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Mantella Care – Keeping Madagascar Poison Frogs in the Terrarium

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Often compared to the Dart Poison Frogs in size, appearance and behavior, Mantellas are among the most highly desirable of all amphibian pets.  Most are spectacularly colored – so much so that I’ve often had visitors to my exhibits at the Bronx Zoo ask if they are real!  Indeed, many frog enthusiasts consider the ruby morph of the Golden Mantella (M. aurantiaca) to be the world’s most beautiful frog.  Several of their colors, including some of the greens and oranges, are not seen in the more popularly-kept Dart Poison Frogs.

Mantella bernhardi

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Devin Edmonds

You can expect to see many interesting behaviors from Mantella Frogs, as they are active by day, quite bold, and are always foraging, exploring, interacting and otherwise “on the go”.  Once considered delicate captives, several species are now regularly bred in captivity, and we are learning more about Mantella care and fascinating natural histories (including how they acquire their famous skin toxins…please see below) each year.The following information can be applied to most available species, including Painted, Golden, Green, Brown and Saffron Mantellas.  However, details vary; please post below for information concerning individual species.

Natural History

The 16 frogs in the genus Mantella (family Mantellidae) are largely confined to Madagascar, although several inhabit Reunion and nearby islands.  Mantellas measure ¾ to 1 ½ inches in length.

Brilliant colors warn predators that Mantellas can excrete powerful toxins when attacked.  Entomologists from the California Academy of Sciences have discovered that Mantellas derive these toxins, or alkaloids, from their diet.  The source of the toxins, at least for some species, is an endemic ant, Anochetus grandidieri.  In an amazing example of parallel evolution, 13 of the toxic compounds found in Mantella skins are also utilized by unrelated Dart Poison Frogs, which feed upon unrelated ants, in Panama!

Golden Mantella

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Devin Edmonds

The Terrarium

Mantellas do best in terrariums stocked with live ferns, bromeliads, Philodendron and other plants.  A densely-planted tank will provide you with many interesting observations, as the frogs will feel secure and behave normally.

A pair or trio can be kept in a 10 gallon aquarium; larger tanks can support small groups.

Mantella and Poison Frogs spend most of their lives on land and drown easily.  One-half inch of de-chlorinated water should be provided in a shallow bowl or sloping pool.  Hagen’s plastic Smart Plants hold small water reserves that make easily-exited pools for even the smallest species.

Mantellas can scale glass and will escape through even the tiniest of openings, so the terrarium’s cover must be secured with clips.

Substrate

A mix of coconut husk and a commercial rainforest substrate works well.  Sheet or sphagnum moss should cover the surface to help retain moisture.

Light

Low levels of Ultra-Violet B light may be of some benefit.   The Zoo Med 2.0 Low Output UVB Bulb is ideal.  UVA may help to encourage natural behaviors, including reproduction.  A number of UVA-emitting bulbs are now available (please post below for further information).

Heat

Mantellas generally dwell at high elevations or deep within forests, and require cooler temperatures than one might expect.  They fare best at 68-76 F; most are stressed when temperatures exceed 80 F.  Please post below for species-specific advice.

Mantella baroni

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Devin Edmonds

A fluorescent light may provide enough heat – if not, try a small incandescent bulb, but watch that the humidity remains high.  A ceramic heater or reptile night bulb can be employed after dark.

Humidity

Humidity levels of 80 -100% should be maintained by keeping the moss layer damp and spraying the terrarium heavily.  Small misters and humidity gauges are especially useful in arid homes and dry climates.

Feeding

A highly-varied diet is essential.  Crickets alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet.  As the largest Mantellas barely reach 1 ½ inches in length, providing a prper diet requires careful planning.  Monitor your frogs closely – underfed individuals will exhibit protruding hip bones and flat stomachs.

The diet should be comprised of as many of the following food items as possible (please see the articles linked below for further information on rearing and collecting small insects):

Tiny flies, gnats and moths may be collected with the Zoo Med Bug Napper trap.

Flightless fruit flies: cultures are available commercially.

Pinhead/10 day old crickets.

Springtails: cultures available commercially, or collect below leaf litter.

Termites: collect in dead logs or via simple traps (please see article below)

Flour beetle larvae: available commercially.

Ants: experimenting required, as some species are rejected.

Aphids: tiny insects that colonize plant stems.

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

Mantellas have large appetites and should be fed every day or two.  One Brown Mantella was observed to eat 53 ants in 30 minutes!

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

Companions

Most can be kept in single or multiple species groups, but both sexes can be territorial.  Sight barriers (plants, logs) will help, but care must be taken that dominant individuals do not monopolize food or stress others.

Handling

Mantellas are tiny, quick, and easily stressed.  They are best considered as animals to observe, not handle, and should be moved by being urged into a plastic container.

Individuals that feed upon typical captive diets are not able to synthesize skin toxins.  However, other skin secretions transferred to wounds, eyes, or the mouth may cause irritations.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

 

Further Reading

The Best Diets for Mantellas and Dart Poison Frogs

Alternative Foods for Small Frogs: Sap Beetles

4 comments

  1. avatar
    George Leslie Verge

    Excellent article! Kudos from a Mantella caretaker.

  2. avatar

    Thanks very much for the kind words! Any comments/observations you have time to post would be most appreciated, best, Frank

  3. avatar

    This was very informative. I had wondered what other types of food sources I could feed my mantella other than fruit flies & crickets…and now I know! Thanks.

  4. avatar

    Thanks for the kind words, Tim; let me know if you try any or need any more info, enjoy, Frank

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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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