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Ranitomeya fantastica:
AKA: Dendrobates fantasticus
Contributers: Corey Wickliffe (KeroKero), Mark Pepper, Kyle Kopp (kyle1745), Chris Miller (Aurotaenia), Jason Smith (Jason)

  • Difficulty:
  • Location & History:
    "Known only from the type locality (Loreto, Peru)" (1) but larger described ranged given in the - Ranitomeya fantastica D. fantasticus species profile[/url] as "throughout northern San Martin and southern Loreto departments in north-central Peru"(2). Described Boulenger, 1884 (1).
  • Descriptions & Behavior:
    These frogs belong to the Thumbnail species group and within the Thumbnail group are most closely related to R. summersi and R. benedicta (2).

    Originally only represented by one morph in the hobby, recent new additions include importations of these species through farm-raised imports by both INIBICO and Understory Enterprises. How these new populations, which resemble lines already present in the hobby, are related is unknown due to lack of site locality information in the older lines, and are thus described separately here. Populations can vary greatly in their preferences as populations of this species are found to range from arboreal to terrestrial with breeding plant preferences just as broad, so specific morph information is important. These are also one of the largest thumbnails in the hobby, with properly raised females being around an inch in length!

    Note: These morphs represent unique sub populations in the wild that share general physical characteristics, and for that reason different morphs should not be mixed.

    New importations of farm raised animals from Peru are being brought in through the INIBICO and Understory Enterprises (UE) projects, and these animals with known localities should be kept separate from even identical seeming animals already present in the hobby, as its likely they are from different populations. With many of the new imports these codes will become increasingly important. We owe the hobby to be responsible and keep these morphs true. Without this, sustaining these animals in the hobby will be virtually impossible.

    For an explanation of the UE codes used below please click here!

    'Copperhead/Standard' (Old European and WC imports)
    These fantastica, incorrectly known as "nominat"(5)(6)(7), possess orange heads with butterfly black marking between the eyes and spider webbing of lighter coloration (gold, blue, white depending on line and animal) over solid black bodies. These frogs typically are extremely fast, can jump significant distances, and are extremely skittish, so handling these delicate animals is extremely hard, and best for more experienced keepers (that, along with some breeding and feeding difficulties due to small size gave these forms the 'Advanced' experience ranking). In captivity they prefer vertically oriented tanks with clumps of bromeliads (preferred over single, lone bromeliads) to breed and hide in. A highly skittish to flat out shy form, these animals can actually be rather bold when courting. These frogs are from Peruvian importations from a number of years ago, and their relationship with the current Peruvian imports is unknown and should therefore be kept separately.

    'Copperhead (incorrectly Nominat)' (INIBICO)
    Incorrectly referred to as the nominat form (5)(6)(7), these were imported in 2005/2006 by the INIBICO project. Found in the wild "restricted to the Cainarachi valley in northern San Martin between elevations of 1,300 – 3,500 feet". This population is arboreal and breeds in bromeliads (3). These frogs closely resemble the old line of Copperhead R. fantastica.

    'Lowland' (Understory Enterprises RF-CLR7)
    A highly variable population of this species, and new to the hobby. "Somewhat shy, these frogs will become bolder provided with a spacious vivarium with plenty of layered foliage and branches."Read more at the UE profile...

    'Caynarachi' (Understory Enterprises RF-ALCM)
    Imported in 2005/2006 by Mark Pepper. These frogs come from an area in between the Copperhead frogs from INIBICO and the Lowland form. They are likely the result of the mixing of the two populations, at one time, as many appear to be an intergrade form possessing the broken crown and blue reticulations of the Lowland form with the patterning of the Copperhead form.

    Found near Yurimaguas, this is the true nominat form of R. fantastica as described by Boulanger in 1884 and again by Brown et al. in 2008. Frogs have a bright orange head which may be missing the crown or butterfly pattern found on other forms of R. fantastica. The orange head coloration continues down the upper arms and back and belly have blue reticulations. This is the frog that R. imitator 'Varadero' imitates. Some frogs from this population have made it to Europe and a small number have since come to the US as well.

    'White Banded' (Understory Enterprises RF-BT)
    "This particular fantastica is terrestrial in nature, and displays a stunning degree of variation. About 1 in 10 frogs from this population has the white banding replaced by yellow, resulting in a frog very similar to R. summersi. These apparently two different looking types appear to interbreed freely in the wild, and the yellow ones appear to be part of the standard degree of variation present in this population." There is a chance that these frogs are the result of R. fantastica being introduced into an R. summersi population by humans(6). Some were brought in to Europe (not by Understory) and have made it to the US in small numbers.
  • General Care:
    Feeding wise these frogs show a great range in foods they readily eat, and more specific diets can be tailored to the forms to match their terrestrial to arboreal habits, FFs making a great staple. Froglets will readily take small melanogaster out of the water, and springtails are not necessary but appreciated.

    R. fantastica will do well in most heavily planted tanks, but will rarely be on the floor of the tank. Taller tanks are appreciated, especially larger tanks that can hold a good amount of their preferred bromeliads. Remember - these tanks need to have depth as well as height - taller or vertically oriented tanks often give up depth (measurement of the tank from the front to back) for height. Stick to tanks with a ratio away from their depth being half the height and width of the tank.

  • Breeding & Tadpole Care:
    While most often bred in pairs, these frogs also do well in equal ratio groups (4) of 5 or more frogs in a large tank - this is especially nice to see the full range of behaviors in these frogs. Quads and trios may work on occasion, but this is generally to be avoided if possible. R. fantastica take advantage of film canisters in captivity, and are also one of the few PDFs to actually use bromeliads for breeding preferably in the wild (2), and clumps of bromeliads seem to be preferred.

    The call of these frogs is an extremely soft buzz, and in courting animals the call is often not even heard even within close proximity to the frog (within one to two feet when working in a tank where a pair was courting - the calling male could be seen but not heard!). R. fantastica exhibit a jerky hopping/walking motion when courting, otherwise the ritual is typical of the Ranitomeya genus, with the female following and stroking the back of the calling male, who leads her to a bower where they breed.

    Eggs are often laid on leaves which are wrapped around them though both heavily overlapped leaves and horizontally oriented film canisters are also used. Small clutches of 1-3 eggs is typical (4). R. fantastica will transport their tadpoles to available bromeliad axils or water filled film canisters. All water bodies should be flushed minimum once a week with fresh water - the misting system will not do this for you and can be done by a small watering can or mister set on a heavier "rain" setting.

    Tadpole care is typical of the Thumbnail group. These tadpoles should be raised separately due to their cannibalistic tendencies, and can be raised in rather small bodies of water, such as shot glasses or votive candle holders, but other larger containers can be used as well. The tadpoles are omnivorous detrivores (detrituvores?), feeding on a wide range of food including bacterial slime, leaf matter, drowned insects, unlucky tadpoles deposited in their water body, and of course, feeder eggs. In captivity algae and plant based diets should be avioded, and a base diet of Tadpole Bites or good quality fish flakes is a good staple diet.

    When fed correctly (only one or two tadpole bites, or a fish flake the size of the body of the tadpole) the food should be consumed within an hour of feeding and will not foul the water, reducing needed water changes. If water changes are done, do NOT wipe off the slimy film on the inside walls of the container, this is fed on by the tadpole, and this film is the preferred growth to algae. Rather than full water changes, my (KeroKero) method is to "flush" the water of the containers by overflowing it much like I do with bromeliads and film canisters in the tanks. This keeps the water fresh for the tadpoles (simulating how rain storms would flush them out on a regular basis). Detritus on the bottom (leaf parts, tadpole poo) generally will not get rinsed out due to their weight, but that's ok - as long as its not uneaten food which spoils the water (and will need a full water change which is best avoided, the "flushing method" is much preferable).

    Coloration in these animals develops relatively early, with the "crown" marking clearly visible in animals that do not have elbows clearly defined. By the time the elbows are clearly seen (showing the nearly full development of the forelimbs under the skin and a few days/weeks until they pop) the spider webbing markings are visible on the back and hind limbs, and is visible on the forelimbs through the thin skin covering them. Photos of this can be seen at D. fantasticus Development (4).

    Froglets morph nearly 1/2 the size of the parents, and are generally very hardy. I recommend letting the froglets morph out into the froglet tank, to avoid having to transfer them from morphing tank to froglet tank. As mentioned before, they take melanogaster, especially wingless and golden delicious forms, right out of the water with no need for springtails (although the yellows seem to really enjoy them). They mature in 6-10 months of age.
  • Pictures:

    'Copperhead/Standard' (Old European and WC imports)

    'Lowland' (Understory Enterprises RF-CLR7)

    Photo summited by Understory Enterprises (c) 2006

    'White Banded' (Understory Enterprises RF-BT)

    Photo summited by Understory Enterprises (c) 2006

(1) AMNH Amphibian Species of the World, 4.0, an Online Reference
(2) Dendrobates fantasticus species profile
(3) Herpetologic INIBICO imports
(4) Tor Linbo's D. fantasticus species profile
(5) Boulanger, 1884
(6) Mark Pepper
(7) Brown et al., 2008

If you would like to see any updates or modifications to this care sheet please let myself or a moderator know.

Last updated with very minor edits: September 2022 by @Socratic Monologue .
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