Poison dart frogs (Dendrobates sp.) are 1-2” long, largely terrestrial, diurnal amphibians from Central and South America. They can be found in a variety of different habitats, but these habitats are all generally tropical and have moisture and foliage in abundance.
Poison dart frogs have angular bodies, slender limbs, prominent eyes, pointed heads, and large feet with round toe pads. They are best known for their vibrant rainbow of colors and variety of patterns, although there are some dart frogs that are less flashy in coloration. Specific color(s) and pattern vary by species/subspecies.
Despite their name, captive-bred poison dart frogs actually pose no danger to humans. However, they are very sensitive to inappropriate husbandry and should not be handled regularly, which makes them an intermediate- to advanced-level pet amphibian. When well cared-for, these frogs can live up to 20 years.
Minimum vivarium size for poison dart frogs
Froglets should be housed in a small grow-out enclosure for up to 6 months to maximize survival and development. After this point, they can be moved to long-term housing. The permanent enclosure should offer at least 10 gallons of space per frog. 24”L x 18”W x 18”H is a good starting point for housing two poison dart frogs, but larger is appreciated and used.
Cohabitation (keeping multiple poison dart frogs in one enclosure) is common practice, but different species should not be kept together.
Do poison dart frogs need UVB?
Poison dart frogs have been proven to be able to survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting as part of the setup. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and provides other benefits.
The best UVB bulbs for poison dart frogs are:
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0
- Arcadia Forest 6%
For best results, use a bulb roughly half the length of the enclosure and housed in a reflective fixture. The frogs should be able to get no closer than 6” to the bulb. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!
Lights should be on for 12 hours/day.
Best temperature for poison dart frogs
Like other amphibians, poison dart frogs are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. They overheat easily, and if they get too cold, they can’t digest their food, so it’s important to provide the right climate.
Ambient temperature in a dart frog vivarium should stay between 72-80°F during the day, and may drop down to no lower than 65°F at night. Make sure you’re maintaining an appropriate temperature with digital probe thermometers, with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure.
If you need to warm up the vivarium a bit, stick a heat mat on the side or back of the enclosure. It’s best not to put it on the base.
If the room you plan on housing the frogs in does not have a reliable means of staying under 80°F, dart frogs are not the pet for you.
Best humidity levels for poison dart frogs
As amphibians, poison dart frogs can’t live without plenty of water, especially when they’re still just tadpoles! Ambient humidity should be between 80-100% at all times. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
Here are some ways to maintain such high levels of humidity:
- misting the enclosure 2x/day with a spray bottle or automatic misting system
- install a fogger connected to a hygrostat
- use a moisture-retentive substrate
- plant live plants
Best substrate for poison dart frogs
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help maintain correct humidity levels and helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for poison dart frogs:
- Zoo Med ReptiSoil
- Sphagnum moss
- Natural gravel/pebbles
- ABG mix
Layer with leaf litter for best results. Substrate should be totally replaced every 2 months if you are not running a bioactive setup.
How to decorate a poison dart frog vivarium
A bare-bones enclosure makes for a bored frog, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Décor options for poison dart frogs include:
- leaf litter
- seed pods
- mopani wood
- cork bark
- live or artificial plants
- misc. ornaments
Make sure your frog has covered areas to retreat to when it wants privacy.
What to feed to poison dart frogs
Poison dart frogs are insectivorous, which means that they need to eat a variety of insect prey in order to get the right nutrition. Young dart frogs should be fed daily, but adults should be fed just 4x/week to prevent obesity. Offer as many insects in one feeding as the frogs will clean up in about 15-30 minutes.
Food options for poison dart frogs:
- Bean beetles
- Black soldier fly larvae
- Dwarf isopods
- Flightless fruit flies
- Rice flour beetles
(All feeders should be 1/8" long or less.)
You will need to keep calcium and multivitamin supplements on hand to help prevent your pet from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping it live healthier. We recommend the following schedule created by NE Herpetoculture:
- Repashy Calcium Plus — every feeding
- Repashy SuperPig — weekly
- Repashy Vitamin A+ — monthly (2x/month for froglets)
How to handle your poison dart frogs
Amphibians generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do, and poison dart frogs in particular are a hands-off pet. If you absolutely have to grab your frog(s), wear a pair of nitrile gloves, grasp them firmly but gently, and keep handling time to an absolute minimum.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!