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Dart Frog - Care Sheet

Poison Dart Frog Care Sheet

  • Vital Statistics
    Life spans of up to 20 years
    Size ranges from .5" – 2.5".
    From the tropical areas of Central and South America
    Habitats include the leaf litter on the forest floor to high up in the canopy
    Temperature 70F – 80F is ideal SUSTAINED TEMPS OF 85  ARE FATAL
    Humidity 80% - 100%

  • Toxicity
     Wild caught specimens are likely toxic, and it is recommended to wash your hands before and after if you must handle them. Captive bred specimens do not have the same toxins in their skin as their wild counterparts, and while it is still recommended to wash your hands before and after handling them, they are not considered poisonous as they lose their toxicity in captivity due to a lack of their indigenous diet.
  • Dart Frogs Size
    Poison dart frog term in itself encapsulates a large variety of species and a rainbow of colors. They are all relatively small varying from 12-13mm to 50-55mm. The smallest commonly grouped in with the term “Thumbnail” due to them at adult size being able to fit the size of your nail. The largest are terribilis in the phyllobates species.
  • Housing
    These frogs do best in a vivarium that has adequate drainage, is well planted, and has many hides available for security. The substrate in the vivarium is a complex layering of ingredients that help the frogs and plants thrive. This allows for the soil to be adequately aerated for the plants, but also pull the excess moisture away from the frogs.The bottom layer of the vivarium should have a substrate that will not break down in water. (Hydroballs work well here). This layer should be at least 1 - 2 inches deep. Covering this layer, is yard fabric or fine plastic screen. On top of the yard fabric, a layer of activated charcoal helps detoxify accumulating waste.   Above this level is your healthy soil. Organic mixes that have no chemical fertilizers or insecticides added are important (ABG Atlanta Botanical Garden mix or TerraFauna from Biodude). This level should be at least 4-5 inches deep. This is your planting soil. Create an interesting terrain with different heights in the terrarium. Plant larger plants in back and shorter plants in front for a layered look. Install your hides and water feature. Lastly, add the damp moss, leaves, flat smooth rocks around your plantings for the final effect.  Be sure all cage furniture is secure and cannot harm the frogs. We do recommend periodic soil disturbance via gentle tiling every 2-3 months. The moss will need replacement at this time. Soil should be fully renewed every 6 months if you don’t maintain the bio-activity in the tank with Springtails and Isopods. This allows you to remove any toxins that have accumulated and redecorate. Do not disturb the garden fabric or the clay balls as they are areas where beneficial bacteria live. Never allow water to accumulate above the clay balls. The plants are watered through daily misting.
  • Lighting and Temperature
    Dart frogs thrive in the mid-70s. They cannot withstand warm temperatures so the tank should not ever get above 80 degrees. Temperatures can get as low as 60 degrees at night. UVB lighting is often not used in dart frogs and they seem to thrive without UVB as long as D3 is supplemented orally. However, using UVB is not harmful unless you will cause temperatures to exceed 80 degrees as sustained temperatures around 85F will be fatal.
  • Water/Humidity
    Do make sure there are adequate water features available. This can be a simple bowl or two (extremely shallow and easy to exit) or a recirculating system. The key is to always have clean, chlorine, and chloramine free water available. Humidity is provided by the vivarium but must be supplemented with either daily misting or a fogger system. This must not make the vivarium soggy. Adequate drainage is a must have! Humidity should be high at 80% or above. Be sure you have a thermometer and hygrometer to monitor temperature and humidity. If you see your frogs seeking out this water habitually you then know you aren’t providing enough humidity in the tank and/or misting often enough.
  • Diet
    These frogs start out on springtails. flightless fruit flies, springtails, isopods, rice flour beetles/larvae and pinhead crickets are options (only terribilis can consume pinheads). All insects must be dusted with a premium vitamin supplement that includes calcium, D3, and vitamin A only monthly. Feeding occurs daily especially for the young frogs. Mature frogs may be fed every other day unless actively producing eggs. If this is the case, continue the daily feeding. Generally, and adult frog will take about a half teaspoon of insects daily. Reduce this feeding if these insects aren’t completely consumed in one day. Choose a feeding area and use a flat, shallow dish to pour the insects onto (placing a slice of banana here can keep the fruit flies in place). This allows for easy cleaning and your frogs will habituate to this area at feeding time. Dart frogs are day feeders (Diurnal), so you should be able to get a good look at them during feeding.
  • Handling
    Handling is strongly advised against unless absolutely necessary, as these frogs will stress extremely easily. When you need to move them, use a clean tub with a lid and gentle coax them into it. You can easily crush these delicate frogs with your fingers. If there is a valid reason that you need to touch them, wear nitrile gloves. This will protect the frog from anything you may have on your skin.
  • Common Disorders
    Spindly leg There are many theories on the exact cause of spindly leg syndrome. On theory is that there is a lack of B vitamins in the food of the tadpoles or the adult breeders. It is also believed that there is a genetic predisposition to SLS and that things like a lack of sufficient vitamins or poor water quality can trigger this condition in the tads and newly morphed frogs.
    Short tongue This syndrome is when the tongue becomes deformed or too short but that the mucus glands are being clogged with an overgrowth of cells in the ducts and therefore their tongues actually are not sticky enough to catch prey. This overgrowth of cells lining the mucus gland ducts is called squamousmetaplasia  and is due to a vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A is necessary for bone metabolism, skin integrity and eyesight among other functions. Vitamin A is only active within the first 6 months of opening powdered supplement jars and only if stored in a cool, dry environment. There is no evidence (yet) that amphibians can metabolize and use the precursors of vitamin A (carotenoids) so use a product that has vitamin A in it and not just beta- carotene.
    Chytrid fungus- Chytridiomycosis is an infectious disease that affects amphibians worldwide. It is caused by the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), a fungus capable of causing sporadic deaths in some amphibian populations and 100 per cent mortality in others. This can be introduced into your collection by not taking proper quarantine steps of new wild caught amphibians, or collecting plant, sticks leaf litter outside without proper care of sterilization.

Wild caught amphibians have a lengthy quarantine requiring worming and preventative baths/dosage of Baytil.


Parasites Wild caught specimens will all most likely have parasites. You will want to do 2 doses of Panacur to ensure this has been addressed and follow appropriate quarantine practices.
Skin infection This can occur for a variety of reasons but typically is due to the tank’s bioactivity not being enough to sustain the waste, be the tank too small, not enough micro fauna, too wet being some of the typical reasons. Amphibians, especially ground dwelling species, can come into direct contact with various bacteria and fungi constantly which will be living in the soil or water or present on the insects they eat. If the frog is healthy, these "environmental" pathogens will not cause any problems. But when the animal is stressed or these pathogens build up in an enclosed environment (such as a keeper's tank in captivity), these bacteria and fungi can overwhelm the animal and cause infection.