Poison Dart Frogs are an amazing pet. They make stunning display enclosures that allow you to get up close and personal with a tiny slice of the exotic rainforest. They have some complex behaviours that really give insight into how they would live in the wild, which makes them an absolutely fascinating species, whilst also being beautiful to look at. Because they’re so small, their tanks take up very little room, although you do need to make sure you research carefully and set up your rainforest haven appropriately – something I’m going to help you with now!
The three easiest to keep Dart Frogs
There are a lot of Poison Dart Frogs that are readily available captive bred in the pet trade. Although toxic in the wild, captive bred Poison Dart Frogs are completely non toxic – their toxins come from their environment. Because of this the Poison in the name is often dropped in the pet trade, and you may see them simply referred to as Dart Frogs.
Here are three of the species that you may be considering keeping, although it’s worth noting that every species will have different colour and locality forms as well. After covering species I’ll cover setting up your enclosure, heating and lighting for dart frogs and feeding.
Dendrobates tinctorius – Dyeing Poison Dart Frog
|Latin Name||Dendrobates tinctorius|
|Common Name||Dyeing Poison Dart Frog|
|Origin||Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname|
|Size||1.25 – 2.5″|
|Lifespan||Up to 20 years|
|Maturity||Approximately 14 months|
|Group||1 Female, Multiple Males|
The Dying Poison Dart Frog, often known within the hobby as tincs, are large and colourful frogs from South America. They reach between 1.25″ and 2.5″ in size, depending on locality and can live up to 20 years. They are hardy and ideal for beginners and are available in a wide array of unique colours and patterns. However, it’s best not to mix localities and morphs but stick to one group of same locality frogs per enclosure, as the adults can be aggressive and territorial even to their own species if different morphs. In a flipside to most reptiles, it’s best to keep one mature female to an enclosure but you can have multiple males. It is the females who will fight each other for a mate.
They are primarily a ground dwelling frog and due to being one of the larger Poison Dart Frogs, need sturdy logs and sturdy plants such as pothos that won’t get trampled. Your enclosure does not need a lot of height, but due to their size if you’re keeping a group together, you may want to go for one of the larger lengths of Exo Terra, such as a 60x45cm or even bigger!
Dendrobates auratus – Green and Black Poison Dart Frog
|Latin Name||Dendrobates auratus|
|Common Name||Green and Black Poison Dart Frog|
|Size||1″ – 2″|
|Lifespan||Up to 10 years|
|Call||Very quiet buzzing|
Dendrobates auratus is a small, calm strikingly coloured dart frog that does well in groups. These can be a bit more shy than the larger frogs already mentioned, so a well planted vivarium will help give them confidence. In the wild they’re often found near moving water, so providing a small stream, fountain or moving water in some form with a pump will help them thrive. They will make use of height if offered.
Somewhat confusingly, the Green and Black Poison Dart frog isn’t always green and black. There are many localities available from green, yellow, gold, and bright blue .We don’t recommend mixing localities.
Dendrobates leucomelas – Bumblebee Poison Dart Frog
|Latin Name||Dendrobates leucomelas|
|Common Name||Bumblebee Poison Dart Frog|
|Origin||Venezuela, Guyana, Brazil, Colombia|
|Size||1.25 – 2″|
|Lifespan||Up to 20 years|
|Maturity||6 – 12 months|
|Call||Loud, high pitched but pleasant|
The Bumblebee Poison Dart Frog, also known as Leucs (pronounced Lukes) and sometimes called the Yellow Banded Poison Dart Frog, is a striking chunky dart frog who is active, confident and bold, and does well in groups making it an ideal starter frog. In the wild they can have quite extreme differences in temperature and humidity between seasons, which makes them quite hardy in captivity. They will use every inch of the enclosure, from floor to ceiling, although they are still a heavy bodied frog so provide sturdy branches and large plants. They are not particularly territorial as adults so you can have a large mixed group of males and females, making purchasing unsexed frogs a safe decision.
The only downside to keep them is they do have a loud call and males can call from 6 months old. Whilst it’s not unpleasant, you may not want these in the bedroom!
Other Dart Frog Species you might be considering keeping
Whilst we recommend the Dyeing, Bumblebee and Green & Black Dart Frogs for beginners as they’re the easiest to keep and the hardiest species, you don’t need to feel limited to them. There are other species readily available captive bred, including:
Epipedobates anthonyi – Phantasmal Poison Dart Frog
The Phantasmal Dart Frog is also known as Anthony’s Dart Frog is a small (1″ for both male and female) species of Dart from from Ecuador and Peru. Despite their small size, Phantasmal Dart Frogs are bold and confident and you can fit a group into a fairly small enclosure. They can live up to 10 years in captivity and do well in mixed sex groups.
Phyllobates vittatus – Golfodulcean Poison Dart Frog
Phyllobates contains some of the most poisonous vertebrates on the entire planet, but don’t worry, captive bred Phyllobates, like all Dart Frogs, are completely harmless! This is a medium size (1 – 1.5″) species that prefers mild temperatures below 75F and are a little less tolerant of temperature fluctuation than the species we listed as most suitable for beginners. They do well in mixed sex groups, but do have a loud call that some may find irritating, especially if you can hear it from the bedroom.
In addition to Phyllobates vittatus you may see Phyllobates terribilis (slightly larger at 1.5 – 2″ – photo above) and Phyllobates bicolor (also 1.5″ – 2″).
Oophaga pumilio – Strawberry Poison Dart Frog
The Strawberry Poison Dart Frog is popular because of it’s striking range of red and orange colours, often contrasted with black or blue markings. Some locales are blue or black entirely. There are as many as 30 different colour morphs, but we don’t recommend mixing the localities. This frog lives primarily on the floor, so won’t make the best use of height. They’re a fairly small species, approximately 0.5 – 1″ in size, and males are highly territorial, so you’ll only want one male to an enclosure and they’re best kept in a small group of either a pair or a trio.
Ranitomeya sp. – Thumbnail Poison Dart Frogs
Ranitomeya species, including Ranitomeya imitator, Ranitomeya lamasi and Ranitomeya ventrimaculata are considered “Thumbnail species”, because of their small size (0.5 – 1″). These are still a confident frog, but aren’t listed as a beginner purely because they are smaller and less popular. You’ll also need to ensure you have a readily available supply of small fruit flies whereas some of the larger species may eat a more varied diet of small crickets or even small hoppers. They do well in groups and are relatively easy to breed.
Setting up an enclosure for Poison Dart Frogs
We recommend using glass tanks for Dart Frogs. These are available in the perfect sizes from both Exo Terra and Habistat, with front opening doors, well ventilated tops, easy to add lighting canopies, and perfect for humidity and bioactive enclosures. Whilst you can use a wooden vivarium if you choose, you’ll need to seal and line it to ensure it doesn’t get warped quickly by the moisture levels and ultimately it’s won’t last as long as a glass tank even with precautions taken. If you prefer the look of wood or already have a bank of vivariums you want to match, then it’s your choice.
We’d recommend a tank that is 45 x 45cm, 60 x 45cm or 90 x 45cm for your dart frogs. The height depends on the species and your preferences. How many frogs you can keep in the enclosure then depends on the species.
Buy our complete kit which includes a Habitat Enclosure, UVB, Plant Growth Lighting, Bioactive Starter Kit (Substrate, Mesh), Heat Mat and Thermostat, live plants, plastic plants, water bowl, cork bark and more.
Once you’ve chosen your vivarium you’ll need to start from the floor and move your way up. For Dart Frogs you do not want standing water, so you create a forest style enclosure with small pockets of water, or running water where possible.
We always recommend going bioactive with live plants for Poison Dart Frogs and you should set up your enclosure fully before bringing your frogs home.
Substrate and Leaf Litter for Bioactive
In the wild, water runs away underground, draining areas so they don’t get waterlogged – unless the area is a swamp! Dart Frogs don’t want to live in a swamp and in an artificial environment, you have no way to drain the water away. The effective solution is to have a drainage layer of clay balls. These balls absorb an astounding amount of water and dry out quickly, so your tank should not get waterlogged.
On top of the drainage layer you need a mesh layer. If you’re a gardener you may be familiar with this as a weed mesh. We’re not trying to stop weeds, but we want to create a clear and separate layer so the soil does not mix with the clay balls and get waterlogged.
On top of your mesh you need your bioactive substrate. We recommend Arcadia EarthMix or BioLife Forest, which is a mix that has been fortified by minerals and amino acids which will help your plants to grow, but entirely safe and organic. You can also use top soil, but be careful not to add fertilizer or use soil that has chemical fertilizer added. Dart Frogs are sensitive to chemicals, so we recommend substrate specifically designed to be safe for them.
Our Bioactive Starter Kit contains the clay balls, mesh layer and substrate as well as some cleanup crew!
- Bioactive Starter Kit£25.00
Isopods – Your Cleanup Crew
Isopods will thrive in your bioactive substrate. They are a healthy food for your Dart Frogs, whilst also being industrious workers who will clean bacteria from the substrate. Because the poop of Dart Frogs is relatively small, if you have a good quality cleanup crew of Springtails and Woodlice, the enclosure will need extremely minimal maintenance or cleaning. Adding earthworms will also increase the quality of the soil, but they won’t get eaten so you don’t need many – 1 tub per 45-60cm enclosure is fine. Springtails and woodlice should breed readily in the enclosure, but depending on how many frogs you have and what else they’re eating, you may need to add more later. We’d recommend 1-2 tubs per 45-60cm.
If you find your isopods aren’t thriving, you may need to add Arcadia Earth Pro Bio Revitaliser to your setup. This is an organic fertilizer which adds minerals, amino acids, micro and macro nutrients, from UK Volcanic rock and Worm castings. This will feed and replenish bioactive systems.
Water in your Dart Frog Setup
Dart Frogs do not need standing water, and standing water can gather bacteria. In the wild Dart Frogs will either live next to running water, which can be simulated with waterfalls and pumps in captivity, or in most cases, in leaf forest areas where there may be small pockets of water in branches, hollows and plants that they use for depositing eggs and raising tadpoles. We don’t recommend water bowls in our setups but rather having bromeliads and other plants that hold water. Their hydration and humidity needs should come from your regular misting, which should happen at least 3-4 times a day. Please see humidity section for more information.
Decor for your Dart Frog Setup
It’s really important to make your Dart Frogs feel safe. You’ll want to provide a good layer of leaf litter on top of your substrate. Then hides such as coco huts and cork bark, wood, branches and plants will all add to the safe space that makes them feel confident. You can use a mix of plastic, silk and live plants to fill out the enclosure if you want to – but the more live plants the better. I’ve seen people try to create open spaces so they can see the frogs clearly; but this is counter intuitive as the frogs won’t come out so you’ll never see them! If your enclosure makes them feel safe you’ll definitely see them and they’ll be exhibiting confident, natural behaviour.
Dart Frogs will climb different platforms and levels but do not climb glass and can not cling easily to small branches. Building levels with sturdy decor such as cork bark or thick branches works best.
Add holes and hides at different levels with caves, pots, coconut hides or anything that creates a natural and safe hollow.
Choosing plants and ensuring your plants thrive
Bioactive enclosures – which are what Dart Frogs thrive in – are tiny rainforest eco systems. It’s important to get every stage right. By now you should have created your bioactive drainage layer and have a suitable substrate equipped with isopods. Next you’ll need to choose your plants!
Some of the most popular plants include
Ferns – There are hundreds of species of ferns from the large to the small, and they create wonderful natural looks in an enclosure. Most are easy to grow, need low light and survive in high humidity, but check the exact species to make sure it’s suitable.
Pothos – Pothos is a fast growing creeping plant which grows in high or low light, in water or soil. It’s a very hardy and versatile plant. The older it gets, the larger the leaves get, providing shade or climbing platforms once established.
Philodendron – Philodendrons such as Philodendron scadens is very similar to Pothos, although slightly slower growing. It a lot of different varieties with different colours, leaf shapes and leaf textures.
Transcantia sp – Wandering Jew – We consider this one of the staples of the rainforest enclosure. It’s a very easy plant to grow and is fast growing. In fact, you’ll most likely need to prune it to keep it tidy, but keep the cuttings and you might be surprised with a second plant!
Peperomia – This is a compact plant that you can use towards the front of the enclosure to provide safe visual barriers without blocking your view of the frog. There are quite a lot of different types of Peperomia and some have lovely pink or red leaves.
Bromeliads – In the wild Bromeliads are a massive part of the Dart Frog life cycle, providing pools that they lay their eggs in sometimes! Bromeliads can to be planted in the background or on ledges or in the ground soil so can be used to add a lot of different natural levels to the enclosure. They do prefer medium to high light levels, so make sure they’ve got access to light and aren’t being overshadowed.
Orchids – Orchids need to be carefully placed in the enclosure and are more of an advanced plant than a beginner, but can still thrive. Orchids don’t like wet roots, so you don’t want to place them into the base soil, but rather mount them into the background or put them at a higher level where the roots will be kept relatively dry. There are tens of thousands of species of orchids, so if you have a choice, choose one that has a higher tolerance for moisture and flowers all year around.
There are lots of other species of plants, but make sure you always double check that your plant is both safe for frogs and will thrive in the conditions of your enclosure. We sell live plants in store at Reptile Cymru, but we don’t ship them online.
It’s important to make sure you have a plant growth bulb as detailed in the lighting system in order for your plants to thrive. Whilst plants will last a while without it, they won’t get as good growth and won’t have the same lifespan.
Heating for your Poison Dart Frog Enclosure
The temperature for your frogs should be between 72 – 76F (22 – 24C) , which is quite mild compared to most reptiles. You don’t want your night time temperature to fall below 68 – 70F (20 – 21C). Some people require no heating at all to reach these temperatures in a centrally heated house, and we recommend if possible simply heating the ambient of the room to this temperature. But this isn’t always possible, especially in winter and at night. Having a heat mat on a thermostat in case of temperature drops will offer a good safety margin, even if it doesn’t get used most of the year.
We don’t recommend Ceramic bulbs with frogs generally as they can dry out the air temperature. Place the heat mat behind the enclosure at the bottom of the tank, and you only need a small heat mat that covers around 1/3rd of the back of the enclosure. You must use a thermostat, overheating can be extremely dangerous to dart frogs.
Keep a thermometer in the vivarium at all times – digital ones are best – to ensure the temperature is correct.
Humidity should be 80 – 90% and it’s quite important to keep it up this high. Some Dart Frogs can tolerate drops down to 50-60% but not for an extended period of time. You can raise the humidity through misting the enclosure. It will most likely take spraying 2-4 times a day. You can set up an automated mister system on a tank, but this is often quite complex for a single tank. Spraying in the morning before you leave for work, when you get home, and again before bed, is usually adequate for maintaining humidity.
Lighting for Poison Dart Frogs
Dart frogs are diurnal – awake in the day – but live beneath the forest canopy, where a lot of light is filtered. For years Dart Frogs were kept without UVB, but recently with more research, it’s been shown that best practice includes UVB for the vast majority of reptiles. Because of this we recommend low levels of UVB, with a basking zone of 1-2 UVI. To obtain this at 10-15″ (from basking areas, not total height of enclosure), use a T5 7% ShadeDweller bulb or T8 6% Forest bulb. At 15-18″ use a T5 6% UVB bulb.
For our complete kits we use the Arcadia Pro T5 kit which comes with fitting, UVB Bulb (6%), and reflector.
- Arcadia Pro T5 Kit 7% Shadedweller 8w£38.99
- Arcadia Lamp Guard Pro (20″-50″)£14.99 – £21.99
- Reptile Systems D3 T8 5% UVB Lamp£18.99 – £19.99
- Reptile Systems D3+ T8 10% UVB Lamp£18.99 – £19.99
- Arcadia D3+ Reptile Lamp, 12% T8£23.99 – £29.99
- Arcadia D3 Reptile Lamp, 6% T5£22.99 – £28.99
- Arcadia T8 Control Unit (Dry)£32.99
- Arcadia Pro T5 Kit£54.99 – £62.99
Feeding Dart Frogs
You should feed your Poison Dart Frogs a varied diet of small insects. The main three appropriately sized options are Flightless Fruit Flies, Size 1 Crickets and Springtails. Juvenile Dart Frogs should be fed every day, and adults should be fed every other day or at least three times a week – but if you have a bioactive enclosure, you’ll have plenty of Springtails available for your Dart Frogs to forage in between as well. It’s hard to say exactly how many to feed as it varies based on the species and the appetite, but if you notice there’s any uneaten food left in the enclosure, don’t add more. You can add a slice of banana to the enclosure to entice the fruit flies and crickets to a central location where the frogs can find them – and also you can see how many are in the enclosure.
Try to observe quietly to ensure all your frogs are eating, and if any frogs start to look thin or unhealthy, remove them for a health check.
Dart Frog Supplementation
We recommend dusting every meal with a small amount of calcium, and using a D3+ supplement once a week for frogs with UVB, and twice a week for frogs without UVB.
Poison Dart Frog Social Needs
You should double check the social needs of the specific species of Dart Frog you’re looking at keeping, which is included in each of the most commonly kept dart frog descriptions at the top of the page. Dart Frogs are very variable, but they all live in groups and have social structures. In some species the male is dominant and territorial and you should keep one per enclosure, whilst in others, the female is the dominant one – which is very unusual in the reptile world. Other species live happily together in groups.
Generally speaking you should not mix different species and you should not mix localities within species either.
Handling Poison Dart Frogs
We do not recommend handling poison dart frogs. All amphibians have delicate skin and can absorb chemicals through the skin. They are also easily stressed and easily damaged by jumping out of hands. Poison Dart Frogs are display only, but you may need to occasionally move your dart frogs out of the enclosure for health reasons, cleaning the tank or rehousing. In this situation with clean, washed hands you can scoop them up into a secure tub.
I hope that this Poison Dart Frog Caresheet has provided all the information you need to know, but if there’s anything you have a question about just drop it in the comments, leave us an email or contact us on Facebook! We provide free advice on all species of reptiles.