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Dendrobates leucomelas:

  • Difficulty:

    Novice. Often considered the one of the best beginner's frogs because of their relative tolerance of variablity in enclosure parameters, both moisture/humidity and temperature.

  • Introduction:

    Dendrobates leucomelas — common name “leucomelas” or “leucs” — are relatively bold, vividly colored frogs that are distinctively tolerant of first-time keepers’ deviations from optimal care. An ideal first dart frog, leucs are one of the few species for which moisture and temperature excursions are not immediately problematic, as they are subject to seasonal climate variations in the wild. They are a good choice for keepers who want to see their frogs often, as leucs are not only actively exploring climbers and bold in the presence of people, but their yellow coloration is more visible in a planted vivarium than that of perhaps any other dart species. They also tend to be more tolerant of group living than other novice-appropriate species.

    Leucomelas are widely available as captive bred specimens. Though often found in chain pet marts, leucs are easily acquired from small hobbyist breeders, which should be considered the first source for dart frogs.

    Given a roomy vivarium with good airflow, a simple but well-considered vivarium design with a multitude of hardscape elements, a range of plant choices, and layers of leaf litter that the frogs can explore, leucs thrive easily under the watch of an attentive keeper and are a fantastic dart frog species with which to begin the hobby. As they are quite visually and behaviorally different from other species, leucs are equally desired by more experienced keepers as well.

  • Natural history:

    Dendrobates leucomelas occupies a very wide range of lowland habitats in Venezuela, Guyana, Colombia and extreme northern Brazil. They inhabit moist forests and dry gallery forests within savanna regions, and aestivate during extremely dry periods, the only Dendrobatid known to do so. Reproductive competition between females is documented in the wild (4, 5).

    Dendrobates leucomelas is listed as 'least concern' by IUCN, and is CITES Appendix II (trade is allowed but controlled) since 1987. Those morphs from Venezuela are likely to have been smuggled; Venezuela has permitted only one export of 10 live leucomelas (in 1994). Other Venzuelan leucomelas categorized by import year ('1995', '1996' are currently marketed) were not exported with CITES permits. (6)

    The 'banded' morph from Guyana is likely to have been imported legally, as Guyana has permitted many exports of live leucomelas. (6)

  • Housing and captive care:

    A vivarium 18” x 18” x 24” (about 30 gallons volume) might be considered the absolute minimum size for a pair of leucomelas. Larger than bare minimum enclosures offer more habitat choice to the frogs, encouraging them to explore more, and are necessary for keeping larger groups of frogs. The benefits of a range of thermal and moisture gradients are also increased as enclosure size is increased. Off-the-shelf enclosures of 36" height (and much higher) will be well used by these avid climbers, and longer vivaria (36" ExoTerra type enclosures, and longer if modifying aquariums for use) make long horizontal hardscape elements possible which leucomelas will make much use of.

    As with every species of dart frog, only one morph of one species should be kept in a vivarium to avoid crossbreeding and behavioral issues due to temperament differences. Also as with all species of dart frogs, they do not benefit from the presence of any other vertebrate cohabitants, contrary to online misinformation promulgated by inexperienced keepers and unscrupulous breeders. Entering ‘mixing’ into the search bar here on Dendroboard will give many more reasons why responsible keeping entails species-specific enclosures.

    Ideally, leucomelas are kept within a temperature range of 70-80º F during the day, with nightly lows down to 65º. Using an infrared temperature gun of any brand and style is the best way to monitor temps in a vivarium. Reported tolerance of extremes ranges into the 50s F and beyond the normally accepted high safe temperature of 85º. Some keepers have reported tolerances into the 90s, though this is not encouraged. Extended time at low temperatures will cause the frogs to hide constantly and fail to feed; extended time at high temperatures, especially without careful attention to providing both sufficient moisture and generous ventilation, will certainly be fatal.

    Like all dart frog species, situating the vivarium in a room that maintains these safe temperatures is strongly recommended over attempting to provide supplemental heat or cooling to the vivarium. Dart frogs are not basking thermoregulators, nor do they naturally seek out belly heat, and raising vivarium temperatures affects the moisture levels and cycles of a vivarium in ways that can be very difficult to predict and compensate for.

    Daily heavy misting with an automated misting system (such as MistKing) or manually with a pump-type handheld sprayer in amounts sufficient to rinse plant leaves of debris and waste material, and to soak into the substrate to provide water for terrestrial plants, is sufficient to provide moisture for the frogs. Some keepers mist once each morning, while vivariums with generous ventilation, or those in dry (desert) climates may be prudently misted a few times each day. Since frogs retreat to moist spots at night, evening and nighttime misting is unnecessary, and many vivarium plants benefit from a break from excess water overnight.

    Providing sufficient ventilation for the plant leaf surfaces, leaf litter, and hardscape to dry over the course of the day ensures that a balance of fresh air and general water availability is maintained. As water evaporates from the vivarium, the frogs can choose to retreat to moist hiding areas to conserve moisture, or sit out in ventilated spots to transpire moisture to cool themselves. Monitoring relative humidity with a meter is unnecessary.

    Leucs are fairly tolerant of lower humidity and moisture than other species, as many wild populations experience an extended dry period seasonally. They do not need or benefit from standing or flowing water in the vivarium, and would much prefer that all vivarium space is dedicated to walkable and climbable surfaces.

    Photos of an ideal leucomelas vivarium, all courtesy of @tinc2344:

    Plant Wood Terrestrial plant Vegetation Grass
    Plant Wood Terrestrial plant Trunk Flowering plant

    From the designer/keeper of this vivarium (@tinc2344):
    "I tried to keep in mind their behavior while doing the hardscape and planning of the tank. As they would use and explore every inch of the tank I wanted to try and offer them multiple ways around the tank using the "empty" space that came with the volume of the tank. The "split tree" was in an attempt of a pathway throughout the tank that used the empty space while not having a fully centered look to it as I wanted to have a pleasing view also from both viewing panes.
    "The plants were chosen mainly to provide them the most space to explore without making the tank feel cramped. I tried to use large leafed plants with decent stems so when they climb on it, the plant can support the frog (minus the Alacosia, that's for me I love the leaf shape). I do know with that some of these plants will get very large, so I will be pruning a lot and also pinning to train them against the background (mainly the rhaphidophora). I mainly picked Leucs for this tank due to the size of it, and they can be kept in groups, as this is a display in the living area I felt that having 4 Luecs will provide more opportunity to view them than if I went with a species that do best in pairs like Tincs." (3)
  • Morphs and locales available in the hobby

    - this includes the "orange", "yellow", and "green foot" which are natural variations within the morph, and in some cases line breeding has occurred to make these traits more predictable. Also part of this morph is the 'Chocolate' selectively bred genetic form (aka "Albino", "Vanishing Jewels"). Imported many times in the 1990s; some distinct lines still exist, but most 'Standard' leucs in the hobby are from diverse backgrounds. Originally from Venezuela; current legal imports of WC specimens from Guyana are certainly being mixed into standard lines.

    'Standard' leucomelas, photos courtesy of @bssknox

    Frog Poison dart frog True frog Organism Yellow
    Fire salamander Plant Salamander Salamandra Terrestrial plant

    Banded - from Guyana - Size is significantly larger than standard, color ranging from yellow to orange like standard, and animals have more solid bands of color, rarely broken by spotting like standards (they look like juvenile standards pattern wise). They have proven much harder to breed, with only a few groups of froglets to date. Much more challenging than standards as their breeding triggers are still unknown. Are said to have entered the hobby in 2005. Typically spelled "British Guyana Banded", though the proper name of the native country is simply 'Guyana', which before 1966 was a British colony known as 'British Guiana'

    'British Guyana Banded' leucomelas, courtesy of Jeff Ravage:

    Plant Poison dart frog Leaf Frog Phyllobates

    Fine Spot - a slightly smaller morph than the Standard, with the bands of orange broken up by a lot of fine spots, giving an over all netted pattern on the back. Some keepers report that it is more difficult to trigger breeding than the standard morph. Likely originates from Estado Bolivar, Venezuela.

    Adult 'Fine Spot' leucomelas, photo courtesy of John Zillmer:

    Frog True frog Toad Organism Poison dart frog

    'Fine Spot' newly metamorphed:

    Frog Poison dart frog True frog Plant Toad

    'Fine Spot' juveniles; spots will increase in number until adulthood:

    Poison dart frog Frog Nature Phyllobates True frog

  • 'Bluefoot' or ‘Cerro Autana’ leucomelas:

    A locale specific morph from the Cerro Autana region of Venezuela, near the Colombian border. Bluefoot leucomelas hail from a very small region at the base of Autana Mountain (1).

    'Bluefoot' leucs are slower to mature, taking up to three years. (1) They are irregular breeders and lay smaller clutches of eggs (2-3). (1,2)

    'Bluefoot' photos, all courtesy of Nick Gamble:

    Arm Sports equipment Leg Plant Human body
    Insect Arthropod Pollinator Font Pest

    Other "morphs":

    Some, such as “Bandit” and “Sunbee” are selectively bred and are not true morph names but rather corporate trademark terms used for marketing. Such misleading commercialization is frowned on by most serious dart frog keepers.

  • Breeding & tadpole Care:

    Males of some morphs may begin calling as early as 5-6 months of age, but females generally take longer to attain sexual maturity. Call can be louder than others and maybe too loud for some areas of your home.

    Petri dishes under coco huts and large leaves are often utilized as laying sites. Females may engage in egg-eating, so housing as 1.1 pairs or 2.1 trios for breeding is typically more successful than other ratios.

    Clutches range in size from 2-10 eggs, depending on morph. Tadpoles may exhibit cannibalism and should be housed individually. Tadpoles can be fed fish flakes, detritus (decaying leaves and dead FFs), and algae based foods.

  • Summary:

    Dendrobates leucomelas
    is a perfect first dart frog for new keepers, as they are bold, colorful, and somewhat forgiving of novice keepers' learning curve. This may be the only dart frog species that could be recommended for hobbyists whose homes reach temperatures that would otherwise preclude dart frog keeping (above 85F). Chances of success with the species will be much enhanced with roomy vivariums with ample ventilation, relatively stable parameters and extensive climbing opportunities.


    (1) Vivariums:dendrobate leucomelas 2 | tropical-hobbies
    (2) Blue Footed Leucs- My perspective
    (3) DD150 gallon (3'x3'x27") Leuc build
    (4) AmphibiaWeb - Dendrobates leucomelas
    (5) Dendrobates leucomelas | Poison Dart Frogs |
    (6) CITES


    Nick Gamble (@Gamble)
    Jeff Ravage (@Ravage)
    Michael LaCross (@varanoid)
    John Zillmer (@Socratic Monologue)

    Last updated January 2023 by @Socratic Monologue
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