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Introduction to Poison Dart Frogs

Are they poisonous?
No, they're not poisonous! At least not in captivity. Scientists are fairly certain that a component of the dart frogs diet in the wild is what enables the frogs to be poisonous since captive bred animals never develop toxicity. Additionally, wild caught animals will lose their toxicity after some time in captivity.

How long do they live?
Dart frogs are quite long lived with average life spans of 7-10 years. There are reports of some animals living much longer. Obviously, this will be dependant on the care the frogs are given but show that these animals can live a long time.

Are they difficult to breed?
Most species of dart frogs are rather easy to breed as long as they are happy. Unlike many other species of frogs, dart frogs do not follow a defined breeding season. Rather, they will go through cycles of their own, breeding every few days for a few months then resting for a few months.

What do they eat?
Feeding a varied diet is also important in successfully keeping these animals. Our animals are fed fruit flies, wax worms, flour beetle larvae, crickets and springtails. We do not follow any rigid schedule but simply feed what is available at the time and try to offer at least 2-3 different foods a week. Fruit flies usually form the base of the diet as they are easy to culture and reproduce rapidly. Food items should be dusted with vitamin and mineral supplements a few times a week. We use and highly recommend the Nekton line of supplements.

Where can I get them?
Reptile shows are a great place to purchase dart frogs but they can also be shipped via US Mail, UPS, Delta Dash, etc. Most dart frogs that are available today are captive bred sold by private breeders. We at Black Jungle work with a wide variety of species and color morphs. Since there is no real breeding season, different species are available at different times.

How many can I keep together?
There is no simple answer to this as it varies depending on species, age, environment size, etc. While we may keep up to a dozen froglets together in a 20 gallon tank for a time trying the same with adults is only asking for trouble. We have found that in regards to adult Dendrobates, single pairs work best in tanks 20 gallon or smaller. Territoriality and aggression can be high in these animals and you may not even see any fighting for problems to occur. Unfortunately, I have lost animals when juveniles were kept together for too long or when trying to keep breeding trios in either combination. I have found that the aggression displayed by the Dendrobates will vary widely from animal to animal. Generally, females seem to be more likely to actually wrestle each other to the ground whereas males don't tend to wrestle as often but will still have a dominant individual that stresses any subordinates. Again, this will vary considerably among individuals and species. I have successfully kept small groups of Epipedobates together, even with their constant disputes over territory as long as the tank was large enough.

I have heard that they are difficult to keep.
The general care of dart frogs is rather straight forward and not too difficult for most species. There are some that are better suited to those who have more experience but many of them are suitable for even the beginner. In earlier years, these frogs had earned a reputation as being very difficult animals to keep, something only for the advanced hobbyist. This was due, in large part, to the fact that most of these animals were wild caught and losses due to stress and parasites were high. Things have changed dramatically since then whereas now most animals available are captive bred and do not pose the same risks associated with their more challenging predecessors. The species we recommend for most beginners is D. tinctorius as they are easy to keep and are very bold. Frequently D. auratus are presented as the best starter frog however we do not necessarily agree. Although they are nice frogs and do not require much financial risk, they tend to hide much of the time and rarely come out except to feed. People often become frustrated with the species' secretive habits and give up dart frogs before they have even given them a fair chance. The D. tinctorius group are not shy at all and will even come to the front of the tank looking for food when you approach. Although they cost a little more it is usually money well spent.

Can you keep different species together?
We are often asked about the compatibility of dart frogs and it is a somewhat complex question. Basically, it is best to keep all species of dart frogs in species-specific enclosures. That is to say that each species does best on it's own especially when breeding is desired. They also fare best when not mixed with other species of frog.

Please also understand that the following guidelines are just that, and the behavior of any animal does not necessarily follow any hard and fast rules and can vary considerably. As froglets and young juveniles, most all of them can be kept in groups, however once the animals begin to mature aggression can begin.

There are a few different types of aggression that these animals display. Territoriality is normally the most common problem and is probably the most pronounced with females generally being more territorial than the males. This, however, will vary on the species and in some cases the males can be more aggressive than the females. Wrestling between animals or one individual grabbing another around the waist and pinning it down is a common sign of this type of aggression.

If the animals involved are not separated this will usually result in the death of the submissive individual. Unfortunately, the physical battles can sometimes cease giving the impression that all is well, however, the stress does continue and can still result in the loss of an animal. The second type of aggression occurs between animals of different sizes, regardless of sex, and is most common in young, growing animals. Dart frogs will grow at varying rates and sometimes certain individuals can grow faster than their tankmates. If the animals are not separated the smaller individuals can become stressed by the larger ones and actually be stunted or even worse, stressed to the point of death.

Dart frogs can be broken down into two general groups, those that do best in individual sexed pairs and those that can be kept in groups of animals of the same species. All Epipedobates and Phyllobates can normally be kept in species groups with no real problems resulting. Dendrobates auratus and D. leucomelas also fit into this category. It is important to note, however, that territorial aggression will still occur but it normally does not reach a point where the health of any individuals comes under risk. Females will still fight over males and will even eat each other's eggs so it is important to watch them closely when breeding. Although, technically, these different species could be housed together, hybridizing is a real concern and should be avoided at all times.

The rest of the species, especially D. tinctorius and D. azureus, should only be kept in individual pairs as adults. We have attempted in the past to keep 2 males and one female together but problems still usually occur and two females should never be kept in the same tank. It can be a challenge in acquiring pairs since most animals available for sale are young and therefore not sexable. One can either try their luck with two animals or buy a group of 3 or more to increase their chance of getting a pair and then separating out the mismatched individual(s). Occasionally older, sexable animals are available but the cost will be higher due to the amount of care involved in raising them. These are still usually worth the money since you will at least know that you have a pair.

What about their habitat?
Generally speaking, dart frogs need an environment that is moist and humid with fairly heavy plant cover. Although some specific plant families are commonly used in the wild for breeding and shelter, they are not necessarily required for captive animals. The key is to choose plant species and varieties that will grow well and mature small enough for terrarium use. We at Black Jungle have done the difficult job of selection and trial for you and offer a wide variety of suitable plants, wood, and other vivarium construction materials. Much of the plant choice is up to you and how simple or elaborate you would like to make it. Temperatures in the mid to upper 70’s to low 80’s suit most of the commonly kept frog species. Occasional swings of a few degrees in either direction is not harmful.