Beginner Frog FAQ!
Yes, it is I, Arklier... I wrote a huge spammy FAQ in the Food section, and here I am doing it again! Guess I'm just a glutton for punishment, eh? I'm not going to mention anything about food in this FAQ, because as I said, there's an extensive FAQ I wrote in the Food section further down the main page. Refer to it if you have food questions, cause I'm not going to reinvent the wheel. Now, onward!
1.) General questions.
2.) Simple vivarium construction.
3.) What frog should I get?
4.) Uh-oh... I've already got the frog, now what?
1.) General questions
This is a collection of questions that we see a lot on Dendroboard, they're up front to provide some quick answers to those that might ask.
a.) What do the numbers mean? - The numbers in peoples' signatures and other places refer to the number and sex of the animals being referred to. For instance, I have in my signature: 1.2.0 D. azureus. The first number is the number of males. I have one male azureus, as you can see, so it's a 1. The next number is the number of females. I have two females, so it's a 2. The last number is for unsexed adults or juviniles. Some frogs it's really hard to tell what sex they are, so even if they're adults people will put them in the third catigory. I don't have any unsexed azureus, so it's a 0. If I had two males, three females, and one unsexed, it would read 2.3.1.
b.) Can I keep darts in the same tank with other species like anoles or other frogs? - No, no, no, and last of all, NO! While it is possible to do this, it's not for beginners, and if you have to ask this question, you're obviously a beginner. The reason is that in most cases the different animals may not have the same requirements. In the case of anoles, they require UV lighting, a drier environment, and different food than darts. You would need a very large enclosure to be able to adequately provide for both species. You also run into other problems, with things like one animal stressing out another, and if there's a large size difference, one animal possibly ending up as lunch for the other. Best not to do it.
c.) OK, can I keep two different species or morphs of darts together? - Again, the answer is no, with reservations. Many darts are ready breeders under normal vivarium conditions, and their philosophy is, "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." They're so closely related, and it is quite possible for them to interbreed, producing hybrids, even if there's a mate of their own kind in the same tank. There are pictures of leucomelas x azureus, auratus x tinctorius, and God knows what other Frankenfrogs out there. Producing hybrids is frowned upon by the majority of the hobby. If you want to throw out every batch of eggs, or keep a group of only males, it's fine. But it's very difficult to tell with froglets what sex they are, and most people don't want to throw out good eggs.
2.) Simple vivarium construction.
The most important thing to remember about vivarium construcion is choosing the materials. Mainly the tank itself, and the plants and features you plan on putting into it.
a.) The tank: If you're a beginner, it's best to start with a smaller aquarium. A rectangular aquarium 10 to 29 gallons is ideal for most dart species. Most medium to large rectangular tanks come in four styles: standard, long, brooder, and tall. There are also specialized shapes like cube, hexagon, corner, and others. Get a glass aquarium if you can. Acrylic can be used, but it scratches easier and can warp. Try not to get a tank that's too narrow front to back. If you're going to be placing plants inside, they'll need room.
The style of tank you want will depend on which kind of dart you're going to be keeping in it. The general rule of thumb is, the bigger the frog, the more time they spend on the ground, the smaller the frog, the more time they will spend climbing. Another rule of thumb is 5 gallons of space per frog, so a 20 gallon tank could (theoretically) hold 4 darts. Of course, if you have a 20 gallon tall tank, and try to fit four P. terribilis in there, it's going to be cramped, because they're big darts and tend to stay on the ground most of the time.
Another option is the Exo-Terra Advanced Reptile Habitat cubes that have shown up recently, but they are still in the 'testing phase' and have some (surmountable) drawbacks for dart vivariums, so I'll add more once they become more widespread.
b.) The first thing you'll have to think about when creating your tank is the background. It's not necessary to have one, but it makes the tank look nicer and gives you a place to mount plants. Here are the most popular types in a list of easiest to hardest. Note that there's nothing to stop you from using multiple methods. I've used panels and expanding foam in the same tank. It's all a matter of getting the look you want.
b1.) Easy: The simplest background is a piece of plastic sheet taped onto the back of the tank on the outside. You can get them in several different styles at fish stores for about $0.25 per foot.
Pros: Cheap, at least you aren't staring at the wall behind the tank.
Cons: Doesn't look as nice as the other methods, you can't grow plants on it.
b2.) Moderate: The next hardest is mounting cork bark panels, tree fern panels, or cocos panels on the back inside the tank. Note that cocos panels are not the same thing as coco fiber or coco fiber mats that I'll talk about later. They're made of finely ground coconut shells mixed with a rubbery substance. I'm lumping these all together because they're all put on the same way: with silicone. GE Silicone II 100% Silicone for Windows & Door is the most common brand used here on Dendroboard. It comes in several different colors (most everyone uses either black or brown), and is readily available at most hardware stores.
Turn the tank over on its back, and squeeze a liberal amount of the silicone on the back of the tank, and I mean a LIBERAL amount. You almost can't use enough. Remember, that the silicone will be supporting the weight of the background, which will not only most likely be saturated with water, but also have plants on it. Once you're done, smoosh the panels in, but leave a gap at the bottom that's about how tall your substrate is going to be. No sense wasting money on panel if it's going to be buried in the dirt. Then let the tank sit for 24 hours, or until you can no longer smell the silicone, whichever is longer. Then it's safe to stand the tank up and move onto the next step.
The downside is that this isn't a cheap method, it's probably the most expensive simply because the material is not cheap. Natural cork tiles are usually $10 each and only cover 12" x 12", for instance. Cocos panels are around 24" x 12" and cost around $11 each from herpsuplies.com, but you have to buy a three pack. Singly they're more expensive. Tree fern panels are a bit cheaper, since they're often used for growing orchids, but they have a different problem: they're a non renewable resource from an endangered Australian plant.
Pros: Looks great, plants will grow on them, silicone easily available.
Cons: The most expensive method, panels can't usually be found locally, tree fern is a non-renewable resource.
b3.) More challenging: The expandable foam, silicone, and coco fiber method. Most people use DOW Great Stuff brand expanding foam, but some people say you should use other brands due to fire retardants in it. That's an argument I'll leave for other threads. An advantage of using this method is that you can sink your wood right into the background without fear of it shifting or falling out.
The first step is deciding if you want to hide the foam on the sides, and covering them with a thin layer of black silicone and a putty knife, but this is up to you. Next, place the wood and figure out where you want it, then take the wood out and lay down your first layer of foam. It's important to do this in small areas at a time, as if built up too high, the foam will collapse and you'll end up with it where you don't want it. You can speed up the process by laying the tank on its back before you start. Once you have the first layer down and it's dry, you can place your wood and build sucessive layers over it. The foam usually cannot be sculped in wet form, as it has the consistancy of warm chewing gum. You can, however, sculpt it with a knife after it is dry. An extremely important thing to remember is DO NOT PUT IT IN AN AREA WHERE IT CANNOT EXPAND! It can crack tanks if not allowed space to puff out.
After you have it down, the last step is to cover it with silicone and powder it with coco fiber. Again, we use GE Silicone II, but I prefer to use the brown color for this step. Makes it less obvious if you miss a spot. Take a brick of reptile coco bedding (sold under brand names like Bed-A-Beast, Forest Floor, and others) and expand it by dumping it in a bucket of hot water. Then spread it out on cookie sheets and either bake it on low heat in an oven, or put it out in the sun to dry. After it has dried, carve out the look you want in the foam and start laying down your silicone. Pause frequently to powder it with the dried coco fiber, as the silicone will develop a skin within a few minutes and the fiber won't adhere as well.
This is the second cheapest method, Great Stuff and the silicone can be found at any hardware store, and coco bricks are available at most pet stores. Some plants will grow on it, those that won't can be mounted on the wood or set in plastic baskets dug out of the foam once it has dried.
Pros: Cheaper than panels, looks good, some plants will grow on it and others can be put in baskets, easier placement of wood.
Cons: Time consuming, possibility of cracking the tank, more labor intensive than the others.
c.) Drainage: There's two main types of drainage used by dart froggers, the egg crate method, and the LECA/gravel method. For both of these, you can use fiberglass (NOT ALUMINUM) screen, or my new favorite, coco fiber mats meant for lining wire flower baskets. Something that's permiable to water, but will keep the dirt out of your bottom layer. If you want a pump to run a waterfall or drip wall, make sure to leave an area that's easy to get to in case the pump should fail. I used a 6" diameter pipe cut into quarters with holes drilled near the water level with success using both methods.
c1.) The egg crate method: Egg crate is not the same stuff you get your eggs packaged in at the grocery store. It's a plastic screen used for lighting in office buildings and other large areas where panel fluorescents are used. You can buy it at major hardware stores for around $10 - $15 per sheet, usually 24" x 48", which is more than enough to do several tanks depending on size. You'll also need PVC parts, either couplers, risers, or cut pieces of PVC pipe. I usually use pieces that are 1" - 2" tall.
Cut a piece of egg crate to fit your tank (leaving a hole if you want a pond area), then use our good friend GE Silicone II to attach the PVC parts to the side of the egg crate that's going to be the bottom. Make sure you have enough, otherwise the bottom of the egg crate will start to sag. For small, short tanks, one on each corner and one in the middle is sufficient, but for longer tanks you'll need to place several along the length of the tank. Put the assembly in the bottom of the tank, and you're done.
Pros: Fairly cheap, light, good for square areas.
Cons: Somewhat unsightly, not good for irregular areas.
c2.) The LECA/gravel method: LECA stands for Light Expanded Clay Aggregate, and is used extensively in hydroponics. It's basically a form of clay mixture that's been fired and expanded in a kiln, forming reddish brown balls with a gray center about 1/2" to 1.5" in diameter, depending on purpose. It lasts a long time, is light, and is easy to fit into irregular areas, but doesn't look totally natural. Brand names are Hydroton (cheapest in my experience) and Terra-Lite. Gravel is the same stuff used in the bottom of aquariums, and is available just about everywhere. You can get it in any color of the rainbow, as well as natural colors. It shares most of the same advantages as LECA, with the exception that it's much heavier. You'll need to rinse both of them well before you use them for the first time, LECA especially, since it is very dusty. LECA also floats until it is totally saturated.
Pros: LECA - Light, reusable, good for irregular areas. Gravel: Good for irregular areas, reusable, many styles and colors, readily available.
Cons: LECA - Not readily available except local hydroponics shops or online, not as natural looking as naturalistic gravel. Gravel: Very heavy.
d.) This section is for other stuff that people ask, such as water features, tank temperature, substrates, and other things.
d1.) Water features: A water feature is fairly easy to execute, just a bit difficult in the planning if you're like me and have no vision for 3D sculpture. While you can buy pre-fabricated waterfalls from companies like T-Rex or Zoo-Med, it's usually best to make your own. What you'll need is a fountain pump, some tubing, and some imagination. Fountain pumps can be found fairly cheap at Harbor Freight and other hardware stores. Make a pond area by having a section of the substrate below the water line. Some people make drip walls just by running tubing up through the background.
d2.) Other stuff: It's important to keep the right humidity in a dart tank, and most people acheive this by either limiting the ventilation, or spraying water into the tank via hand sprayer or misting system. There's lots of opinions on misting systems, so I won't go into them much. Suffice to say that the system is usually attached to a reservoir such as a 5 gallon bucket, with a submerged high pressure pump and tubing that goes to sprayers in the tank. Make sure to place the tank in an area where it will not get direct sunlight. Sunlight will rapidly turn a vivarium into a sauna, and while this won't bother the frogs if kept to a minimum, it could stress them out. Normal tank temperatures should be in the high 70s to low 80s Farenheit.
d3.) Plants: Plants are deserving of a FAQ all their own, so I'm just going to touch on the basic types here until I (or someone else) gets a chance to write one. There are many plants that are used in the vivarium, the most popular probably being small bromeliads, or broms for short. Broms are epiphyte plants from the South American rainforests, and darts have been documenting using them in the wild, just as they do in captivity. They are favorite sleeping and breeding places for all kinds of darts. Other types of plants include Ficus pumilia, or creeping fig, pothos, orchids, ferns, pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes, and tropical houseplants of all types.
d4.) Substrate: Substrate is what you put down on the bottom over the layer of drainage material. Basically, dirt for plants to grow in. Many people have their own favorite recipe. What you put in is dependant on what kind of plants you want. Broms planted on the ground like a well drained mix, so use lots of rough material such as cypress mulch, orchid bark, or tree fern fiber. If your plants like it a bit wetter, add spaghnum moss or lots of coco fiber to your mix.
3.) What frog should I get?
The question of "What frog should I get?" is a fairly common one on Dendroboard, and fortunately, there's a good answer for it, if you ask the right question. The right question is, "What kind of frog do I want?". Some darts are better kept in pairs, some do well in groups. Do you want just a single pair of frogs, or do you want a big bunch of them? Some of them like to hide a lot. Do you want a frog you'll see out all the time, or do you mind not seeing them for days on end? Do you have your eye on a species already?
For the beginner, it's reccomended to buy captive bred darts from an established and reputable breeder, someone who will be there to answer your questions and stand behind their animals. I wouldn't recomend buying farm raised or wild caught darts to beginners.
If you're ordering them sent through the mail, once you have your frog (or if you're buying them in person), there's some things you should look for. A healthy dart has solid black eyes, clear, moist skin, a proportionate body, has no trouble walking or hopping, and sits with the front of the body held off the ground (note that D. azureus likes to hunch over a bit when sitting, but can still move normally).
Look at the frog's posture. Does it sit up and look alert, or does it sit flat on the ground with the front legs not able to hold it up? Is its skin moist, or does it look dry and shriveled? Does the frog react when you come near or open the tank? Once the frog is acclimated to its surroundings (this could take several days), offer it some food. Does it look interested in the food, or does the frog ignore it? Does it catch the food with it's tongue, or does the tongue look too short? Are there any sores or oddly colored areas on the frog? Does any part of the frog look swollen? If so, talk to the person you got the frog from and see what they want you to do about it.
I'll list the various beginner species, and the pros and cons of each. Remember though, these are individual animals we're talking about, and just because I say a certain species is bold or shy, doesn't mean that the frog you might get will be the same. To avoid favoratism, I'll just list them in alphabetical order. D. = Dendrobates, P. = Phyllobates.
a.) D. auratus - Auratus are the first dart frog that was available in the hobby, thus they've been around longest, and are usually the cheapest. They are readily available in green and black, and blue and black. Overall one of the shyer darts, and the blues are supposedly shyer than the greens. This frog can be kept in groups, and grows to be about 1" from nose to vent.
b.) D. azureus - There's some debate on if this is actually the same as D. tinctorius, but early genetic studies point that it is. This is a blue frog, having a sky blue stomach, and a cobalt blue back with black spots. Very bold in my experience. They're one of the moderately expensive darts, just due to demand. They grow to be about 1.5", and should be kept in pairs of one male and one female, or two males and one female. The females fight over the males, and have even been known to kill one another. If you have two females that are raised together without a male, they might get along OK.
c.) D. leucomelas - This is also a fairly cheap species, being a little bit more expensive than D. auratus on average. Leucs are usually plump and have yellow or orange with black stripes and/or spots. They have a trilling, birdlike call that sounds like a cross between a cricket and a canary. Another bold dart that's easily seen and out all day. They can also be kept in groups, and grow to be about 1.25".
d.) D. tinctorius - This is one of the most widespread and various darts, and many different morphs are known. It would be impossible to catalog them all here, but there are morph guides online. Suffice to say that this frog is closely related to D. azureus (at least) and shares the same size and social habits of boldness and femicide. They grow to be about 1.5" (for the larger morphs) and should be kept in pairs or trios of two males and one female.
e.) P. terribilis - This is the largest of the dart frogs, and one of the boldest. They really have no need to fear, because this is one of THE dart frogs, the ones that natives used to tip their darts. The most poisonous amphibian in nature. They are commonly available in mint green, and less often in orange, yellow, or golden. They grow to about 2" (large enough to eat crickets past pinhead size), and do well in groups.
4.) Uh-oh... I've already got the frog, now what?
As much as we frown on it, I don't think any of us has resisted the urge to buy an animal of some type on impulse. Hey, that's how I got into the dart hobby with my first azureus. If you have nothing available at the moment you bring them home, then set up temporary housing with a plastic storage box. The shoebox size is great. Critter keepers are another option. Just use paper towels as the substrate, and wet them down a little with treated water. Careful not to get the water too deep, these frogs CAN drown. Don't worry about ventiilation, darts don't need much. Add some leaves from a chemical free area or a washed plant cutting for them to hide under. They'll be OK for awhile until you can set up something more permanent. Get some fruit flies or pinheads by ordering them online, or picking them up at the local pet store. Petco and Petsmart both sell fruit flies.
Will add more when I think of it.