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Dart Poison Frog Care and Natural History – An Overview

Dendrobates auratusPoison Frogs (also known as Dart or Arrow Poison Frogs) exhibit an amazing array of colors and patterns – some so spectacular as to appear unreal. What’s more, they are active by day, exhibit complex social behaviors, and care for their tadpoles in “mammal-like” fashion…and are not at all shy about doing so. Small wonder they are among the most desirable of all amphibian pets! Once considered delicate captives, Poison Frogs are now regularly bred in captivity and may live to age 15 or beyond.

The following information can be applied to most available species, including Blue, Green and Black, Strawberry, Golden, and Phantasmal Poison Frogs. However, details vary; please write in for information concerning individual species.

Natural History

These 0.75 – 2 inch-long beauties are native to Central and South America. Identification by physical appearance alone is difficult, as some species exhibit a great many color variations. Their taxonomy is in flux, with various authorities recognizing between 180 and 300+ species.

The skins of wild Poison Frogs harbor toxins derived from the ants, millipedes and (possibly) other invertebrates upon which they feed. The skin secretions of 3 species (genus Phyllobates) were once harvested for use on hunting darts. A single Golden Poison Frog, P. terribilis, likely yielded enough toxins to kill 10-20 monkeys. As far as is known, frog toxins were not used in warfare, nor were they applied to arrow tips.

Oophaga pumilioSurprising new information concerning the breeding behavior of these fascinating creatures comes to light regularly…some of which borders on the unbelievable! Poison Frogs engage in complicated mating displays and deposit their small clutches of eggs on land. One or both parents may guard and moisten the eggs. Some species transport the tadpoles to pools of water upon their backs. Female Strawberry Poison Frogs and certain others lay unfertilized eggs as food for their tadpoles, awaiting a signal from the tadpole before doing so. Amazingly, Mimic Poison Frogs mate for life, and males call their mates when the tadpoles need to be fed (please see article below)!


Setting up the Terrarium

Poison Frogs are most likely to feel secure and behave normally when kept in terrariums stocked with live ferns, bromeliads, Philodendron and other plants.  Artificial plants can be mixed in as well…Exo-Terra Smart Plants hold small water reserves into which tadpoles can be deposited. Poison Frogs are very aware of their environments, and should be left undisturbed by renovations. A pair or trio can be kept in a 10 gallon aquarium; larger tanks can support small groups.

These terrestrial frogs drown easily. One-half inch or so of dechlorinated water should be provided in a shallow bowl or sloping pool.

Poison Frogs will escape through even the tiniest of openings, so the terrarium’s cover must be secured with clips.

Egg-deposition sites should be available. The various species differ in their preferences; please write in for further information.


A mix of coconut husk, peat moss and topsoil works well. Sheet or sphagnum moss may be placed over the substrate to help retain moisture.


UVA radiation may encourage natural behaviors, and low levels of Ultra-Violet B light may be beneficial. The Zoo Med 2.0 Low Output UVB Bulb provides safe levels of both.


Dendrobates tinctorius and Epipedobates tricolor Temperatures should range from 75-82 F, and can dip to 73 F at night. A fluorescent light may provide enough heat – if not, try a weak incandescent bulb or ceramic heater, but watch that the tank does not become too dry. A reptile night bulb can be employed after dark.


Humidity of 80-100% should be maintained by keeping the moss damp and spraying the terrarium. If your home is unusually dry, consider a small mister.


A highly-varied diet is essential if you are to succeed with Poison Frogs. Crickets or fruit flies alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet. Larger species, such as Green and Black and Bi-Colored Poison Frogs, are easier to keep than small species, as they can take a wider range of food items.

Your Poison Frogs’ diet should be comprised of as many of the following insects as possible:

Flightless fruit flies: cultures available online.

Pinhead/10 day old crickets (gut-loaded).

Springtails: purchase or gather below leaf litter.

Termites: trap or collect in dead logs

Flour beetle larvae: available commercially.

Newly-hatched mantids 

Ants: not all are accepted; beware of large/aggressive species.

Aphids: tiny insects that colonize plant stems.

“Field Plankton”: insects gathered by sweeping through tall grass with a net.

Tiny flies and gnats; consider the Bug Napper trap.

Tiny millipedes and other leaf litter invertebrates

Important food supplements include Zoo Med ReptiCalcium with D3 or a similar product (most meals) and a vitamin supplement (i.e. Reptivite with D3) 3 times weekly.

Poison Frogs have quite large appetites and should be fed every day or two.


Multiple individuals may be housed together, but either sex may battle over territories and breeding rights.  Ample space and sight barriers will help, but watch that dominant individuals do not monopolize food or stress others.

Health Considerations

P. terribilisPoison Frogs that consume typical captive diets are not able to store skin toxins.  However, it is best not to handle frogs when you have an open cut; other skin secretions transferred to a wound, the eyes, or mouth may cause irritations or infections.



Further Reading

Monogamous Poison Frog Discovered

Care Sheets (Dendroboard.com)

Frog Toxins and Hunting

Begging Behavior in Poison Frog Tadpoles


Oophaga pumilio By Encarna Sáez Goñalons & Víctor Martínez Moll (User:Puput) (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
P. terribilis by Brian Gratwicke [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Dendrobates tinctorius and Epipedobates tricolor By H. Krisp (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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