Poison dart frogs (Green & Black)

Poison Dart Frogs (Green & Black)

Dendrobates auratus         Order:    Anura        Family: Dendrobatidae

Overview

Green and Black poison dart frogs are relatively easy to care for and have many programming messages, making them a wonderful addition to an ambassador team. At Akron Zoo, our frogs are set up in bioactive housing, which takes some time to establish. However, once functioning, bioactive setups are very easy to maintain. Daily husbandry takes staff less than ten minutes.

There are many topics that the frogs can cover with programming, including rainforest specific habitats, comparing and contrasting habitats, adaptations (using their toxicity to protect themselves), animals with camouflage/ warning colors, indicator species, alternate cultures, and comparing different taxa of animal (such as a feathers- furs- scales type program).

Their small size makes them very easy to transport, although that size can also be a disadvantage on a program for a larger group. Preserving humidity and temperature is the only concern for prolonged travel with these animals but, at Akron Zoo, our programs generally don’t require animals to be away from home for extended periods.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Green and black poison dart frogs inhabit Central and South America in the humid forests of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Bolivia. These frogs have also been introduced to O’ahu, Hawaii. Adults are generally found on the floor of the forest, especially near water sources where their tadpoles can live.

Longevity

Green and black poison dart frogs likely live three to seven years in their native habitat, but more research is needed. Under human care, median life expectancy is 10-15 years.

Ecosystem Role

  • Green and black poison dart frogs prey on small invertebrates.
  • Frogs are an indicator species that help us learn about the health of their habitat.

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information 

  • Mating season occurs throughout the rainy season of July, August, and September. Males establish territories during this time and vocalize to attract a female. Males guard and care for the clutch of eggs for two weeks until they hatch. Clutches can be anywhere from three to six eggs. After hatching, the tadpoles are transported to a more suitable location on father’s back. It takes them an additional six weeks to become adult frogs.

Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles

  • Ambient temperatures should be between 70-80ºF
  • Humidity should be between 90-100%.
  • Akron Zoo frogs seem to do well with a 12 hour ambient light cycle. They are also provided with very low levels of UV over 25% of the enclosure, which at the least, help the live plants in the bioactive set up to do well.

Substrate: 

  • Frogs are housed in a bioactive setup which includes a drainage layer, screen layer, ABG (Atlanta Botanical Gardens) mix, moss layer, and leaf litter with isopods throughout the ABG and moss layers.

Social Housing/Colony Management

  • Akron Zoo: Frogs are maintained in a mixed gender and age colony. Photographs of their unique color patterns hang nearby to help staff identify individuals for training and husbandry purposes.
Akron Zoo: Dart frog colony
  • Male frogs with fight each other, and when the females have chosen their mate, the males stay in their own territories

Other General Housing Requirements or Management information

  • Since we do have live plants, the water level must be monitored so as not to get too high and flood the roots. In addition, deeper water should be avoided to prevent territorial disputes from turning into one frog drowning another.

Diet Requirements

Diet in the Wild

  • These frogs are carnivores preying on spiders, ants, termites, and other small insects.

Diet under human care

  • Each frog receives approximately ten fruit flies on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturdays and ten pinhead crickets on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. These are sprinkled with Nekton Rep Mondays and Fridays and calcium the remaining days.
  • We have tried offering our frogs at Akron small mealworms; these were not well received.
  • Fruit flies are the preferred training reward.

Veterinary Concerns

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Enrichment & Training

Enrichment

Behavioral Relevant Information

  • Poison frogs are highly communicative and typically can be heard calling in the flooded forest. Most species of frogs have well-developed vocal structures capable of producing a variety of sounds that serve to attract mates, advertise territories or express distress.
  • Diurnal, and are seldom still during the day, constantly searching for food and taking care of young with distinctive hopping motions
  • They use their excellent vision to capture prey.

Behavioral Enrichment 

  • Akron Zoo: Keepers play frog calls or other rainforest sounds.
  • Mesker Park Zoo: feeding tubes

Environmental Enrichment 

Blank Park Zoo: poison dart frogs on Easter eggs

Schedule 

  • Akron Zoo: Poison Dart frogs are enriched once every other week.
  • Other Enrichment Resources 

    Training

    Behaviors Trained

    • Akron Zoo Crate Training: Each frog responds to the visual cue of a yellow flower and the auditory cue of a clicker to voluntarily kennel for programming.
      • The acrylic travel case lives in the frog’s larger home to ease kennel training.
      • Frogs also follow a q-tip baited with fruit flies as a target pole.
    Akron Zoo: Dart frogs self packing after receiving visual cue of the yellow flower

    Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement 

    • Akron Zoo: Frogs receive a primary reinforcer for kenneling as soon as they enter the kennel as the visual cue (the yellow flower) is baited with fruit flies.
      • Frogs receive variable reinforcement while targeting.

    Other

    Colony or Breeding Management

    • Akron Zoo: To recreate the rainy season and induce breeding, facilities have had success decreasing humidity to 70% for two weeks and dropping feeding to only twice weekly before returning feeding and humidity to normal. In addition, separating males and females could induce breeding upon being reunited.
      • While breeding the dart frogs, Akron Zoo staff added “honeymoon huts” and petri dishes of carbon filtered water. Humidity was kept very high. Once the eggs were laid in the petri dishes, they were removed from the frog house for daily water changes and misting to keep them from getting dried out or infected with bacteria.

    Individual Identification

    • Akron Zoo: Hanging on the wall near their home, there is an identification sheet with pictures of each frog. Their defining feature is highlighted in the photo.
    Akron Zoo: frog ID chart

    Programmatic Information

    Messaging Themes

    • Adaptations for survival (their poison), different habitats and the animals that live in them (rainforest ecosystems), colors in the wild (animals with warning colors or camouflage), or a comparative analysis of types of animals (such as a fur/ feather/ scale/ slime type program).

    Threats and Conservation Status

    • IUCN Least Concern, CITES appendix II

    Interesting Natural History Information

    • Dart frogs under human care lose their toxicity due to a change in their diet. In their native habitat, these frogs eat ants that are high in alkaloids and can sequester these alkaloids in their skin. This is what causes their toxicity.
    • When a father frog is transporting his tadpoles, he secretes a mucous which is soluble only in water so that the tadpoles cannot fall off before arriving at their destination.

    Did you know…

    • The bright colors of dart frogs serve as a warning of their poison.
    • Colombian Choco Indians and other local people used the frog’s toxins to tip their hunting darts. The poison causes paralysis and respiratory failure and is strong enough to immobilize a monkey.
    • Pharmaceutical companies are researching and developing painkillers from a compound in these dart frogs called epibatidine.

    Handling & Presentation Tips

    • Akron Zoo: If the frogs need to be handled for any reason, keepers wear nitrile gloves misted with room temperature carbon filtered water. Since our frogs voluntarily kennel, handling is kept to a minimum.
    • Akron Zoo: Frogs are presented on a cart or table in their acrylic travel box.
    • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore: We do not “handle” them; they are used in a small tank for all appearances. Not great for large audience programming.

    Use Guidelines

    • Akron Zoo: For the dart frogs to be used on an outdoor program or encounter, the temperature should be between 70-85ºF.
      • Preserving humidity and temperature is the only concern for prolonged travel with these animals but our programs generally don’t require animals to be away from home for extended periods.
    • If the temperature is below 70ºF, the frogs should be transported with a heat disk wrapped in the towel. We use a SnuggleSafe disk heated for three minutes in the microwave. Each cooler has a thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the cooler.

    Public Contact and Interaction Guidelines

    • Akron Zoo: Frogs are not handled on displays but are free to hop around their travel case for guests to watch. Often, there are additional fruit flies for the frogs to hunt while they are out as well.
    • Buffalo Zoo: We use Blue poison dart frogs. No-touch and must be shown in carrier.

    Transportation Tips

    Akron Zoo: dart frog transport crate, as frogs self-pack

    Crating Techniques

    • Akron Zoo: Our frogs are voluntarily kennel trained. Before this training was completed, staff would gently scoop or shoo frogs into a travel case.
      • The frog travel case is a clear acrylic box with a lid that is lined with moss. The travel case is misted with carbon filtered, room temperature water before use and latched with a clip for security. That travel container is placed inside a shallow cooler. The travel container is braced with a towel to prevent it from shifting in transit.

    Temperature Guidelines

    • Akron Zoo: For the dart frogs to be used on an outside program or encounter, the temperature should be between 70-85ºF. If the outdoor temperature is below 70ºF, the frogs should be transported with a heat disk. If the temperature drops below 40ºF, the cooler should be transported with a kennel cover. In the preheated van, allow vents to be uncovered for air flow.
      • Each cooler has a thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the travel cooler.

    Acquisition Information

    Look for specialty/exotic rescues such as:

    Resources

    Contributors and Citations

    • Akron Zoo

    Comments from the Rating System

    • Buffalo Zoo: We use Blue poison dart frogs. No-touch and must be shown in carrier. Handlers must be experienced as they are fast and delicate to catch.
    • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore: We do not “handle” them; they are used in a small tank for all appearances. Not great for large audience programming.

    Top Photo Credit: credit the “header” photo of the species 

     Akron Zoo