Poisonous pets?

“Poison dart frogs in captivity are not poisonous” I told my mother, with my face pressed up on frog glass at the veterinarian’s office. We were taking my cockatiel, Laverne, for a checkup. This was not the first time I had seen them. I had traveled to a handful of the zoos in the North East, where they displayed them in jewel cases which were placed inside synthetic fallen trees. If the vet’s office, a non-zoological facility, could keep them, did that mean everyday people could keep these gems of the rainforest?

A short fifteen years later, I got my answer. Their bright colors, small stature and ease of feeding make them very appealing. Their cost and habitat requirements make them more suited for an intermediate or advanced pet caregiver. There are many species of poison dart frogs, but rarely do they get larger than 3 inches. Their cost ranges from $40 to over $200 for individuals. This cost reduces impulse purchases and persuades pet caregivers to do thorough research beforehand, which is a train of thought I can easily ‘hop’ on to.

Joe Brozek, has an animal management degree, and has cared for poison dart frogs for two years.  When asked why keep frogs, Brozek responded, “Why not,” enthusiastically. “They are easy to care for and gorgeous animals.”

Currently he has two dyeing dart frog adults, 16 froglets (juvenile frogs) and eight tadpoles. The three most common frogs as pets are the bumblebee dart frog (yellow and black); dyeing dart frogs (blue, yellow and black) or a third species which can be either include green, blue or bronze with black.

“They like their native climate to be replicated,” Brozek explained. “This includes temperatures 70-85 degrees and humidity at 70% or higher. If their temp gets too high, they can dry out. Frogs have very thin skin and can easily dry out. The humidity can be maintained by misting them daily with de-chlorinated water, not tap water.”

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With their sensitive thin skin, tap water’s chemical composition could harm them. To keep the humidity high in the enclosure live plants should be added. “Dart frogs are known to love bromeliad plants, which can be found at any nursery, along with soft, sphagnum moss for them to hop on,” Brozek said.

In captivity they are fed fruit flies or newly hatched crickets. “If your frogs aren’t getting the calcium they need, they can seem very lazy and not want to move…,” Brozek advised. Dusting the food with a calcium and vitamin supplement designed for amphibians is recommended.

While there are not frog toys, there are other methods of enrichment you can provide your frog. “You can mix up what they are eating or change their feeding times or location to keep them guessing,” Joe said. Changing the habitat furnishings, like the hiding spots, rocks or logs, is another form of enrichment.

While the domestic poison dart frog is not poisonous, the wild frogs are. “In the wild, these frogs eat locally specific ants that allow them to produce these toxins,” Brozek explained. “In the wild, these frogs secrete a very poisonous toxin from their skin; even the scientific name of one species P. terribilis refers to the terrible effects of touching this animal…In captivity however, we do not feed them these ants or any type of ant so they are just like touching any other frog.”

Although, just because you can touch something doesn’t mean you should. “I do not recommend picking them up and playing with them,” Brozek commented. He explained that our skin is salty from our sweat and oils that the pores in our skin make, which could affect the frogs’ skin. Also, if you were to purchase a frog that came from the wild, it could still have traces of toxicity in the skin. Luckily, for us and the poison dart frogs, they are commonly bred in captivity.

Visit Critter Companions for my pet husbandry and training ideas.

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