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Discussion Starter #1
Ranitomeya variabilis:
AKA: Dendrobates variabilis
Contributers: Oz (rozdaboff), Darren Meyer
Images provided by: Michael Khadavi (corpus_callosum), Shawn Harrington(sports_doc), Antone Jones (frogtofall), Rob Kleinhanz (kleinhanz)

  • Difficulty: Intermediate – Based on size and speed.
  • Location & History – Rainforests of northeastern Peru. Discovered by Zimmerman (1988) (1)
  • Descriptions & Behavior: Small (15-18mm) frog with behavior ranging from shy and mildly skittish to bold in the right conditions. The common names of this species include Zimmerman’s poison frog and the variable poison frog (due to the variability in the patterning and coloration observed in the species). Dorsally, they display black spots on a metallic yellow to green background. Ventrally, they display the same black spots, but on a blue-green background, with the exception of the head, which maintains the dorsal background coloration. Legs can be metallic green to blue with black spots. The coloration and patterning of D. variabilis are mimicked by D. imitator imitator, which inhabit the same geographic range. While the two look very similar, there are distinct differences in body shape and patterning. Variabilis possess a single dorsal nose spot with two small spots on the tip of the nose that are not visible when viewed from above, while the two spots on the tip of the nose on an imitator extend onto the top of the head, and can be seen from above. These spots may or may not intersect with one or more smaller nose spots (see image – Variabilis on the left, Imitator on the right).

    The belly patterning between variabilis and imitator is also different. Variabilis have blue ventral coloration with yellow coloration on the neck. Imitator however have a variable amount of yellow coloration that can extend throughout the ventral surface:



    Currently, there are two lines of variabilis in the hobby. One line (Linbo) originated from CB stock in Europe. The other line was imported by INIBICO starting in the spring of 2006, and more recently by the Understory project. The two lines are phenotypically very similar. Both the INIBICO and Understory frogs are representative of a variable, contiguous population, and mixing is encouraged. However, because definitive site data is not available for the Linbo of variabilis, they should not be mixed with the INIBICO/Understory frogs at this time. However, given the relatively small distribution of the frog, it is likely they do not represent separate populations.
  • General Care:
    Since D. variabilis are found at higher elevations (1600-4500 ft) (2), a cooler temperature range is recommended (low to mid 70’s), but successful husbandry with temp ranges that seasonally approach 80º F has been noted. As with most dendrobatids, a nighttime temp drop of up to 10º F if possible is recommended.

    Variabilis can be housed in pairs, trios or groups. Female heavy groups are preferable, as they encourage breeding activity, and males can exhibit intrasex aggression.

    Vertically oriented enclosures (15H, 20H) with a fair amount of terrestrial space are recommended, as these frogs make regular use of both the vertical space and the viv floor. Bromeliads, large-leaved plants, and vines covering the background (such as creeping fig) offer the frogs security as well as sleeping locations. A thick layer of leaf litter is also recommended, as these frogs like to dart for cover when startled. The more hiding spaces offered, the more the frogs will be out for observation.
  • Breeding & tadpole Care:
    Frogs mature quickly (7-8 months), and males may even begin calling as early as 5 months. Call is audible but not extremely loud; the low buzzing nature of the call resembles that of D. ventrimaculatus. Males will call from laying location to attract female. Females are significantly larger than males.

    Egg deposition has been observed almost entirely in film canisters. Success with the Linbo line has been noted using completely horizontal black film containers placed up high in the viv. INIBICO frogs readily utilize white or black film canisters, tilted at a 45 degree angle half-filled with water. In conversations with individuals who have observed D. variabilis in their natural habitat, it has been reported that egg deposition occurs in the axils of plants filled with water. The angle and level of water within the film canisters appears to serve as an acceptable substitute for the natural preference. Clutches of 4-10 eggs can be laid as often as every 5-7 days. Eggs can be removed from the viv, or left to develop on their own. While tadpoles can be raised by the parents, even with a large number of tad deposition sites, only a small percentage of the tads will be cared for by the parents.

    Tadpoles may exhibit cannibalism and should be housed individually. Tadpoles can be fed tadpole bites, fish flakes or another mostly protein based diet and detritus (decaying leaves and dead FFs), but it is not recommended to raise tadpoles on a mostly algae based diet. Froglets emerge from the water relatively large in comparison to other thumbnails, and while the feeding of springtails for the first couple of weeks is recommended, they rapidly show an interest in stunted and wingless melanogaster.
  • Pictures:

    Nearly morphed variabilis tad:

Amphibian Steward Network D. variabilis Taxon Management Proposal

(1), dart poison frogs, vivaria, plants, together with lots of pictures, films and more. Orchids, bromelia's, mosses, descriptions of dendrobates leucomelas, azureus, pumilio, tinctorius, auratus and how to breed frogs but also fruit

If you would like to see any updates or modifications to this care sheet please let myself or a moderator know.
Last Updated: 1/16/2009

2,475 Posts
some information on the 'Southern' population of variabilis brought in by UE last year.

this population is much larger than the standards, and is closer to the size of fantastica. they breed for me in film canisters angled just enough to hold water, with the most activity in canisters in the middle and higher reaches of the tank. others ive talked to have said theirs breed in the leaf litter in canisters or directly on the leaves. i have a 1.2 trio that always breed together with no aggression or egg eating. i receive a clutch of 3-6 eggs from each female about every 2 weeks. oddly enough, both sexes have transported the tads. unfortunately, they dont seem to be the best parents because they dont take care of them much after they transport. also, it took over a year for tads to start morphing out healthy. the tadpoles are BIG for ranitomeya tads, closer to quinquivittatus tads. the newly morphed froglets are big enough to take melanos.

pictures of my trio

breeding activity

belly shot

almost morphed tad


go here for info on their habitat and morphology: - Ranitomeya variabilis

go here for more pictures and additional info/availability:
Understory Enterprises Inc. - Raniomeya variabilis

2,475 Posts
as an update, i recently put pothos in the southerns tank and they have now been breeding on overlapped pothos leaves in the bottom of the tank. they are still using canisters as well though.
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