Welcome to the amazingly fun and addictive hobby of keeping poison dart frogs. As you may already know, poison dart frogs are not actually poisonous in captivity since they normally derive their toxins from the poisonous insects they eat in the wild. On a staple diet of fruit flies, isopods, and springtails, your dart frogs are completely harmless and non-toxic. You may also already know that dart frogs are very easy to keep successfully and can make exciting pets for upwards of 20 years if all conditions are right.
When first out of water, dart frogs can be kept in what is called a grow-out container for up to a maximum of 6 months, although it is optimal to place them in their forever habitat at around 3 months of age. A grow-out container is simply a 2-5 gallon clear container or small tank with a well-fitted lid, some ventilation, and with ABG or tropical substrate and leaf litter at the bottom. A plant or two and a coconut or cork bark hide are great additions to this temporary habitat. The purpose of a grow out container is simply to keep high humidity and to make food easy to find for these frogs during the most fragile stages of their life. Grow out containers also make it easy to monitor the health of your froglets. Sphagnum moss is not recommended for growouts as it loses its antibacterial properties and begins to break down after a couple of weeks, potentially leading to bacterial infections or dangerous CO2 levels for your froglets.
A permanent habitat, a vivarium, will be a self-contained ecosystem which will provide an ideal habitat for your dart frogs. A vivarium will be self-cleaning and will supply your dart frogs with both a home and a secondary food source. Vivariums are simple to build and can be built very inexpensively. Please see our instructions on how to build a vivarium
Dart frogs can eat a variety of small insects including fruit flies, pin-head crickets, bean beetles, flour beetle larva, springtails, micro roaches, and isopods. Use pinhead crickets with caution as they can quickly grow too large for your frogs to eat and can chew on your frogs while they sleep at night. Your young dart frogs will start out eating the smallest of these insects, primarily melanogaster fruit flies (dusted with vitamins!) and springtails. Once your dart frog is fully grown, and assuming you have a larger species (not Ranitomeya or Pumilio), you can feed larger fruit flies, such as hydei, and other exotic micro-feeders such as bean beetles (although their diet should never consist of more than 10% bean beetles since they are very high in chitin and can cause prolapses as chitin is hard to digest). We feed every other day and suggest offering enough flies so that at each feeding there will be just a few flies left from the previous feeding (no flies is indicative of under-feeding while lots of flies leftover is indicative of over feeding).
Dart frogs in the wild consume a wide variety of insects, all of which have consumed a wide variety of plants. Since we feed dart frogs a very simple diet of mostly flies, which consume a very simple diet themselves, dart frogs can become deficient in several important vitamins and minerals. To fill in the gaps, we "dust" our feeder with primarily two vitamin/mineral supplements blends:
Nekton Calcium + D3 (2x a week)
Nekton Multi-Rep (1x a week)
Repashy Calcium Plus (2x a week)
Repashy Supervite (1x a week)
Both combinations have been used with great success and can be combined if so wished.
To dust your feeder insects, simply shake your feeders from their culture into a container, sprinkle them with vitamins, swirl them around until fully coated, and dump into your vivarium. Dust with each vitamin as directed. If for some reason your frog develops a vitamin A deficiency, you can dust with Nekton-Rep or Repashy Vitamin A once per month. Nekton Multi-Rep, Calcium plus, and Supervite all contain vitamin A and while vitamin A can be dusted sparingly, it's possible to cause vitamin A toxicity (hypervitaminosis A) via over dusting with concentrated vitamin A with young froglets who are not utilizing the excessive vitamin A in egg production. You may also dust with a carotenoid supplement once a month optionally to increase carotenoid intake for skin coloration in red, orange, and even yellow frogs. Carotenoids can additionally be beneficial for fertility in Oophaga.
Dart frogs additionally acquire minerals via their environment and the absorb these minerals through their skin. You can provide an auxilary form of supplementation such as through our Calcium Clay Bath, which both provides beneficial minerals and a form of enrichment for your frogs.
Only use distilled water or RO water (pure water) with your dart frogs. Other types of water may contain chemicals or minerals which are harmful to your frogs and which form mineral deposits on the glass of your vivarium. Non-distilled/RO water will also clog up your misting heads eventually.
If an auto misting system is not within your budget at the moment, you can get a hand mister (we recommend USA Misters by Core Gear) to mist your frogs. If you have a fully ventilated top (not recommended) you will need to mist twice per day until there is a thin layer of water blanketing the substrate and plants, then monitor throughout the day to ensure humidity does not drop below 70%. If you have glass on top of your vivarium (we recommend getting some glass cut at any hardware store and leaving 1 inch of ventilation at the top of your vivarium only for those species which require it such as Oophaga and some Phyllobates), then you can mist less often, perhaps once a day or every other day depending on the amount of vegetation in your tank (the more vegetation, the higher the humidity). You can provide a secondary water source such as a bromeliad filled with water, nut pods that hold water, or a petri dish as long as you regularly change these water sources to prevent bacterial infections. Large water features such as a ponds are not needed for your dart frogs and can lead to drowning or bacterial infections if no filtration is used.
If you wish to set up an auto misting system, we recommend Mist King as other auto-misters can quickly break and are generally unreliable. These auto misting systems are great as they regulate humidity quite well while also reducing the amount of time you spend on tank maintenance each week. If you have questions on setting up a mist king system, please let us know so we can help you.
Dart frogs need only minimal lighting to see and do not need any heat lamps or UVB bulbs (excessive heat can actually kill them and UVB can burn their skin and eyes). In nature, dart frogs live on the forest floor, shaded and protected by the dense forest canopy above, which lets very little UV radiation through. All you need is simply a light for plant growth and for being able to see and enjoy your frogs. We recommend LED lights in the 1500-2200 lumen range for dart frogs. These lights produce minimal heat while providing enought light for your plants to photosynthesize. Most "aquarium lights" will work great and can cost as little as $10.
Many plants are suitable for your dart frogs, just always ensure that all new plants are thoroughly washed and devoid of any soils in order to decrease the likelihood of introducing pathogens, pests, or chemicals that could harm your frogs. Bromeliads, ferns, marcgravias, jewel orchids, tillandsias, mosses, and other flora can be added to regulate humidity, to absorb nutrients created by your frogs and cleanup crew, and to give your frog a comfortable habitat. The better planted your tank, the more likely your frog is to be comfortable, bold, to eventually breed if you have a mated pair or breeding group, and the less likely your frog is to be stressed. It is best to sanitize any new plants. Many methods can be used such as a 10% bleach dip followed by a thorough rinse in distilled water.
As a part of a bioactive vivarium, you will need a cleanup crew composed of primarily springtails and isopods. Springtails will eat fungi/mold and decaying organic matter, keeping your vivarium smelling nice and preventing the takeover of dangerous fungi. Springtails also act as a great secondary and renewable food source (although not a replacement for regular feedings). Isopods will eat any decaying matter including frog poop, decaying leaves, fly carcasses, etc. Isopods can also act as a secondary food source. Don't forget that beneficial fungi and bacteria (such as in our Beneficial Microbial Inoculant) play a huge role in the cycling of nutrients, the health of your plants, and in preventing the proliferation of harmful bacteria and fungi.
Ask up about which springtails and isopods are right for your particular tank as different species do better for different tasks.
Dart frogs like cool temperatures and can quickly stress and die if temperatures approach 83 degrees F or greater. Generally our frogs are kept at 70-74 degrees with the true temperature being closer to 72-76 degrees with lighting. Dart frogs can also stress and die if temperatures become too cold, generally around 65 degrees F and lower.
Our frogs are each given the love and care they deserve. Even the loss of one frog, vitamin deficiency in a frog, or malnourishment in a frog are unacceptable to us. All of our frogs are well fed (4x a week for adults, every day for froglets), given proper supplements, and kept in clean and closely monitored habitats. We constantly have a surplus of food, which means you won't find any underweight frogs from us!