Poison frogs are a group of frogs from the Dendrobatidae family, also known as poison dart frogs or poison arrow frogs and native to Central and South America. They can be kept with relative ease in a 'rainforest' style terrarium
The name comes from the use of the frogs toxic secretions to coat the tips of blow darts used by native amazonian tribes. However, it is only a few of the 170+ species which are used for this, and only in place of more commonly used plant toxins. Not all poison frogs are poisonous, and those that are produce their toxic secretions from alkaloid chemicals obtained from the insects and other animals they eat. This means their toxicity is reliant on their diet and hence in captivity, where they do not receive a natural diet, they do not produce poisonous toxins. Most frogs for sale are captive bred, so are non-toxic whilst wild-caught specimens soon lose their toxicity. In the wild, poison dart frogs tend to live for just a few years, but in captivity they often live for 10-15 years or more.
Size and colorsPoison dart frogs are small in size - the smallest species reach less than 2 cm whilst the largest grow up to 6 cm. Most are brightly colored and generally the more brightly or contrastingly colored, the more toxic the frogs poison. Colors serve as a warning to other animals so that the frogs are not eaten (and the predator is not poisoned) Several species have a number of different color morphs, and cross breeding produces variations, so it can sometimes be difficult to tell which species you have.
HousingTo thrive in captivity, poison dart frogs need to have their natural rainforest habitat recreated in a terrarium with the right surroundings, materials, temperature and humidity. Without this recreation they will suffer and become ill. Part of the challenge, and enjoyment of keeping these fascinating frogs is in the construction of the rainforest habitat where the frogs are simply the focus for a wider picture. Growing plants and maintaining conditions within an ‘enclosed garden’ is part of keeping these amazing animals.
SubstrateIn most ‘rainforest’ terrariums, a soil substrate covered with moss and a scattering of leaf litter and twigs is as close to nature as we can get. A several inches deep layer of soil and moss is a good base for frogs and for planting or arranging decoration. You can also add a shallow dish of water into this base to help humidity levels or to house a mister device. Keeping a small corner of the terrarium free from soil and moss, which can be done with a small glass partition, will allow you to siphon away any old water which will build up from daily spraying of the terrarium decor.
Controlling moisturePoison frogs need a moist and humid environment, but they are also land animals and do not need a large pool of water. In fact, they will suffer if their surroundings are so humid that they are dripping wet. Providing a damp substrate along with occasional sprays of water, and using plenty of moss is usually enough to maintain a steady humidity. Some frogs will appreciate a small shallow pool to dip into, but they do not want or require enough water to swim in. A high humidity of around 80-100%, daytime temperature of 22-26C (72-79F), and night temperature of 18-22C (65-72F) is an ideal range to aim for.
FeedingAs poison dart frogs are a small species, they need to be fed on small foods. Almost any small live food will do including crickets, spring tails, worms and fruit flies. Food should be vitamin enriched by dusting with a vitamin and mineral additive before feeding. As a small animal, poison dart frogs need to feed often and should be fed daily or every other day assuming some food will survive for more than 24hrs in the vivarium. Young froglets may need feeding more often.
BehaviourPoison dart frogs are generally peaceful and well behaved but it is not uncommon for a bully to develop, usually a male, which can cause problems for the other frogs in the vivarium. Adding all your frogs at once and making sure they are all of similar size can help to prevent problems occurring. Keep a close watch on your frogs and if any individuals start to cause problems you may need to set up a separate temporary home where the offender can be kept for a few days. Once re-introduced, the other frogs will have established dominance and the bully is less likely to cause trouble.
BreedingUnlike some frogs and toads, who lay hundreds or thousands of fertilised eggs, and then leave the tadpoles to survive on their own, poison dart frogs lay relatively few eggs and provide some basic parental care. Eggs are laid in a moist area where they are fertilised and then hatched. The male then moves the tadpoles onto his back and transports them to a pool of water where they can develop in relative safety.
Creating the right environment and designing a well landscaped display is part of the challenge of keeping these stunning creatures, so thought should be given to the skills and budgets required. As a hobby, keeping poison dart frogs is a worthwhile and rewarding pastime and will provide many years of enjoyment and interesting conversation from visitors.