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Poison Dart Frogs

Poison Dart Frogs Care Sheet

(Dendrobatidae ---)

  • Kingdom:
  • Animalia
  • Phylum:
  • Chordata
  • Class:
  • Amphibia
  • Order:
  • Anura
  • Family:
  • Dendrobatidae
  • Species:
  • View Species List

Poison Dart Frog
(Oophaga pumilio)

Poison Dart Frog (Oophaga pumilio)

Poison Dart Frog

Poison dart frogs are a diurnal group of frogs and often have brightly colored bodies to warn predators that they are toxic. The toxicity of the frogs is dependant on their locality and what they eat in the wild. It varies considerably from one species to the next and from one population to the next. The term "dart frog" stems from indigenous peoples use of their toxic secretions to poison the tips of blow darts. There are only 4 species from the Phyllobates genus, of over 150+ species of dart frog, that have been documented for this purpose.

Poison Dart Frog Taxonomy

The taxonomy of the poison dart frog has changed drastically over the past decade. The family Dendrobatidae was revised in 2006 and contains 13 genera (Adelphobates, Andinobates, Ameerega, Colostethus, Dendrobates, Epipedobates, Excidobates, Hyloxalus, Minyobates, Oophaga, Phyllobates, Ranitomeya, Silverstoneia), with 150+ species of dart frogs.

Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates tinctorius)


Poison dart frogs are indigenous to the rainforests of Central and South America. Exact localities are determined by the individual species, with some species overlapping their native habitats.


Contrary to popular belief, captive bred poison dart frogs do not contain the same toxins that their wild relatives contain. The reason for this is simple, their diet is very different than what they would eat back in the rain forest. (Wild-caught poison dart frogs gradually lose their poisons in captivity once their diet has been changed.) In order to create their toxins, poison dart frogs need certain chemicals that are present in the insects they eat in the wild but are not found in their captive diet.

Temperament - Handling

Poison dart frogs are a display pet and should be handled as little as possible. These animals are small and have delicate skin. While you may never intentionally hurt them, accidents do happen. When transferring your frogs, shuttling them into a small transport container or deli cup is the suggested method. If you must touch them, wash your hands before you handle them to remove any oils, residue or chemicals - perfumes they may have. As with all reptiles and amphibians, you should also wash your hands after handling them.

Poison Dart Frog Terrarium (Dendrobates Spp.)
Poison Dart Frog Terrarium

Habitat - Enclosure

Poison dart frogs are stunning little animals and they make beautiful terrarium pets. The size of the terrarium should be based on the size of the frogs you are housing, how well established they are and your personal experience keeping them.

Poison dart frogs fall into 3 categories of size, small, medium and large. Of these sizes, the largest of dart frogs will only reach 1.5 - 2 inches (which is a very large specimen). Their small stature makes them easy to house but plays a significant role in how you start them out. Most dart frogs are sold very young or as juveniles. It is important to get them established before tossing them into a completed vivarium that could overwhelm them. With this in mind, small, translucent sided containers are ideal temporary or permanent habitats for several reasons. Their translucent sides make them cloudy, offering a level of security for your frogs while they are quarantined and becoming established. Young frogs can be shy feeders and the added security measures will help them eat more readily without the fear of a predator (you) from disturbing them. The smaller enclosure size will help concentrate their prey, making hunting much easier for the frogs and will allow them to grow faster, since locating prey and consuming them is made easier. These containers do exceptionally well at maintaining humidity. Most shoe and sweater boxes do not come with ventilation holes and none should be added. Your frogs will get plenty of oxygen as you open the container every day or 2 to see how they are doing, to feed them and for general maintenance. If you choose to use an aquarium or clear sided container, you should minimize the frogs visibility by covering 3 sides with paper. You want the frogs to feel secure as possible while you establish them. Containers that are 12 inches long by 8 - 10 inches wide are ideally sized and are typical of a normal shoe box container.

Your dart frogs will require a moist substrate that retains moisture well or releases moisture into the air during evaporation. Sphagnum moss and peat moss retain moisture extremely well. Natural aquarium gravel is smooth and does well when the water level is set at 3/4 of its depth. This keeps the humidity high while keeping the frogs from sitting directly in the water itself. Coconut husk or fiber should be avoided. As time progresses, coconut husk will begin to emit an odor as it decays under the constantly moist conditions. You could also use paper towel in your temporary set-up but this is not advised for their permanent home. The paper towel would need to be changed regularly to prevent bacteria and mold from forming. You will want to provide your frogs with some locations in which they can hide. In their permanent enclosure this can be established with live plants and rocks. You want to keep their establishment (quarantine) tank to a minimum however and a few leaves or artificial decor is all that is necessary. They just need a few small items in which they can hide under. This set-up is designed to be simple. You don't want to make finding prey any harder than it is with un-established frogs. The easier they can find prey, the faster they will grow and the hardier the frog will be. You should keep all new frogs in this size habitat for 4-6 weeks as both a quarantine procedure (which you should do with all new acquisitions) as well as to get them established. Once they have grown and have been cleared as being healthy specimens, they can then be moved into their awaiting natural terrarium.

Aquariums and front opening terrariums are the typical enclosures of choice for dart frogs and work extremely well. These style enclosures come in a variety of shapes and sizes and you will need to decide how many frogs you will be keeping together. this is important because the size of the tank needs to be able to comfortably house your dart frogs without overcrowding them. You will also need to do some research on which species you wish to own. Some dart frogs are more territorial than others and won't do well in a group setting.

A natural terrarium is what you will want to create for these animals. Poison dart frogs come from a rain forest environment that is high in humidity and abundantly planted. You will want to create a tropical vivarium for your frogs. This information is beyond the scope of this care sheet so you will need to research how to create a natural tropical vivarium for poison dart frogs.

It would be an invaluable asset to this care guide if you wanted to submit pictures of your Poison Dart Frog Vivariums and the construction process, with pictures of the set-ups progression. I would then convert those into an article which would aid many new enthusiasts.
Article Submission can be made here: Article Submissions

Poison Dart Frog Vivarium (Dendrobates Spp.)
Poison Dart Frog Vivarium


The susbtrate you use needs to be able to retain moisture. The plants you choose may need special soil. You will need to research which substrates are best suited for the environment you are creating. there are a number of choices available in the pet trade industry. it does seem that non-organic soils work the best. organic soils don't stand up as well to the moisture and emit an odor after they have rested for an extended period of time. Once you have determined what soil you need or want, you can then layer it with something that is more attractive. There are a number of mosses and stones that can create a beautiful visual display. Naturally colored gravel for aquariums are typically too large for the frogs to ingest and look stunning with moss and live plants. The possibilities for your vivarium are nearly endless and should be researched thoroughly before you dive into its creation.

Poison Dart Frog (Phyllobates terribilis)


Poison dart frogs are insectivores and primarily eat wingless fruit flies and pinhead crickets in captivity. Both of these prey items are readily available in the pet trade, though wingless fruit flies are easier to maintain and acquire. If you have other pets who can eat larger crickets, you could breed your own to keep a supply of pinhead crickets on hand because crickets grow quickly and will be too large for your dart frogs within days of being born. You can and should also breed your own fruit flies. Culturing fruit flies takes little effort and is inexpensive. Since a single adult frog can eat mare than 50 fruit flies in a sitting, and needs to be fed 4-5 times per week, the cost of purchasing them can accumulate quickly. Instructions for breeding crickets and fruit flies can be found at the bottom of the page, under the "Articles Of Interest" section.

The prey you feed your frogs is tiny, so they need to eat a lot of them in order to thrive. A baby or juvenile dart frog should eat 20-30 fruit flies, daily. Adults need to eat between 50 and 75 fruit flies 4-5 times per week, per day. You can feed well established dart frogs every other day, at the suggested amount.

Dart frogs can be prone to calcium deficiency which can lead to forms of metabolic bone disease that may include skeletal deformities, hind limb spasms, seizures and forms of paralysis. to prevent this from happening you should be dusting your feeders with a quality calcium supplement at every feeding. Rep-cal has some great calcium supplements. You are looking for a calcium supplement that has at least twice the amount of calcium than it does phosphorus. (2:1 ratio)


Poison dart frogs have permeable skin that allows them to absorb water through their skin. The water they absorb will come from the moisture in the air (humidity), water droplets on leaves and plant stalks, as well as from their substrate medium. You realistically want to try and maintain a humidity level of nearly 100% with poison dart frogs. As the humidity falls, your frogs will begin to display different behavior. You do not want the humidity to fall below 90%, though they can tolerate it as low as 80%. The idea is to have these frogs on display to enjoy. They are most active and visible when they are happy with their environment. They will hide regularly if the humidity is too low and that defeats the purpose of owning them. Who wants to own a beautiful little frog that they can't see? You can maintain the humidity a number of ways. Daily misting throughout the day will help elevate the tank. Commercial mist systems can be purchased and placed on timers. Keeping the enclosure closed as much as possible will certainly aid in maintaining humidity. There are people who like to open their enclosures to watch their pets move around. this is not a good idea with poison dart frogs. Humidity escapes every time the tank is opened. live plants provide humidity, trap moisture and also emit oxygen in addition to being attractive. If you use a drain layer in your enclosure, which i always suggest and you will read about during your research, you will have water constantly supplied to the substrate. This will in turn evaporate and be consumed by the plants, helping to raise the humidity. Though this species doesn't need any standing water, you can provide a shallow dish to help aid with humidity. The dish should be easily entered and exited. The water used should be spring water or treated for chlorine. You can also leave a container of water out over night and allow the chlorine in the tap water to dissipate naturally before using it. Also, make sure to change the water on a regular basis. Dirty standing water is a leading cause of bacterial infections.


Many people believe their frogs need to be maintained at very high temperatures because of their native habitats. What they fail to take into consideration is that the forest floor is always significantly cooler than the ambient temperature. Ideally you want to maintain your vivarium between 72-80°. You want to avoid temperatures above 85° entirely, as these can be fatal. However you choose to heat your vivarium should be controlled with a reliable rheostat or thermostat. Your vivarium should be fine tuned before your frogs are placed inside it. Running the heating and lighting elements while your frogs are in their establishment tank will offer you plenty of time to adjust the temperatures and get them squared away. During the warmer months a when you have your home heat on you will need to be vigilant in monitoring your enclosure. As the temperature in the room they are in increase, the tanks temperature will as well. A quality digital thermometer will help you monitor the temperatures successfully.

Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus)


Your frogs don't require special lighting but the plants you use may. Full spectrum bulbs, like certain incandescent lights used for plants, can increase the temperatures in the vivarium and should be avoided when possible. This needs to be taken into consideration when choosing your lighting. There are many different types of fluorescent lights on the market they have a lower heat output but offer bright lighting, which your plants will thrive on. Brighter lighting also allows for the use of attractive plant species that require bright lighting, such as bromeliads and orchids. Since the stronger lighting can produce more heat, you may have to use cooling fans to keep the temperatures down. Depending on your set-up, you may need to create a custom lighting fixture to incorporate these. This is another reason to run your tank before you place your frogs in. The longer your tank is running, the more time you have to fine tune it to the needs of your poison dart frogs. Your frogs should have a moderate amount of shade provided by the plants and structure in the terrarium.

Poison Dart Frog (Epipedobates tricolor)


Author: Richard Brooks
Oophaga pumilio Main - © Marshal Hedin [CC-BY-SA-2.0]
Dendrobates tinctorius - © Cliff [CC-BY-SA-2.0]
Phyllobates terribilis - © Wilfried Berns [CC-BY-SA-2.0]
Dendrobates auratus - © Geoff Gallice [CC-BY-SA-2.0]
Epipedobates tricolor - © H. Krisp [CC-BY-SA-3.0]
Poison Dart Frog Terrarium - © Hoppe-Terrarienbau-Exclusiv
Poison Dart Frog Vivarium - © Rojo (pjrojo)