tank

The contents of your Dendrobate tank will be semi-permanent fixtures but will need cleaning from time to time. What you should be aiming to achieve is a small ecosystem in your tank.

In the wild their home is an open forest and does not need to be kept clean, in the home, they will need to be cleaned out and all the contents removed from the tank.

Any logs, rocks, or other tank ornaments should be scalded with boiling water and thoroughly scrubbed, plants should be wiped clean.

The substrate will also need changing and this should be done once every 2 months or so, it is easiest to time it so that you can do all the cleaning at the same time.

You will also need to clean the inside of the tank by wiping it with a clean cloth soaked in a nontoxic anti-bacterial liquid, remember that frogs skin is very, very thin and will absorb whatever it comes in contact with so it is important to use a nontoxic cleaning agent such as Detox.

The tank and any items which have been in contact with the Detox should be thoroughly rinsed with clean water to remove any traces before re-introducing the frogs.

The water in the dish should be replaced with fresh water at least twice a week as this too will become contaminated with the droppings of the frogs.

Lighting Dendrobate Frogs

Temperature and Lighting Dendrobate Frogs

  • Lighting Dendrobate Frogs

Dendrobates are day living (diurnal) frogs which means that you will need to provide some form of artificial lighting for them.

The full spectrum fluorescent lighting which comes fitted to most fish tank and vivarium hoods is ideal for this purpose but the tube should be changed to a 2% reptile tube.

The light source timer needs to mimic their natural requirements which, as they live closer to the equator will fluctuate far less between months than we experience in the UK.

For this reason you should as a general rule provide them with light for 12 hours of the day all year round.

  • Heating Requirements

Dendrobates are frogs of the tropical rainforest regions of South America and as such will need a minimum temperature of around 22°C to 24°C all year round, this varies slightly between species.

All of the Dendrobates would receive a natural drop in temperature at night, this should be mimicked in your tank by turning down the thermostat by a couple of degrees although it is not essential.

The best method to use for heating your tank is the under tank heating sheet, these are very similar to the propagator heaters used by gardeners and offer very flexible and accurate temperature control when combined with a thermostat.

It’s not such a good idea to use overhead heating as the heat given off is very dry and could dry up your frogs!

  • Humidity Requirements

Humidity is vital for Dendrobates as their environment is naturally saturated from rainforest clouds. You should be aiming to keep the tank atmosphere at 80% to 90% relative humidity.

The easiest way to achieve the desired humidity is to use the correct moisture retentive substrate, waterfall of some kind, living plants and by spraying the tanks contents daily with fresh clean water, don’t spray the frogs directly though just the plants, rocks, logs and walls.

A hygrometer in the tank will help you to keep an eye on the humidity level.

Feeding Dendrobate Frogs

  • Dendrobate Frog Feeding Requirements

Adult Dendrobates eat nothing but insects in one shape or another, under natural conditions they would have hundreds of varieties of tiny insects to choose from but in captivity they are limited to what you decide to feed them.

You should give as wide a variety of different insects as possible which will include the various minerals and essential oils that a single insect species would not offer.

The variety of insects should include: pinhead crickets, small flies, flightless fruit flies, small spiders, blackfly, greenfly, small moths, ant larvae, small wax worms and small mealworms.

If you can’t offer this wide variety of insect food then you should dust what you have with a vitamin and mineral powder before feeding them to you frogs.

Even if you can provide the full ‘menu’ you can always add some vitamin and mineral powder now and then – it all helps.

When feeding the frogs it is better to give 3 to 4 small feedings rather than just one a day, this will encourage them to move around their home in search of food and meet potential mates along the way – interaction between the frogs is important to their well being.

This interaction will also help with breeding your Dendrobates – if they don’t meet a potential mate how are they going to breed.

Right: Dendrobates leucomelas

Breeding Insects

It is very good practice to grow your own crop of insect for feeding to Dendrobates and other amphibians.

The most commonly used insects are very easy to culture and will save you money in a very short space of time, your insects will also be available in a variety of sizes for feeding to different sized frogs.

Here are some of the ways to culture your own.

You can purchase live food from our other site Global Live Food (UK only)

Catching Insects

If you decide to catch your own insects like greenfly, blackfly, spiders etc then you should only gather them in areas where insecticide or other chemicals have not been used.

If you gather insects in built up areas then your insects may be contaminated by chemicals and car pollution.

It is also advisable to mention that some of the wild caught insects may have internal parasites which could potentially harm your frogs. If in any doubt you should buy your live food.

Fruit Flies

These are the staple diet of Dendrobates when in captivity, they are not the standard fruit fly that buzzes around your fruit dish but are specially bred species that are flightless.

Fruit fly cultures can be purchased from most pet shops for use with all kinds of reptiles and amphibians but over time they will cost you money.

Breeding your own fruit flies is a simple way of producing lots of food for very little outlay and will result in a variety of sizes for the size of Dendrobate you have.

The two most common species for breeding this way are Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila hydei. D. melanogaster is the smaller of the two species and has a lifecycle of 2 weeks, it is around 2mm long. D. hydei is about 4mm long and has a lifecycle of 4 weeks, both are ideal food.

Your growing media is comprised of:

Icing sugar 100g
Cornflakes 500g
Banana x1
Bakers yeast x 1 sachet
Methylparaben mold inhibitor x 1 tsp
Water to mix
Wood shavings

Combine 100g of icing sugar with 500g or cheap cornflakes and grind until cornflakes are pulverised. Stir in to this 1 sachet of bakers yeast and 1 teaspoon of methylparaben.

Mush up the banana and add all the dry ingredients.

This should now be quite a dry mix so you will need to thin it with water until you have a moist but stiff mixture.

Divide the mixture in to jars so that you have a 2 inch deep layer at the bottom of each jar, cover this with some fine wooden shavings, these are available from almost any craft shop. Introduce some adult fruit flies and place a cloth lid over the top secured with an elastic band. Keep the jars at 18°C to 20°C and they will begin breeding very rapidly.

Once the Fruit Fly larvae are large enough they will emerge from the bottom culture and climb on to the wood shavings to pupate, once they have hatched you can remove them easily by gently shaking a few out of the jar on to a tray for feeding.

If you have more jars than you want right away then you can keep the spare ones in the fridge for 1 or 2 weeks without any problems.

You should be aiming to set off a new culture every week so that you have a good supply available at all times.

Food Supplements

These insects are a good staple diet for most amphibians but to boost their nutritional value you should dust them with a vitamin and mineral powder specifically designed for this use, it is available from most pet shops.

Welcome to the Poison Dart Frog care sheet and section, this area is divided in to several separate sub sections – the introduction (this page), the housing Dendrobates page, temperature and humidity, feeding Dart Frogs and breeding Dart Frogs sections.

Breeding Dendrobate Frogs

Coming Soon

Scroll to Top