by Bruno Magana – all photos by author
Dendrobates Leucomelas, or commonly referred to as simply “Leucs” are one of the more robust species of arrow frogs. These frogs are one of the most prolific and brilliantly colored species, and make excellent occupants in tropical vivariums. Stout in appearance, bumble bee arrow frogs are also one of the larger species of the genus Dendrobates and are marked with brilliant yellow and orange bands on a shiny black body. Although one of the most common species of arrow frogs kept in captivity, anyone who has had the opportunity to keep them knows without a doubt how this frog has kept and maintained its popularity in the hobby. It is an undeniably exciting arrow frog whether you’re new to the hobby or an experienced enthusiast. Like all poison arrow frogs, bumble bee arrow frogs live in the tropical rainforests of South America.
Different localities of this species range throughout Venezuela, southeastern Colombia, Northern Brazil, and Guyana. The common or ‘standard’ variety of the bumble bee arrow frog has a near equal balance of black and yellow coloration, with large blotches of black breaking the the lighter coloration. Through decades of selectively breeding bloodlines of the standard Leucomelas, there tends to be a peculiar (but non detrimental) color variation in which an orange color brings just a little more definition to the yellow, sometimes to the extremes of being almost orange and black in color. Unlike the standard variation of bumble bee, the ‘Fine spotted’ variety has bright yellow covering the majority of its black ground color. They are characterized by the many small black spots that are scattered across the frog’s back. Although this variety is not as commonly available in the pet trade when compared to the standard variety, they are certainly not impossible to find! There is also another very attractive ‘Banded” variety of bumble bee arrow frog. Thickness and color of the bands varies dramatically within the bloodline, but no black spots are present within the yellow bands going across the frogs torso.
A bumblebee with a very attractive pattern
These frogs inhabit lush tropical rainforests at high elevations in fallen logs, plants, leaf litter, and other debris. Bumble bee arrow frogs are known for being ground dwellers, but for their short and stout build they are surprisingly good climbers. They are active throughout the day during spikes of high humidity, at which time they engage in social behaviour and forage for food. In the wild bumble bee arrow frogs have a long wet season that lasts during the warmertimes of year, but is then followed by a very brief cool and dry season. The males of this species can be quite vocal, its soft spoken trill could easily be mistaken for an exotic bird. Because this behaviour is limited to what seems to be scheduled times of day, it is easy to enjoy the pleasant sound without being disturbed. In fact, to many enthusiasts the male’s singing is truly music to one’s ears. The frog’s main intention with his song is to attract females. This courting behaviour happens during the wet times of year, when food and water is plentiful. Water is key to the rudimentary stages of their life cycle. Eggs can only survive in moist conditions and larvae (or tadpoles) start life aquatically in small shallow pockets of water. For these reasons, it is easily understood why adult bumble bee arrow frogs time their courting behaviour with seasonal conditions. During the the dry season, bumble bee arrow frogs will reduce overall activity and will usually hide under debris to protect their permeable skin from the dry air. Following pockets of moisture, the frogs will continue to eat small prey items throughout the dry season. Luckily many small insects have to follow the same pockets of humidity in this season, so the occasional meal is never far.
Having a general idea of the seasonal habits and behaviour of these frogs is an important factor to keep this animal happy in captivity. Although the bumble bee arrow frog does thrive in social groups, one must not go overboard with housing this frog with too many tank mates.
They do best if kept in female heavy groups of five or less individuals depending on the size of the enclosure you provide for them. It is possible to keep a steady group of younger frogs in a heavily planted ten gallon tank, but it is recommended to go big if you intend to breed bumble bee arrow frogs as adults. Keeping in mind that although this frog spends lots of time on the ground, they will also climb so it is best to make a vertically oriented vivarium to allow these frogs to indulge in their natural activities.
A glass tank measuring 18 x 18 x 24” can provide a suitable habitat for a group of three adults. Make sure to add some foliage to the vivarium, live or plastic, as this will reduce stress and encourage natural behaviour.
Like all amphibians, water is a necessity that encourages regular activity so be sure to mist the cage with water two to three times a day and always provide a small and shallow water source for bathing (they will rehydrate by soaking their bodies). The goal is for the humidity to spike around 60% during the day, and somewhere around 90% at night.
It is important to remember that humidity is not supposed to stay consistent so go easy on yourself when misting your enclosure. This routine can be made simple by using an automatic misting system to help schedule humidity spikes. Using distilled water will keep hard water stains from distorting the visibility of the glass enclosure and is much safer than using dechlorinated tap.
Bumble bee arrow frogs usually feed after it rains, so it is best to mimic their natural routine and feed them a good meal once a day after a nice shower. Bumble bee arrow frogs will eat a variety of available foods like small or pinhead crickets, fruit flies, and springtails. It is also recommended to use a fine powdered multivitamin and calcium with D3 to sprinkle on feeder insects (best used on crickets), this supplementation should ensure the frog is getting the necessary nutrients from its diet. Supplementing the diet can be done once a week, but only use one supplement at a time to ensure the frogs can metabolize the meal properly.
Bumble Bee Arrow frogs will readily breed year round if the right conditions are provided, but it is recommended to have an off season to mimic the dry season the would experience in the wild. This dry season happens between the months of January and February, but remember, the word “dry” is only relative considering the tropical climate. You still want levels of humidity to spike at around 50 % during the day and 60% at night for at least three to 6 weeks. Maintain regular feeding routines, even though your frogs may be hiding, they will still need to eat duringtimes of slow activity. After this cycle or dry season, regular routines can start again. Bumping up humidity will increase the frogs behaviour, and your frogs should soon engage in courting rituals. Males will call after humidity spikes during the day. If more than one male is present, they will often call after the other to establish territory and compete for any nearby females. Calling sites are usually near suitable egg laying sites. Once a female decides to enter a male’s territory, he will take immediate interest in showing the female the chosen site, usually done by taking short jumps towards an interested female. Nesting sites are are usually smooth surfaces with heavy moisture present. In captivity, these frogs will nest in plants such as fallen leaf litter or bromeliads, black film containers, and in petri dishes under coconut hides. Once the frogs have entered a nest site, spawning will take place usually out of sight, and may stay in the nest for a few days after.
Many people have relative success in raising frogs by simply keeping up with regular routine for the vivarium. Letting the adults handle business, it’s possible to one day realize there are a couple of new additions to your arrow frog vivarium. Of course, letting this happen creates a big range of possibilities that you as a keeper have no control over. For example, two new froglets could have possibly have been six if the eggs were removed from the cage and incubated artificially in a moist petri dish. Having that control will increase the success rates of rearing arrow frog larvae. and raising young metamorphs. Of course there is a lot of work involved in maintaining water quality, temperatures, and food for tadpoles on a daily basis – being involved with this amazing process is not only rewarding for the species, but also rewarding to you as the keeper. Whether your goal is to produce a number of frogs, or simply to have a little piece of paradise in your room, the bumble bee arrow frog is a wonderful species to work with for enthusiasts of all levels of experience.