Red Back Poison Frog

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Scientific name: Ranitomeya reticulata

The basics:
The Red Back Poison Frog is only found in lowland rainforest in Peru. During the day R. reticulata are a terrestrial species found roaming around the leaf litter. They are quite tiny and most hobbyists say that they’re very shy.

Appearance / health:
These tiny frogs reach around 16-19mm at adult size and are absolutely beautiful to look at. Their vividly red dorsal side is splashed by blues and blacks near the edges of their dorsal red side. Their arms and legs are colored with a black background with blue reticulations. Some have a bit different pattern on the dorsal side in the amount and vividness of the red on their back. Regardless, these frogs are a treat to see and are usually in every hobbyists top 5 in the Ranitomeya genus.

For housing a pair of R. reticulata, I’d suggest a 10 gallon tank at the very least, however a 20 gallon tank or larger is generally what I prefer. It’s a great idea to convert the horizontally oriented tank to a vertical oriented tank using cut glass, some acrylic parts, and 100% silicone sealant. Instructions can be found online doing a simple search or looking on sites like Josh’s Frogs, Black Jungle, Dendroboard, or DartDen.

As far as plants go the tank should include bromeliads, some vining plants(philodendrons, pothos), ferns, begonias, and some ground cover. It’s really your choice but make sure that all plants are frog safe and do not contain pesticides or fertilizers.

You may use film canisters stuck to the glass using a suction cup as water areas and egg laying spots. You may usually be able to ask your neighborhood photography store for extra canisters, as they generally give them to you for free. Be sure to provide a lot of leaf litter to hide under and wood to climb on. Malaysian driftwood, Ghostwood, and Mopani wood are good choices, though I prefer Malaysian driftwood for it’s anti-molding qualities.

Finally a false bottom should be considered, unless you prefer to deconstruct your tank a lot in order to clean it. Not including one allows for the water sprayed into the tank to move down and rest at the bottom of the tank, thus becoming stagnant. Stagnant water will act as a breeding ground for all types of bacteria. A false bottom is a way to separate the standing water from the substrate, and allows for easier removal of this water.

Two ways to build a false bottom are:
1. Put about a 2-5” layer of hydroton on the bottom of the tank while separating the substrate from the hydroton using window screening that is put on top of the hydroton and anchored down by the substrate on top.

2. Use PVC pipe cut into “pillars” of around 2”-4” in height, spread them evenly and silicone them to the bottom of the tank, cut a section of “egg crate” ceiling tile to fit perfectly the dimensions of the bottom while covering the egg crate with the screening, and lay the screening covered egg crate on top of the PVC pillars. Finally put your substrate on top. This allows you to view the water level so that you can syphon out the water using 1/4” tubing once it gets higher than you prefer.

Care is quite easy once you have your tank setup properly and follow these simple rules. The first issue to address are your water choices. Using either Reverse osmosis, aged tap, or treated water is essential for misting. Misting should be done around 1-2x’s every 1-3 days so that the relative humidity within the tank is roughly 40-100%. Do not use water straight from the tap, baby water(that contains flouride), or untreated water. My preference is Reverse osmosis water as it is absolutely pure. You may find it at some Grocery stores, most Aquarium shops, or pet stores. Regardless, make sure to change water dishes every few days, as well as making sure that there isn’t any foul smell coming from the tank. If so, think about cleaning the tank thoroughly without using any types of soaps or cleaners. A 10% bleach/water solution or simply water and a razor blade will do just fine.

Either way, the goal is to maintain an internal temperature within the tank of around 68o-82o during the day with a 10o drop at night. In order to attain this temperature place any florescent light around 2-4” above the tank or a 25 watt-50 watt heating bulb around 4”-6” above the tank. Check to make sure you’re hitting the right temperature, as all houses may differ depending on season. Be sure to then make adjustments as needed. The light cycle should be set for 12hrs. on/12hrs. off schedule.

Finally, the last rule is to not handle your frogs, or at least, not more than 1-2 times a week for short periods of time. Remember that their skin is semi-permeable which means that the bacteria on your hands, or anything else, could be absorbed directly into your animal. This may result in death or disease in your animal which can be easily avoided.

All dart frogs in the thumbnail group will feed on Melanogaster fruit flies as the main part of their diet, although a varied diet is essential to help keep your frogs healthy.

The most common feeding insects are:
Fruit Flies (Melanogaster or Turkish Gliders for small darts)
Bean Beetles
Rice Flour Beetles
10 day old crickets (only for larger dart frog species

Generally, you should feed around 10-20 flies/frog every 1-4 days while dusting the flies every 2-3 times per week with a high quality vitamin/calcium supplement. Repcal, Herpovite, Dendrocare, Repashy, and Nekton are all high quality supplements to use. Also, make sure that you have a multivitamin with calcium and D3 or purchase a calcium supplement with D3 separately. Finally, add some springtails and isopods to act as a cleanup crew, some variety in their diet, and to help turn dead leaves and flies into soil. The other mentioned feeding items should be researched prior to including in your frogs diet.

R. reticulata generally live in groups of 5-6 individuals and will breed in larger groups during the wet season. So keeping larger groups may initiate better breeding success. Either way be sure to keep a close eye on your frogs until you’re sure there’s at least 1-2 pairs in the tank. Aim for pairs without any extra males. Since breeding generally occurs several feet higher up from the ground in empty tree holes or in bromeliads providing an abundance of bromeliads and/or film canisters in a variety of orientations throughout the tank is a great way to figure out their preferences for breeding areas. Place the bromeliads in areas in the tank that best meet their growth requirements. Place the film canisters(with suction cup attached) in different places, different angles(upwards or downwards), and fill some with water and others without. Eventually they’ll make their choice and breeding should occur.

Written by Matthew Olsen

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