Welcome to the Dart Frog Hobby

Before you start please take the time to read a little bit about the nautral history of dart frogs. Understanding where they come from will help us understand what they need.

The rainforest canopies of Central and South America are dramatic environments. Without moist earth to stabilize the temperatures, or dense foliage for insulation, these lush green canopies under go constant climatic changes - unlike the rainforest floor. Orchids originating from these heights have evolved to thrive with drenching rains followed by drought, with warm bright sunny days followed by cool nights.

A small (~2cm tall) epaphilic orchid (Schoenorchis franigrans)in bloom.

A group of bromiliads growing from a stump.
In this world of change another group of plants, the bromeliads, serve as an oasis in the treetops. Bromeliads are members of the Bromeliaceae or pineapple family and are indigenous to subtropical regions of Central, South, and North America. Many are epiphytic, clinging to trees, shrubs or rocks while taking nourishment from the air. Their stiff overlapping leaves form axils or cups that form small pools of rain water. These pools are sanctuaries for insects, spiders, crabs, salamanders and frogs.

My favorite visitors to these bromeliad 'safe harbors' are poison dart frogs. Poison dart frogs are vivid, diversely colored, diurnal frogs from the family Dendrobatidae found in Central and South America. These frogs "sweat" toxins to protect themselves from being eaten by predators. The frogs produce no toxins on their own, ironically all of their toxins come from poisonous insects eaten by the frogs. The nickname "poison dart frog" comes from two golden-yellow species found in Columbia (Phyllobates terribilis an P. bicolor)* whose toxins are used by native hunters as poison to blow gun darts.

D. lamasii male transporting a tadpole

The reproduction of some poison dart frogs is tightly linked to bromeliads. Their rainforest home is teeming with life. It is hard for frogs to find a safe nursery pool for their babies, tadpoles, because most bodies of water have fish, insects and even other tadpoles that would easily eat the small dart frog tadpoles. These vivid little frogs have evolved a simple answer: they use the bromeliad pools. Bromeliads are often on limbs, high in the tree canopy, where the water in the axils is frequently refreshed by the rain. These little pools are too small and inaccessible for most predators and perfect nurseries for dart frog tadpoles.

The poison dart frogs start by courting for a number of hours. The male calls and dances around until a female shows interest. She will attempt to rub his back while he'll try to lead her to a mating site, usually some dead leaves. The eggs are laid on the ground or on firm leaves off the ground and one of the parents guards the eggs for around two weeks while the eggs develop into tadpoles. The mother coaxes the tadpoles to wriggle up onto her back and then she climbs high into the trees to search for bromeliads (often in the family Guzmania, Vriesea, or Neoregelia). She searches until she finds an unoccupied bromeliad axil and drops off her tadpoles, each to its own, individual axils. Everyday or two she travels back to these exact axils that contain her tadpoles and lays an egg or two to feed her childeren. She feeds each tadpole for up to two months until it metamorphoses into a frog, which then hops off to carry on this interesting way of life .

In a well constructed vivarium, with a good group of healthy dart frogs, you can watch this entire story unfold in your home.

So Welcome to the world of dart frogging!

The following pages are a gathering of my experiences along with ideas gained from countless conversations with other froggers. This pages will help you decide if the hobby is right for you, as well as help you make a successful start into it.

The hobby of keeping frogs, which includes keeping dart frogs, is in it's infancy. Though frogging and dart frogging has gone on form many years, very little of the process has been standardized. Also little that has been standardized is fully right. I've endeavored to give you a solid start (if you follow these pages) and in time you'll find ways to improve it, and build on this great hobby.

When you have read through these pages please give me your comments. tlinbo@u.washington.edu

A Dart Frogger's Responsiblities

Is Dart Frogging Right for you? (a questionaire to test your if this hobby is for you)

Starting with the Firebelly Toad (the perfect amphibian to try before keeping Dart Frogs)

Setting Up a Terrarium

Picking a Dart Frog to Keep

Where to look to for further Dart Frog Help

Copyright © 2007-2013, Tor Linbo & Trevor Anderson, tlinbo@u.washington.edu. All rights reserved. No part of this web site may be duplicated or retransmitted without the expressed permission of the authors. Based heavily on original web design by Trevor Anderson 1999.