dart frogs :: Dendrobatidae

Dendrobates tinctorius azureus dart frog

I keep a small collection of dart frogs that has been changing over time. I started my collection focused mainly on Dendrobates tinctorius locales ranging from Azureus, Bakhuis, Robertus, True Sipaliwini and Lorenzo.

More recently I have focused on thumbnails from the Ranitomeya genus including Ranitomeya fantastica “True Nominal” (2015)Ranitomeya summersi “Sauce” region (2016). and Ranitomeya reticulata (2021).

Over the years I have transitioned from keeping a high number of small vivariums, (25+ 18x18x24 and 12x12x18) to larger footprint enclosures like 36x18x36 housing larger colonies of thumbnails. I have found thumbnails in larger vivariums with higher population counts to be more interesting to observe. I’ve also had more success breeding with thumbnails in larger groups.

My most popular dart frog page

Well, my most frequently hit page on this site is my write up on culturing fruit flies. I figured since Google was sending so many folks to that page, I should give it a better spot on my frog section. So here it is:

Culturing fruit flies for dart frogs

It’s been updated too as of 2017! But do give my other frog related pages a read!

Dendrobatid toxicity

Though they are known as poison dart frogs, they do not produce their famous toxins in captivity, and only three of the hundreds of Dendrobatids are known to produce poisons with sufficient toxicity to kill a person. It is believed these frogs require a special native diet to produce their toxins, a diet that contains insects with high concentrations of alkaloids that are concentrated in the frogs’ skin. Captive bred animals are raised on a diet of live fruit flies, springtails and isopods, and they are unable to obtain toxins from their diet.

Dr. Jason Brown’s article on poison frog toxicity.

Dart frog morphs I keep

You can click on the names or photos below to open a page detailing each morph I keep. I’ve been scaling back the number of locales I keep since 2016. I wanted to focus more on the species / locales that I have since most keepers in the hobby are short term and transient. We really need keepers in the hobby that focus on ensuring our captive bred animals can be sustained for long term success which often means a commitment to multiple vivarium footprints and unrelated (or less related) animals. Yes, this means you may have to pay shipping a few times to ensure you have the lineages necessary to setup a breeding program.

I also got out of keeping tincs because of how poorly the hobby manages locales. You can read my rant about experienced keepers making visual ID’s on highly variable morphs like Robertus, and simply re-labeling them as True Sips here.

Current dart frog projects

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Ranitomeya fantastica “true nominal”

~20mm svl :: 36″W x 18″D x 36″H enclosure

The nominal R. fantastica described by Boulanger in 1883 had not been seen since that original description until Understory Enterprises found several animals near Yurimaguas in 2011. UE made these available to the US hobby in early 2015. A truly stunning locale, and a charming little frog. Our colony has grown to about 20 individuals.


Ranitomeya summersi “Sauce”

~20mm svl :: 36″W x 18″D x 36″H enclosure

A terrestrial thumbnail dendrobatid found within a small range in Peru. I’ve always been stuck by their coloration, and I was lucky enough to add a small group from Understory Enterprises to my collection in 2016. A bit of an enigma, we decided to provide a larger vivarium to our small group in the summer of 2021 to hopefully encourage breeding.

Ranitomeya reticulata “Iquitos”

~15mm svl :: 18″W x 18″D x 24″H enclosure

This is a new addition to our collection in 2021. We decided to setup a small colony of one of the smallest and most challenging species of dart frogs you can keep. Check out the details of their bald cypress vivarium build, featuring a large specimen of Davallia parvula, a really cool epiphytic fern.

Dart frogs I used to keep

I reduced my collection footprint twice over the years, ultimately focusing on fewer, larger enclosures that housed larger populations of thumbnails. Thumbnails are less demanding from a fly culturing perspective, and I have been successful keeping them in larger groups, so they are more fun to watch. I have maintained these other locale specific pages on frogs I have kept in the past for informational purposes.


Dendrobates tinctorius “Lorenzo”

30 to 35mm svl

Dendrobates tinctorius ‘lorenzo’ is a less common tinc morph in the US hobby. It is a dwarf morph of Dendrobates tinctorius, and it is known to be more difficult to breed. Their coloration is unusual, with a deep blue / black base color and a brilliant iridescent yellow/orange crest that fades down the back.


Ranitomeya sirensis “highland lamasi”

~15 to 18mm svl

Ranitomeya sirensis “Tingo Maria” was formerly known as Ranitomeya lamasi, also referred to as highland lamasi. This was my first thumbnail frog from the old line. It was an uncommon frog in the hobby, with a reputation for being more difficult to breed. This has changed over time as new lines have been imported from Europe.


Dendrobates tinctorius “Azureus”

40 to 45mm svl

The first dart frogs we acquired were Dendrobates tinctorius ‘azureus’ commonly called the blue dart frog. This is a fairly large “tinc” that is quite bold, meaning it is regularly visible, out and about in it’s terrarium.


Dendrobates tinctorius “Bakhuis”

30 to 35mm svl

Dendrobates tinctorius ‘bakhuis’ is another dwarf morph. These are bold frogs as well, easily visible in the vivarium. Our group of four (2.2) were re-homed to another dedicated Texas based keeper as we shifted our focus to a smaller footprint collection comprised exclusively of thumbnail species in the summer of 2021.


Dendrobates tinctorius “True Sipaliwini”

40 to 45mm svl

Dendrobates tinctorius ‘true sipaliwini’ is a less common tinc morph in the US hobby. Our three frogs are F1 offspring from a pair of animals imported by the National Aquarium (NAIB) in the 1990’s. The pair was acquired by Sean Stewart of Herpetologic who produced these frogs. They are a robust frog that is quite bold. Their yellow crests are quite striking.


Adelphobates galactonotus “Red”

~40mm svl

Adelphobates galactonotus do well in groups (unlike tincs which often show aggression between animals of the same sex). The “red galacs” tend to be more shy than the tincs, so they often retreat to their hiding places when you enter the room. More careful consideration in vivarium design needs to be given to ensure they have places to hide but sill allow for viewing.

Dendrobates tinctorius “Robertus” dart frog

50 to 55mm svl

Robertus are reported to be from southwestern Suriname, near the Brazilian border. I have not seen captive bred animals result from the 2013 import. My pair were from a highly variable May 2014 import that included animals ranging from a deep blue with black markings similar to a Koetari River tinc, through yellow crested animals similar to true sips, to high yellow animals like my pair that have a yellow crest and yellow belly.

How big is a dart frog?

Dart frog sizes are typically represented as the “snout to vent length” or “SVL”, usually in millimeters. Smaller darts known as thumbnails are typically under 20 mm in SVL, while larger darts like tinctorius can range upwards of 50 mm. I’ve provided two examples of SVL measurements below, one for a Lorenzo female on the left, and a Robertus female on the right. The Lorenzo is about 35 mm SVL while the Robertus is about 50 mm. Female dart frogs are larger than males, so these examples are of the larger sexes.

Vivarium construction and modifications

One of the most enjoyable activities [for me] associated with keeping dart frogs is building and maintaining their vivarium. A vivarium is basically a terrarium containing animals. In general, a vivarium is composed of a glass enclosure, vented glass top, a “false bottom” for drainage, substrate (soil, charcoal, sphagnum, turface, etc), hardscaping, plants, misting systems and lighting. You can go simple or complex. These links look at a few construction projects I have taken on:


Purchasing your dart frogs

Buy frogs only from a reputable source, whether that is a hobbyist or a commercial vendor. Check feedback at hobby forums like www.dartden.com. Do your research – there’s at least one large scale vendor out there claiming to have inventories of thousands of frogs that is pushing completely incorrect science on dart frogs and locale specific morphs. They have no understanding of how local populations of Dendrobates tinctorius develop, and are mismanaging their lines while encouraging others to do so as well. Do not buy hybrids, or from people that breed and raise hybrids. The lineage of frogs is held in high regard in this hobby – if you have any desire to sell offspring, only buy from respected vendors.

My recommendations on purchasing your frogs:

  • Select your frog. Research. Figure out what frog is best for you. In my case, I wanted bold frogs that were visible, so my collection is dominated by D. tinctorius. There are lots of great resources on the web for finding information on a variety of morphs. If you can’t find information, consider posting to a forum to get answers from other hobbyists. I use www.dartden.com.
  • Prepare for your frogs. Prep your enclosure and learn to culture flies before you get your frogs.
  • Don’t buy wild caught frogs. Leave the care of legally acquired wild caught frogs to more advanced hobbyists. These types of frogs often require a higher degree of care and medical attention than captive bred frogs, and buying captive bred promotes conservation of the animals we have, reducing demand on wild populations.
  • Know your breeder. Research your breeder. There are good feedback forums on the web where you can research the breeder you have selected.
  • Know your frogs lineage. Be diligent about tracking the lineage of your frogs. If possible, track the generation from wild caught. If a breeder cannot trace their lineages back at least one generation, or if they cannot specify line data back to an import, move on to a different breeder.
  • Watch out for smuggled frogs!
  • Quarantine. No matter how great your breeder is, you should still quarantine your new frogs and monitor them for any issues. You can never be too careful, especially as the size of your collection grows.
  • Test your frogs. It’s good to buy frogs from a breeder or hobbyist that regularly screens their collection for pathogens (e.g. parasites, BD and RV), but you should conduct screening tests yourself. As your collection grows, this will become more important to ensure you protect your collection from incoming issues.
  • Hybrids. Understand that hybrids in the dart frog hobby are frowned upon. The hobby has worked hard maintaining locale specific lines of color morphs that have developed over time in the hope of reducing the stress on wild populations. The careful management of captive bred animals is critical to reducing this pressure. There was a recent dust up with a family that started breeding designer / ornamental / hybrid frogs by crossing populations and in some cases species of dart frogs to attain certain “looks” that might resemble existing, rare populations. They are attempting to flood the market with low cost frogs of unknown lines that have potentially been crossed. Literally thousands of suspect animals are now on the market. Be careful. Research. Know your lineage. I do not recommend buying from anyone that breeds hybrids. Period.

I always recommend buying your frogs from a local hobbyist or an established online vendor with excellent feedback or a good reputation. Local hobbyists are a great way to meet a local resource that can answer your questions and provide advice. It also allows you to check out your animals before you take them home. There are also many reputable online sources to purchase your frogs – I have bought many frogs from Sean Stewart at herptelogic.com, Patrick Nabors at saurian.net, and Understory Enterprises. All are long time vendors with excellent reputations.

You can also find a great list of advice at Amphibian Ark:


Dart frog care and breeding

I’ve been in the hobby for less than 2 years as of this posting, but we’ve been lucky enough to grow out a proven pair of azureus. The following link highlights calling, breeding and rearing of Dendrobates tinctorius azureus.

All our dart frog posts

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Associations and Conservation

There are a number of associations in the hobby that vary in their levels of activity. Some of the more well known organizations within this niche hobby are: