Owning One of the World’s Deadliest – March 2014

By Noah Collins

Dart frogs have made their way into the herpetology field. Though some species are quite deadly in the wild, a simple change in diet stops the production of poison for captive specimens. In captivity, dart frogs are fed a diet that consists mainly of flightless fruit flies or crickets. Drosophila hydei and Drosphila melanogaster, the most common fruit fly species used used, as well as crickets are not rich in the alkaloids needed to produce the frog’s poison. In the wild, dart frogs feed on invertebrates from Central and South America where insects rich in theses alkaloids thrive. The frogs are able to synthesis these alkaloids from their prey in order to produce their toxins. As dart frogs secrete poison that predators must ingest, rather than actively injecting toxins into prey (the way venomous snakes do), they are considered poisonous rather than venomous. In fact, some dart frog species are considered the most poisonous animals on planet Earth. In order for a frog to harm another organism the toxin must enter the body through a cut or be ingested. Fortunately, captive dart frogs pose no risk of hurting humans.

Bumblebee Dart Frog – Dendrobates leucomelas

One of the most interesting species of poison dart frogs is the Golden dart frog (Phyllobates terribilis). This species of dart frog, when encountered in its natural habitat, is the most lethal. In the wild this species can create a poison called Batrachotoxin. Batrachotoxin is classified as a neurotoxin, and usually causes an organism to suffer from cardiac arrest. There is currently no cure for an individual who has had Batrachotoxin poisoning. This poison is so powerful that it is said to be much stronger than Morphine. The Phyllobates genus of poison dart frogs contain the only species of dart frogs that can create this poison. Due to the high toxicity, Amazonian natives use the frogs in the genus Phyllobates to hunt. The natives gently wipe their darts or arrows on the frogs back so that their prey will die when the darts or arrows stab into their bodies. This way the natives do not have to hit their targets with a lethal shot, but rather just pierce the skin so that the prey will succumb to the poison. The terms “Dart Frogs” and “Arrow Frogs” commonly referred to by hobbyists, derive from the way natives use them to hunt.  The term is generally applied to any of the small, brightly colored South American frogs, but only 3 of the most toxic species from the Phyllobates genus are actually used by Amazonians to poison the tips of their darts.

Some of the most common types of dart frogs in captivity are of the Dendrobates family. The Bumblebee dart frogs (Dendrobates Leucomelas) are one of the most abundant dart frog in captivity.  Bumblebee dart frogs produce a different kind of poison than the golden dart frogs do in the wild. Bumblebee dart frogs, as well as other Dendrobates species of dart frogs, produce Pumiliotoxin. Although this toxin is not as potent as Batrachotoxin, it still can be very dangerous. Even being hundreds of times less potent than Batrachotoxin, Pumiliotoxin causes paralysis, difficulty moving, and in severe cases death. This toxin causes irregular muscle contractions, putting the heart at risk.

Another species of dart frogs that is capable of producing Pumiliotoxin is the Dendrobates tinctorious, or the dyeing dart frog. One color variety is commonly mistaken for being a unique species – the blue azureus locale.  This frog is very unique in its display of vibrant blue colors. Each frog has a unique pattern of black spots on its back making it possible to identify between other frogs of the same type. This is similar the Bumblebee dart frogs because each Bumblebee dart frog has a unique banding that can be used to tell the frogs apart. These are frogs all have unique patters that distinguish them individually in a similar way that finger prints are used to distinguish human apart.  They also have different morphs of dart frogs in captivity. These morphs are caused through selective breeding. Breeders have created banded Bumblebee dart frogs where solid bands of black and yellow wrap the frog.

There are hundreds of types of poison dart frogs available to be kept as pets. Most species can live five to seven years in captivity. Because they have a decent life span in captivity, there is large number of offspring that can come from just a single pair. This is allowing them to become easily available and due to the sheer number available, new morphs are being created regularly in more species than just the Bumblebee dart frogs.

Since dart frogs cannot make poisons in captivity, they can make a great display pet for hobbyists because they are diurnal (awake during the day). Most dart frogs have vibrant colors used in the wild to show that they are dangerous and warn predators to stay away. Because of this, a dart frog’s security does not come from hiding like most animal species, but rather from being out in the open displaying warning colors. The dart frogs in captivity behave in the same ways they behave in the wild. Most dart frogs are not going to hide or sleep all day. This makes them a great “show” animal. Dendrobates auratus dart frogs are green and black, and their patterns often resemble a camo design. Again, each design is unique to each frog. They are one of the few dart frogs that are green in color. Although these frogs blend in to the green environment around them more so than species like the  Dendrobates tinctorious, they still stand out. Species like the Dendrobates auratus are a little shyer in captivity. Though they are out during the day, they are quicker to hide than other dart frogs if spooked. This type of shy behavior can be related to how potent the frog’s poison would be in the wild. Usually the most poisonous are brightly colored and the less poisonous are more likely to be subtly colored.  Although color can be used to describe how toxic the frogs can be, size does not relate to the toxicity of the animal.

There are species of dart frogs that stay very small like the blue jean (Dendrobates pumilio) dart frog. These frogs get no bigger than the average person’s thumbnail. This gives this group of frogs the widely used name of Thumbnail frogs. Most Thumbnail frogs are kept by experienced keepers because they can be less hardy than other species of dart frogs. Tinctorious species of dart frogs can get much bigger than thumbnail species. Some of these frogs get over two inches in length. Most Tinctorious species are territorial and will often bully other frogs of smaller size. Unlike the golden poison dart frogs who live in small groups, called an army, the Tinctorious species are more of loners in the wild. In captivity however, they can often be housed in pairs or trios. As long as the frogs are of similar size and have adequate room to roam around, they can do just fine together.  It is best to monitor your frogs closely when first introducing them, though, to ensure that there is no bullying between individuals.

Dart frogs are an animal that many scientists have taken an interest into studying. They are also making their way into the pet world and proving to be some of the most unique pets.  I highly suggest keeping one or more for yourself – there’s tons of species out there to try! 

Care and Reproduction of the Golfodulcean Arrow Frog – March 2014

By Anthony Neubauer

Introduction

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.

Poison

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.

Feeding

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.

Breeding

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!

In Conclusion

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.

Beautiful Bumblebees: Care and Maintenance of Bumblebee Arrow Frogs – November 2013

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.