Poison dart frogs in captivity are not poisonous” I told my mother, with my face pressed upon the glass of a frog tank at the veterinarian’s office.
We were taking my cockatiel, Laverne, for a checkup.
This was not the first time I had seen poison dart frogs. I had traveled to a handful of the zoos in the Northeast, where the animals were displayed in jewel cases placed inside synthetic fallen trees. If the vet’s office, a non-zoological facility, could keep them, did that mean everyday people could keep these gems of the rainforest?
A short 15 years later, I got my answer. Their bright colors, small stature and ease of feeding make them very appealing. There are many species of poison dart frogs, but rarely do they get larger than three inches.
Their cost and habitat requirements make them more suited for an intermediate or advanced pet caregiver. Their cost ranges from $40 to over $200 for individuals, which reduces impulse purchases and persuades pet caregivers to do thorough research beforehand, a train of thought I can easily hop on to.
Joe Brozek has an animal management degree and has cared for poison dart frogs for two years. When asked why he keeps frogs, Brozek responded, “Why not,” enthusiastically.
“They are easy to care for and gorgeous animals.”
Currently he has two dyeing dart frog adults, 16 froglets, or juvenile frogs, and eight tadpoles. The three most common frogs as pets are the bumblebee dart frog, which are yellow and black; dyeing dart frogs, which are blue, yellow and black; or a third species which can be either include green, blue or bronze with black.
“They like their native climate to be replicated,” Brozek said. “This includes temperatures 70 to 85 degrees and humidity at 70 percent or higher. If their temperature gets too high, they can dry out. Frogs have very thin skin and can easily dry out. The humidity can be maintained by misting them daily with de-chlorinated water, not tap water.”
With their sensitive, thin skin, tap water’s chemical composition could harm them. To keep the humidity high in the enclosure live plants should be added.
“Dart frogs are known to love bromeliad plants, which can be found at any nursery, along with soft, sphagnum moss for them to hop on,” Brozek said.
In captivity they are fed fruit flies or newly hatched crickets.
“If your frogs aren’t getting the calcium they need, they can seem very lazy and not want to move,” Brozek said.
He recommends dusting the food with a calcium and vitamin supplement designed for amphibians.
While there are not frog toys, there are other methods of enrichment you can provide your frog.
“You can mix up what they are eating or change their feeding times or location to keep them guessing,” Joe said.
Changing the habitat furnishings, like the hiding spots, rocks or logs, is another form of enrichment.
While the domestic poison dart frog is not poisonous, the wild frogs are.
“In the wild, these frogs eat locally specific ants that allow them to produce these toxins,” Brozek said. “In the wild, these frogs secrete a very poisonous toxin from their skin; even the scientific name of one species, P. terribilis, refers to the terrible effects of touching this animal. In captivity however, we do not feed them these ants or any type of ant so they are just like touching any other frog.”
But just because you can touch something doesn’t mean you should.
“I do not recommend picking them up and playing with them,” Brozek said.
He explained that our skin is salty from our sweat and oils that the pores in our skin make, which could affect the frogs’ skin. Also, if you were to purchase a frog that came from the wild, it could still have traces of toxicity in the skin. Luckily, for us and the poison dart frogs, they are commonly bred in captivity.
Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan”