Beginners Guide to Dart Frog Care: top 10 secrets to success – part 3

Written by on January 13, 2015 in Captive Care with 0 Comments
The metallic looking Green Dart frog, Dendrobates auratus - one of the easiest species to keep. Photo: Geoff Gallice

This is the last of a three part series looking at the top 10 secrets to success for keeping poison dart frogs in captivity.  Part 1 looked at choosing which species to keep, with part 2 focusing on getting the micro-climate right.  Now it’s time to get creative with the vivarium’s interior design.

Part 3 – Vivarium design:

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9. Interior Design: Many hobbyists really go to town with this, creating amazing miniature worlds including rare orchids and water features.  These ‘show tanks’ can create a stunning center piece for a room – a bit like a terrestrial version of a tropical fish tank.  Dart frogs themselves are typically quite happy with slightly more modest accommodation.  The basic things to consider are as follows;
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a. Substrate: There are many ways to design and cover the base of the vivarium but there are two basic things to consider.

  • Drainage layer: This is important to prevent plants from becoming over watered, while maintaining a  ±1” water depth across the base of the vivarium that acts as a reservoir to ensure the surface of the substrate is always damp.  This is most simply achieved using a 1” – 2” / 25mm – 50mm thick layer of lightweight expanded clay aggregate, ‘LECA’.  This needs to be covered with a layer of geo-textile fabric to prevent the soil layer above from getting into and clogging the drainage.  The water line should be maintained at about ½” below this point.
  • Surface layer: The second key element is a specialist soil mix used to form the top surface.  Either a proprietary peat moss based ‘jungle soil’ mix or ground coconut fiber can be used, with most hobbyist preferring the use of a specialist soil.  Finally some dried leaves and moss should be added, as many species hunt for insects in leaf litter in the wild and provides hiding places.  The surface layer should be a minimum 1” – 2” / 25mm – 50mm thick but can be much deeper in places and used as part of the interior design to create slopes and other landscaped features.
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b. Background: This is not only aesthetic but used for climbing and hiding as well as an anchor for attaching plants.  This can also take many forms, from highly customized designs including water features and pieces of serialized wood, used in show tanks, to simple setups using pieces of pressed cork bark.  At least partially covering the sides is also a good idea, allowing your darts to retreat ‘into the depths’ of their home to give a sense of security, often resulting in bolder behavior.
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c. Hiding places: These are needed to reduce stress between frogs, help territories be established, give a sense of security and are used as breeding places.  Not providing enough can result in shy, timid frog which at worst can result in lack of feeding – this leading to malnutrition and even death.  Cork bark, serialized branches (obtained from specialist pet stores) and lush planting are often used, with the background also playing an important role. A half coconut shell is a great addition when keeping ground dwelling species like Dendrobates, this being used as a breeding hut.
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d. Plants: Having a couple of bromeliads is a must but avoid varieties with hard serrated edges that can harm your frogs.  As mentioned, their health will act as a good indicator that the internal micro-climate is favorable for your darts.  A well planted vivarium will also create lots of hiding places which your frogs will thank you for.
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10. Further Research: The importance of this should not be under estimated.  There are a wide variety of dart frogs which are successfully kept in captivity and bred.  Understanding the options available to you and the particularities of the different species will help you reach the goal of most hobbyist – to successfully breed and raise your own beautiful dart frogs –– what could be more rewarding than that!  There are several excellent books available, with websites like this one being a great resource.


Read the previous parts of this series:  Part 1 – Choosing what to keep;  Part 2 – Getting the micro-climate right


Photo credit:  Geoff Gallice

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