By Anthony Neubauer
The Golfodulcean Dart Frog is a classic to the dart frog hobby that comes from the dense rainforests of Costa Rica. Adults grow to a decent size of 1”-1.5”, and are attractively colored. Their care is relatively easy provided a few essential steps are taken to ensure their survival. They tend to be more heard than seen, often fleeing when approached. However, their singing makes up for their lack of boldness. The call is a loud trill that can be heard from somewhat of a distance. It is by no means annoying, and adds to the “coolness” of this species. They also breed like rabbits, with my group producing clutches every 2 weeks. If you’re looking to getting into keeping and breeding dart frogs, you’ve found the ideal frog for you.
As the name suggests, wild Phyllobates are extremely toxic. Although vittatus are not as poisonous as their relatives such as P. terribilis, they still pack a deadly touch. Their toxin is a neurotoxic alkaloid that causes severe pain, mild to severe seizures, and sometimes even paralysis in extreme cases. In captivity, even wild caught specimens quickly lose their toxic nature. This is because their poisons are produced through their natural diet of poisonous ants, which is obviously not present in captive diets.
As with all dart frogs, poison is of no concern unless dealing with freshly wild caught specimens.
Choosing an enclosure
When it comes to choosing a tank for any dart frog, one must consider their need for a high humidity level. The terrariums manufactured by Exo Terra are a favorite among many dart frog enthusiasts, including myself. The front access doors making the daily spraying, checking for eggs or tadpoles, and other maintenance a breeze. I currently house my group of 5 in an Exo Terra that measures 36” x 18” x 24”. This is definitely larger than necessary, however they use every inch of floor space, and males can often be seen calling from the top of the cage. A good rule of thumb is to start with around 10 gallons or equivalent space for a pair, and add 5-10 gallons per additional frog. This species does fine in groups, although females will eat each others eggs if they cannot lay them apart from each other
The author’s vitattus enclosure.
Creating a “slice of rainforest”
I have been housing my group of 5, consisting of 3 males and 2 females, in a planted vivarium with great success. The idea is to recreate a slice of the rainforest where these frogs come from. Bromeliads are a great way to brighten up the cage, as well as provide water and egg laying/ tadpole rearing sites. Ferns, philodendrons, and begonias are also great choices that will thrive in a dart frog tank. You want to provide a lot of places and vegetation for your frogs to hide in to feel secure. Oak and Magnolia tree leaf litter is also a good way to add attractive ground cover. Vittatus tend to live close to rivers and streams, so adding a water feature would not be a bad idea. However, I have not found it necessary for my own tank, so it is up to you which route you’d like to take. You will want to spray the cage every day, or however often it takes to make the humidity level peak at 80%, and then dissipate to around 60% throughout the day. A fogger such as Zoo Med’s Reptifogger will also aid in upping humidity, especially during the winter when so many of us are drying the air with heaters.
I feed my adult frogs small to medium crickets every other day to every three days when they are being put through a dry spell. When I start spraying more frequently again, they are fed every day, since they lay their eggs at this time and need the extra nutrients. Younger frogs are fed fruit flies daily until they can handle the small crickets. I supplement their diet by dusting insects twice a month with a Vitamin A supplement produced by Repashy. I have had highest fertility and healthy tadpoles with this schedule. One of my favorite attributes of these frogs is their ability to eat small to medium crickets with no problem.
If you are caring for your frogs correctly and have males and females, you will get eggs without question. I have learned to control when my frogs lay eggs to an extent, by increasing feeding and spraying. I cycle my group with 1-2 weeks of heavy spraying, during which they are fed daily, followed by 2 weeks of light spraying and less frequent feeding. During the “wet spell”, males are heard calling all day, but more frequently when the lights go out around 9-10. They lay eggs at this time. Calling is at a minimal when going through a “drought”. Coconut hides on top of 4.5” deli cup lids are placed throughout the floor of the tank, and used as egg laying sites. I check these daily during the wet spell, and pull eggs a couple days after discovering them to allow time for males to fertilize them. This is where having a male heavy group comes into play, as the more males you have, the greater chance of one finding the eggs and fertilizing them.
Egg and Tadpole Care
After pulling the eggs, I clean any dirt and feces off the lid, and place it into a larger deli cup with moist paper towels.I store the eggs on a shelf in my open closet, with low ambient light. The temperature stays around 70-73 degrees Fahrenheit. I have noticed that at these lower temperatures, the eggs and tadpoles take longer to morph out, but result in larger and healthier babies. You can see the tadpoles develop through the clear eggs, and eventually break out of the egg. Once they emerge, I put them individually in a 32 ounce tall deli cup filled half way with half Reverse Osmosis water (which locals can purchase at any of our retail stores!), and half “tadpole tea” which I make by boiling magnolia leaves in water until the water turns brown from the tanins. I also add a magnolia leaf placed diagonally out of the water for a resting place, as well as extra food for the tadpoles. I feed my tadpoles every 3-4 days with HBH tadpole pellets. Once they have all of their legs and half adult colors, I move them into a 6.75” diameter delicupplaced at a 30 degree angle with moss at the top and a little of the tadpoles water and the leaf in the bottom. At this time, the tadpole looks like a baby frog with a tail. They stop eating, and begin gaining nutrients exclusively from absorbing their tail. Usually within a week, they fully absorb their tail, and will be hopping around the Sphagnum moss. I then remove them and place them into a 9.75” diameter deli cup with moss as a substrate, and a pothos plant clipping and leaf litter. They begin eating melanogaster fruit flies in 4-7 days, and then can be kept as an adult.
One of the author’s tadpoles growing!
Phyllobates vittatus is a great introduction into dart frog keeping. Their impressive colors and calls makes them fun to keep. They are forgiving for a dart frog, so they’re perfect for someone who is wanting to dive into dart frogs, but is unsure where to start. They also produce clutches every few weeks, so if you fail at keeping the eggs or tadpoles alive, you will have many chances to learn and get it right. Unfortunately these frogs are extremely underrated. Not a ton of people are breeding them because they are not as bold as other members in their genus. However, they can be found at affordable prices, especially when available on our website. Pick up a group and give them a try! You won’t be disappointed.