Can you really own and keep poison dart frogs... those beautifully vibrant and colorful frogs that you see at the zoo? People have them as pets? The answer to those questions is: YES!
The most common question I get when telling people that I keep poison dart frogs is; "But, aren't they poisonous?!" They do carry that name for a reason. In the wild, several species do in fact carry the poisonous toxins in their skin, which they get through their specific diet of wild ants. There is actually one frog in particular - Phyllobytes terribilis (or the Golden Dart Frog) - that has enough toxin to kill 10 grown men! For many centuries, indigenous natives of South America would use this toxin to coat their blowgun darts, which is where these frogs got their nickname. In captivity, however, it is nearly impossible to replicate the same wild diet which creates the toxicity.
So, the short answer is: Captive bred dart frogs are not poisonous.
They are, though, extremely colorful, vibrant, energetic and delightful animals to watch and view in captivity. Inside a naturalistic vivarium that allows them to thrive, they are amazing creatures to observe, and will fascinate both children and adults of all ages. I can sit for hours at a time just watching them do their thing. If you are lucky enough to get a male/female pair, they may even start breeding, which allows you the unique and rare privilege to see what not many people on earth get to witness. The parental care of tadpoles these frogs exhibit is extremely uncommon in most animals. It really is amazing!
The majority of poison dart frog species are found naturally in the rain forest habitats of Central and South America. There are more than 100 species of dart frogs in the world today, varying in a myriad of colors and patterns. It's these bright colors that warn predators of their toxic skin. Some non-poisonous species have actually evolved to mimic other nearby poisonous frogs' coloring as a defense mechanism. Generally, most dart frog species are either terrestrial and prefer to live and forage on the forest floor, or arboreal, preferring to spend their time higher up in the trees and canopies. Some species of larger dart frogs (many Dendrobates and Phyllobates species) can grow upwards of 2-1/2 to 3 inches in length, while other smaller species (Ranitomeya, Oophaga, and Ameerega) will only grow to about 1/2 to 1 inch as adults. These smaller species are often referred to as "thumbnail darts" - as they are usually small enough to fit on an adult human's thumbnail!
In the wild, dart frogs eat a variety of insects found within the rain forest, such as spiders, ants and termites, which they track with their incredibly excellent vision. They then use their lightning-fast long, sticky tongues to snatch and gobble them up. In captivity, dart frogs are fed a staple diet of small, flightless fruit flies, as well as springtails, isopods and sometimes pinhead crickets. Captive dart frogs are unable to get their full range of necessary vitamins they would normally get in the wild, so their food is dusted with vitamins to help keep them happy and healthy. In captivity, some poison dart frogs can live over 10 years.
Another amazing fact about poison dart frogs is the male frog's ability to "call" to his mate to initialize their mating habits. These calls vary through the different species and can sound like a cricket's chirp, a loud trill, or a faint buzzing. Some even have calls that sound like an exotic bird. The males use these calls to attract their female mates, as well as communicate several other important mating or parental activities, such as telling the female that it's time to feed the babies (tadpoles)! Males will also call to fend off or warn other male frogs who might wander into their territories. When this happens, it is common for males to show aggression towards each other by wrestling until one is deemed the victor and the other bounds away.
These are just a few fun facts about these incredible creatures. If you are lucky enough to experience these animals close up and in person, you will soon realize just how amazing they really are. If you choose a Frog Forest Designs vivarium that includes poison dart frogs, you will get to witness first hand some of the above habits - and even more!
Check out this list of: Top 20 Reasons Poison Dart Frogs Make Great Pets!
Here is a great article from Understory Enterprises on Dart Frog Toxicity
A Dendrobates tinctorius Azureus enjoys exploring the forest floor.
P. terribilis, the "Terrible Dart Frog" , is the most toxic vertebrate animal on Earth!
An Oophaga pumilio Punta Laurel resting on the leaf litter.
An Oophaga pumilio El Dorado hiding out in a bromeliad axil - a favorite spot for dart frogs!
This beautiful Ranitomeya fantastica Caynarachi is shown carrying a tadpole on his back, ready to drop off in water.
A Ranitomeya imitator Varadero froglet with a strikingly solid orange head.
An Oophaga pumilio 'Charco la Pava' shows off some amazing hues of red/orange and blue.
A Dendrobates leucomela, also known as the Bumblebee Dart Frog makes for a perfect pet.