Poison Dart Frogs are truly the jewels of the exotic pet world.
Their popularity is little wonder when you consider the range of colours and patterns currently available, not to mention how easy a number of the more popular species are to keep.
That said, if there’s one “sticking point” with keeping poison dart frogs – especially the tiny youngsters – its quite how to feed them in captivity.
After all, a one centimetre long dart frog isn’t going to be chowing down mealworms and locusts anytime soon. In this article, therefore, we’re going to look at the options for feeding smaller poison dart frogs in the home.
As you’ll see, there are quite a range of options, and while feeding dart frogs is always going to be more challenging than feeding a bearded dragon for example, it’s by no means outside the skillset of most reptile and amphibian keepers.
Feeder Insects for Poison Dart Frogs
Springtails are miniscule invertebrates. The first time I bought a tub of springtails for my dart frogs I could barely see the little critters! You’ll need to watch quite closely in order to see the tiny little white insects moving around in the substrate.
Springtails are so tiny that they make a virtually perfect food for even the smallest dart frogs. My Dendrobates azureus, even at over a centimetre in length, still love nothing more than picking off springtails like there’s no tomorrow.
As they’re so tiny, actually getting the springtails from the tub into your vivarium is not without it’s problems. Here there are two options. Firstly, you could just open the tub and tip some of the substrate straight into your dart frog enclosure. You’ll find that the substrate will be riddled with springtails.
Alternatively, a neater technique used by many amphibian keepers is to add some pieces of barbeque charcoal to their springtail colony. When it comes to feeding your dart frogs you can just pick up one of the charcoal pieces and “tap” it in the dart frog cage. Dozens of springtails will fall off, all ready to be hoovered up by your precious frogs.
Fruit Flies (Drosophila)
The second feeder insect that I rely on for feeding small dart frogs are fruit flies. There are several species available in the pet trade – the smaller Drosophila melanogastor and the larger Drosophila hydei being two of the most popular.
Over the years fruit flies have been used by biologists as lab animals, to study topics such as inheritance. As with any creature which has been cultivated for decades, a number of genetic mutations have arisen. I mention this because a tub of standard fruit flies can be very difficult to transfer into your dart frog tank – and for the frogs themselves to catch.
What is easier for both parties are fruit flies with a specific mutation which prevents them from flying. In essence, the wings are malformed, so they’re unable to fly. Generally known as “flightless fruit flies” these are the guys you want to be buying.
As they can’t fly away, feeding them to your dart frogs becomes quite simple. Just peel back a corner of the fruit fly container and tip a suitable number into the vivarium.
Be aware that fruit flies are still very small insects, and can climb surprisingly well. Even without the power of flight, therefore, fruit flies may manage to squeeze themselves through any gaps in your vivarium. Before introducing a load of these flies, therefore, it pays to carefully study your dart frog cage in order to make sure there is no way they can get out and infest your home.
Lastly, be aware that most fruit flies that you can buy from reptile suppliers are “cultures”. What this means is that the adult flies in the tub will most likely have laid eggs in the food mixture at the bottom. These will hatch, turn into tiny grubs and eventually pupate.
What this means is that you shouldn’t throw away your fruit fly tub once all the adult flies have been fed to your frogs. Place the tub on a heat mat to keep it nice and warm and within a few weeks you’ll probably find a whole load of new Drosophila start to hatch out!
A third, rather less popular option, comes in the form of pinhead crickets. These are standard brown crickets – but tiny little newly-hatched specimens. Unlike the other feeder insects mentioned so far, pinheads can be surprisingly quick and agile, which can make them harder to catch for tiny dart frogs.
Pinhead crickets also have a nasty habit of dying pretty quickly; unless you give them specialist care its not unusual for a tub of pinhead crickets to have all died within a week or two of purchase. If you only have a couple of dart frogs this means that crickets can become a rather expensive feeding option.
That said, crickets are freely available from many reptile shops, in comparison to flightless fruit flies and springtails which are rather more specialist fare.
Curly Wing Flies
When your dart frogs start to grow, and are able to take slightly larger prey items then a whole host of options open themselves up. Slightly larger crickets, or even hatchling locusts can be fed for example. However possibly one of the better options comes in the form of curly wing flies.
These are standard house flies which, like the fruit flies, have a genetic mutation which prevents them from flying. As a result they’re both easier to handle, and simpler for your dart frogs to catch.
As tiny – yet fast growing – animals, poison dart frogs need to eat on a regular basis. Unlike those of us who keep snakes, and have got used to providing food just once every week or so, I have personally found that feeding my frogs daily makes the most sense.
Like all reptiles and amphibians in captivity, poison dart frogs do best when fed on a wide range of different prey. In this way you’re able to provide a full range of vitamins and minerals to them.
My own personal preference, for tiny dart frogs, is a combination of fruit flies and springtails. I tend to buy a tub of each, feeding the adult fruit flies initially.
Then, as I run out, I move on to the springtails for a week or two. By this point, the next generation of Drosophila are hatching, ready to be fed once again.
Done in this manner, my dart frogs receive a regularly changing diet, with a few pinhead crickets thrown in from time to time to add even greater variety.
As you can see, especially if you’ve kept larger carnivorous reptiles or amphibians like Cuban Tree Frogs, feeding poison dart frogs does require a slight shift in mentality, and a willingness to learn about new, smaller feeder insects.
However it doesn’t take long to learn what you’re doing, and soon enough your dart frogs will be growing at an alarming rate. Remember that many species reach maturity in little more than a year, by which point the larger species will be well on their way to eating a wider range of more “normal” livefood.