Poison Dart Frog (Poison Arrow Frog)

By Snaketracks / August 10, 2020

Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates sp.) Care Guide

Poison Dart Frog is the common name of a group of more than 100 species of frogs in the family Dendrobatidae which are native to tropical Central and South America.

They were previously referred to as Poison Arrow Frogs.

Some Poison Dart Frogs species include several conspecific color morphs that emerged as recently as 6,000 years ago. Differing coloration has historically misidentified single species as separate. And there is still controversy among taxonomists over classification.

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience level:  Beginner
  • Family: Dendrobatidae
  • Scientific Name: Dendrobates sp.
  • Habits: Diurnal
  • Size: Most species of Poison Dart Frogs are small. Sometimes less than 0.59 inches (1.5cms) in adult length. Although a few grow up to 2.4 inches (6 cms) in length
  • Lifespan: They can live as long as 25 years in captivity
  • Predators: Despite the toxins used by some Poison Dart Frogs, some predators have developed the ability to withstand them. One is the snake Erythrolamprus epinephelus, which has developed immunity to the poison

Why Should You Choose A Poison Dart Frog As A Pet?

They have bright, beautiful, and rare coloring. They are easy to care for and do not need much space. They are one of the few frogs that are active during the day.

Also, they’re not poisonous, at least not in captivity. Even wild-caught Poison Dart Frogs lose their poison in captivity. However, they should always be treated as poisonous because it’s not always clear if or when this has happened.

What Does A Poison Dart Frog Look Like?

Blue Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates sp.)
Blue Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates sp.)

Most Poison Dart Frogs are brightly colored. They display aposematic patterns to warn potential predators.

There are many different species with a range of fantastic colors from bright gold to deep blue, green, or even red. 

Poison Dart Frog Reproduction

Iridescent Variable Poison Dart Frog (Ranitomeya variabilis)
Iridescent Variable Poison Dart Frog (Ranitomeya variabilis)

Poison Dart Frogs fertilize their eggs externally. The female lays a cluster of eggs and a male fertilizes them afterward, in the same manner as most fish.

Poison Dart Frogs can often be observed clutching each other, similar to the manner most frogs copulate. However, these demonstrations are territorial wrestling matches.

Both males and females frequently engage in disputes over territory. A male will fight for the most prominent roosts from which to broadcast his mating call. And females fight over desirable nests and even invade the nests of other females to devour competitor’s eggs.

Breeding

Once you have a pair of frogs, you must set up a tank that is conducive to breeding. This includes having a heavily planted tank (because frogs feel more secure in more cover and have fewer interruptions).

Also, the tank should have high humidity. Thus, it should not have any vents on most of the breeding tanks.

You should have humidity as high as possible in those tanks and breeding spots.

The next step is for you to induce breeding. In the wild, some of these frogs are seasonal breeders. While frogs will usually breed right after a storm, it is also possible to “trick” the frogs into thinking the wet season has arrived.

Video On Breeding Poison Dart Frog

Eggs Laying

Females lay 5-10 eggs at a time. They lay their eggs in moist places, including on leaves, in plants, among exposed roots, and elsewhere.

Eggs Hatching

Tadpoles hatch 14-18 days after the eggs are laid.

Tadpoles Development

Once the eggs hatch, the adult piggybacks the tadpoles, one at a time, to suitable water, either a pool, or the water gathered in the throat of bromeliads or other plants.

It takes tadpoles 10-12 weeks to undergo metamorphosis and become adult frogs.

Poison Dart Frog Habitat

Red Backed Poison Dart Frog (Ranitomeya Reticulata)
Red Backed Poison Dart Frog (Ranitomeya Reticulata)

Enclosure Requirements

A 10-gallon vivarium is sufficient for two dart frogs. When they are quite young and small they will need to be housed in a much smaller container, like a plastic sweater box until they are big enough for their permanent home.

They will climb a little but need floor space more than they need height. Dart frogs thrive in a live enclosure with roots, plants, and a small body of water. Thus, they are a great choice when setting up a bioactive terrarium. 

Cleaning

To clean the enclosure you can use TetraFauna AquaSafe Reptile & Amphibian Water Conditioner.

Lighting, Temperature & Humidity

Humidity should be kept constant at 80 to 100%. Temperature should be kept around 72°F (22 °C) to 80°F (27°C) during the day and no lower than 60°F (16°C) to 65°F (18°C) at night.

Feeding

Bumblebee Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas)
Bumblebee Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas)

In the wild, they feed mostly on small insects such as ants and termites, which they find on the forest floor. Many species capture their prey by using their sticky, retractable tongues.

Scientists believe that Poison Dart Frogs get their poison from a specific arthropod and other insects that they eat in the wild and that these insects most likely acquire the poison from their plant diet.

As a result, Poison Dart Frogs in human care on a diet of crickets and other non-poisonous insects are not poisonous themselves.

Temperament & Handling

Strawberry poison dart frog
Strawberry poison dart frog

Poison Dart Frogs are small and have delicate skin. So they’re best treated as hands-off pets.

If you do need to handle Poison Dart Frogs, firmly but loosely grasp them, and put them into a holding container. As stated earlier, captive-bred Poison Dart Frogs have absolutely no poisons in their skin.

However, as with any reptile or amphibian, after working with or handling your frogs, you should always wash your hands.

Conservation Status

yellow banded poison dart frog
Yellow Banded Poison Dart Frog

Some species of Poison Dart Frogs are listed as Threatened.

Climate change and habitat loss threaten their survival. WWF is working to ensure that its Amazon forest habitat remains intact.

Here’s an interesting article on conservation: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/11/poison-dart-frogs-breeding-colombia-wildlife/

Health Concerns

Green and black poison dart frog
Green And Black Poison Dart Frog

In general, the majority of diseases of amphibians maintained in captivity will relate directly or indirectly to husbandry and management. This is partly due to the high permeability of their skin.

They are very susceptible to toxic insult, and a variety of chemicals may be problematic in wild or captive animals.

Some of the more common amphibian diseases with bacterial etiologies include bacterial dermato septicemia or “red leg syndrome,” flavobacteriosis, mycobacteriosis, and chlamydiosis.

The most common viral diseases of amphibians are caused by the ranaviruses. Mycotic and mycotic-like organisms cause several diseases among amphibians, including chytridiomycosis, zygomycosis, chromomycosis, saprolegniasis, and ichthyophoniasis.

Protozoan parasites of amphibians include a variety of amoeba, ciliates, flagellates, and sporozoans.

Common metazoan parasites include various myxozoans, helminths (particularly trematodes and nematodes), and arthropods.

Commonly encountered non-infectious disease etiologies for neoplasia, absolute or specific nutritional deficiencies or overloads, chemical toxicities, and inadequate husbandry or environmental management.

Dietary Problems

Tricolor Poison Dart Frog (epipedobates tricolor)
Tricolor Poison Dart Frog (epipedobates tricolor)

Of the specific dietary problems that affect amphibians, some of the more commonly encountered challenges are the vitamin and mineral imbalances related to metabolic bone disease.

Specifically, these imbalances include the failure to ingest or adequately process vitamin D3, calcium, or phosphorus to maintain them in the proper ratios.

In addition, elevated levels of vitamin A may also interfere with the normal metabolism of vitamin D and contribute to metabolic bone disease. However, most often the metabolic bone disease is caused by low levels of calcium or improper calcium: phosphorus ratios in the insect prey (Wright and Whitaker 2001).

Many insects used as food or prey, including mealworms, waxworms, earthworms, and fruit flies, have low levels of calcium or imbalanced calcium: phosphorus ratios (Barker et al. 1998). It is possible to correct this calcium deficiency by feeding the insects calcium-rich food or by dusting the insects with a calcium-rich powder.

Source: Diseases of Amphibians Christine L. Densmore, David Earl Green ILAR Journal, Volume 48, Issue 3, 2007, Pages 235–254, https://doi.org/10.1093/ilar.48.3.235

Signs Of A Healthy Poison Dart Frog

  • Swims actively
  • Hides often
  • Eats vigorously
  • Clear eyes and smooth skin
  • Remains in the bottom half of the aquarium

Red Flags

  • Loss of appetite
  • Hazy or cloudy eyes
  • Does not swim away from capture
  • Floating on the top of the aquarium
  • Bloating
  • Weight loss

Interesting Facts

They are called “dart frogs” due to the Native Americans’ indigenous use of their toxic secretions to poison the tips of blow darts.

However, of over 170 species, only four have been documented as being used for this purpose (curare plants are more commonly used), all of which come from the genus Pyllobates, which is characterized by the relatively large size and high levels of toxicity of its members.

Even if many other frog species camouflage themselves in the wild, the Poison Dart Frog uses its brightly colored skin to warn predators that it is unfit to eat. The frog’s skin secretes a dangerous poison that can paralyze and even kill predators.

Chemicals extracted from the skin of the species Epipedobates tricolor may be shown to have medicinal value. Scientists use this poison to make a painkiller. One such chemical is a painkiller 200 times as potent as morphine, called epibatidine.

However, the therapeutic dose is very close to the fatal dose. A derivative ABT-594 developed by Abbott Laboratories called Tebanicline got as far as Phase II trials in humans but was dropped from further development due to unacceptable incidence of gastrointestinal side effects.

Secretions from dendrobatids are also showing promise as muscle relaxants, heart stimulants, and appetite suppressants.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poison_dart_frog

The most poisonous of these frogs, the golden poison frog (Phyllobates terribilis), has enough toxin on average to kill ten to twenty men or about ten thousand mice.

Price and Availability

Poison Dart Frogs are available from $44.99 at Back Water Reptiles. They are also available at Josh’s Frogs and Black Jungle.

In the UK they are available at DartFrog.

Everything You Need To Know Before Getting Poison Dart Frog

Conclusion

The Poison Dart frog is one of our top frogs when it comes to choosing one as a pet. They are easy to care for, not picky eaters, and just look cool.

Other cool frogs which also make great pets include the Pixie Frog, Whites Tree Frog, and of course the Pacman frog. Be sure to check out our best pet frogs article to see all of our favorites!

What frog do you own or plan on getting? What made you choose that or them? We love hearing from you so let us know in the comments below!

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