POISON DART FROG CARE
WRITTEN BY: HELEN HOUGHTON
PDFs come from South/Central American rainforests; there are over 200 species varying wildly in colour - this coupled with them being diurnal, very active and the option of having a very beautiful setup makes them a very attractive pet species for any amphib enthusiast. Dart frogs are fairly easy to keep, but have specific requirements and can be stressed easily - they are a display animal - they are not a pet to handle. When keeping more than one dart in an enclosure, ensure you have male-heavy groups as females will fight, often to the death.
In the wild, the diet (mites, ticks, insects etc) of the dart frogs are rich in toxins which are metabolised and secreted as poisons through the skin of the frogs - in some cases a single drop is enough to kill multiple humans if injected through the skin (even in a cut) the most poisonous PDF is reputed to be Phyllobates terribilis.
In captivity, we feed our frogs small insects such as fruit flies, micro crickets, springtails and tropical woodlice - these do not contains toxins and therefore there is nothing for the frogs to metabolise into poisons which may be harmful to humans. That said, after touching the frogs or their environment it is still very important to wash your hands thoroughly.
CAGING AND DECOR
There are numerous suitable environments for dart frogs - they need a suprisingly spacious vivarium considering their size, this is because they are incredibly active frogs and will need as much room as you can provide. For example, up to 4-5 medium frogs can be kept in the 60 x 60 x 45 exo terra. I would not keep a single frog in anything smaller than the 45 x 45 x 45 exo terras.
Juveniles should be kept in smaller tubs so they can find their food easier.
Vivariums can be as simple or as complex as you like, so long as the frogs requirements are met. It can be as simple as a plastic tub with ventilation (mesh covered) or as complex as running waterfalls or rain systems fully mimicking a rainforest environment.
Vivariums suited for darts include ENT vivs - these are resistant to fruit fly escape and have a drainage system included. Exo terras look great but need some alterations to be suitable. The link below is an example of how i made my exo terra suitable for dart frogs, and an idea of suitable decor to use: How to build a dart frog viv.
Dart frogs do well in room temperature - that is, if its comfortable for you or me, it will be comfortable for your darts. This ideal temperature window is between 70 and 80 degrees farenheit. If your room is any colder than 65F you may wish to consider extra heating in the form of a heat mat mounted on the side of your vivarium - however ensure this is on a thermostat! Refrain from using heat bulbs as these dry out the vivarium. Remember - dart frogs do much better in cooler temperatures compared with hotter ones!
This is possibly the most difficult requirement to keep constant. In my opinion, dart frogs need a humidity of 90%+ and they need this constantly. If your environment is not humid enough, they will hide pretty much all of the time and prefer to stay in humid places like the vases of a bromeliad etc. Unlike many snakes and lizards, dart frogs do not require a 'drying out period', the humidity really must be kept up at all times. This can be achieved by decreasing the ventilation (some keepers dont leave any ventilation at all) and increasing the spraying or using waterfalls and foggers.
Dart frogs CAN NOT SWIM WELL! They can drown in a single cm of water and it is vital no standing water is included in any vivarium. They do not need a water dish. They can absorb all of the water they require from spraying and the humidity around them.
Many keepers beliEve PDFs do not require UV light - they live under very deep canopies and hardly ever recieve UV rays in the wild, however personally I use a 2.0 full spectrum bulb in with mine (for the plants to grow well) and it does seem to improve how active the darts are and shows off their colours nicely. Many keepers have kept them without UV in the past with no problems, but it is vital to always suppliment their diet with D3 and calcium to avoid bone disorders such as MBD.
PDFs are tiny and require very small food, most keepers breed their own fruit fly cultures for this reason. The 2 main types of fruit flies bred are Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila hydei, Melanogaster is smaller than hydei and has a faster lifecycle - an excellent link to describe how to make fruit fly cultures can be seen here: drosophila
Other foods include: micro crickets, silverfish, springtails, bean weevils, buffalo worm larvae, dwarf tropical woodlice and some of the larger darts may be able to take certain species of roach.
All insects have a negative calcium:phosphorus ratio - for this reason it is vital to dust ALL food with calcium powder (daily) and D3 powder twice a week. A medium dart frog will eat roughly 10-20 food items (e.g. fruit flies) daily. It is a very good idea to gut load the insects you are feeding to the darts, for crickets this can include calcium-rich leafy veg and i find spirulina powder an excellent food source for crickets - mix this into a paste and feed to the crickets, it is rich in calcium and makes the colour of the frogs stand out amazingly well!
Well fed darts will happily go a week without food if well fed up before you leave (this can be useful for occasional trips away).
This question comes up a lot. Cetain species can get along well together in the same enclosure, however there are some very important notes to consider:
- Do the 2 species you want to mix have similar environmental requirements?
- Are the 2 species of a similar size and require the same food?
- Are either of the 2 species easily stressed, terretorial, or likely to bully?
- Will the 2 species hybridize?
- Is your setup large enough and does it have enough hides to adequately house the number of frogs you are including - bear in mind, once in they will not be able to escape and MUST have space to get away from the other species if they wish.
The three species pictured on this page are great beginner Dart Frogs.
We appreciate your sharing your knowledge.
Thank you Helen.
Helen can be found at