Care sheet for the Golden Poison Dart Frog (Phyllobates terribilis).
From the Pacific coastal rainforest of Colombia, the Golden Poison Dart Frog, Phyllobates terribilis is the true “Dart Frog.” Few other frogs within the Dendrobatidae can approach its level of toxicity. Fortunately for the hobbyist, captive bred specimens contain none of the batrachotoxins for which this frog is famous. They are bold and harmless captives, always visible and stunningly beautiful. In captivity they are available in three color morphs: yellow, orange, and mint. There are reports of a gray morph in the wild, but this is unlikely to be a true morph, just aberrant individuals within the population.
Golden Poison Dart Frog Availability
In the United States these frogs are solely available as captive bred specimens through the poison dart frog hobby. This species is protected against export from its native Colombia, but historic exports, be they legal or illegal, are the ancestors of the specimens found in the hobby today. Youngsters are commonly available, particularly the mint morph. Typically these frogs can be purchased for less than $100. In Canada, the provinces of British Colombia and Alberta have outlawed the possession of this frog, probably due to the uninformed perception that captive specimens are poisonous – they are not.
Golden Poison Dart Frog Size
Both sexes can reach about 2 inches from the tip of the snout to the vent. Males are typically slightly smaller than females, and mature sooner too. The species is not very sexually dimorphic, but females tend to have a wider belly and a more robust body shape, but even so, they are often difficult to distinguish from males.
Golden Poison Dart Frog Lifespan
Large dart frogs like P. terribilis can live for 10 years or more.
Golden Poison Dart Frog Housing
These frogs are the largest of the dart frogs. Their size and active nature necessitate an appropriately large terrarium. A pair of adults could be maintained in a 20 gallon long terrarium, but bigger is always better. All dart frogs climb, but this species is one of the most terrestrial. This makes surface area much more important than volume of terrarium. For example, I use a 36 inch long by 18 inch wide aquarium (a “breeder type) to house 5 adults.
Naturalistic terrariums are the normal approach to maintaining dart frogs. Start with a drainage layer of at least 2 inches. Specialty products such as the Exo Terra Bio Drain Terrarium Draining Reptile Substrate can be used and drainage can achieved using gravel, or lighter alternatives like hydroton/LECA, or some of the very low density products available now, such as featherlite. Water will drain through your substrate and collect here. A small water feature that extends into the drainage layer will allow you to remove excess water from the terrarium. Cover the drainage layer with a piece of fine mesh fiberglass screen. On top of this place your true substrate. Products are available specifically for dart frog terrariums, but orchid bedding can be used provided it is free of artificial additives and perlite. I like to use Ron Gagliardo’s Orchid mix, known as ABG mix. This is available from some vendors. Cover this with a layer of terrarium appropriate leaf litter, such as Live Oak leaves, Magnolia leaves, Sea Grape leaves, etc.
Most tropical plants can go straight into the substrate layer. Popular choices include Begonias, Aroids (e.g. Syngonium sp., Philodendron sp. and even Pothos), Ficus sp., Pepperomia sp., Hoya sp., tropical mosses, and even aquatic plants such as Riccia fluitans, a favorite of terribilis keepers as a carpet forming plant. Bromeliads are more for decorative purposes in the terribilis terrarium, and should not be planted directly in the substrate because they are prone to rot if kept constantly wet. Be sure to choose bromeliads of appropriately small sizes.
Cork/wood terrarium backgrounds can be purchased, or a DIY background can be constructed using terrarium-safe materials such as polyurethane foam, silicone, and coconut fiber.
Dart frogs require a high level of humidity (at least 70%). This can be achieved through daily misting and the restriction of ventilation with a reptile mister such as the Exo Terra Mister. Unlike many amphibians, they do not easily suffer from respiratory problems, so restricting the airflow will not harm them.
Golden Poison Dart Frog Lighting and Temperature
Terribilis do well at relatively low temperatures for a dart frog. A daytime range of 65-75 °F is appropriate, followed by a slight drop at night to as low as 60 °F. This species does not tolerate temperatures in excess of 80 °F.
Lighting is primarily for the plants, not the frogs. Frogs fulfill their Vitamin-D3 requirements from their diet rather than sunlight. Lighting color temperature should be in the range of 5000 – 10000 Kelvin. I choose 6500 K or 6700 K fluorescent bulbs. The fixtures sold for freshwater aquariums are ideal depending on the terrarium size chosen. A day/night period of 12 hours on and 12 hours off is recommended for tropical frogs which can be monitored by specialized herp timers.
Golden Poison Dart Frog Food
Unlike their cousin Dendrobates tinctorius, these frogs prefer larger foods than springtails (Collembola) and small fruit flies. Adult terribilis can easily handle a full-grown wax worm. Drosophila hydei is the larger species of commonly cultured flightless fruit fly and makes an ideal staple food for adults. The flies should be dusted with amphibian vitamin and mineral supplements at least twice a week in order to meet the nutritional requirements of these frogs. Adult terribilis should be fed about once every 2 days, while juveniles should receive food daily. Youngsters are quite capable of handling the large fruit flies. Captive cultured crickets can be used instead of fruit flies as a staple food for this species, but it is generally easier to secure a regular supply of fruit flies than crickets by culturing your own. Good treat foods include fire brats (Thermobia) and wax worms.
John Clare is the founder of Caudata.org and Frogforum.net.