I strongly suggest you research the specific habitat requirements for the species you want to acquire. Researching the frog’s environment will enable you to meet the frog’s needs. Also, you will always want to have the cage constructed before you purchase any frog to reduce the stress on the frog. Refer to the individual species instructions in other sections of this Web site for individual versus group breeding and for terrestrial versus arboreal breeding.
Note that specific cage construction will vary among breeders. First, choose a tank that is secure because poison arrow frogs can be escape artists. Do not buy a tank with screened sides because the frogs can rub their faces on the screen material, causing lesions and infections. Additionally, the screen will not provide adequate humidity. I start with a glass or Plexiglas cage, and I recommend cages that have screen tops.
Front sliding doors are also good for replacing air, and they are less intimidating to the frogs during feeding time. A screen lid will provide adequate ventilation for the vivarium. If you live in a very dry climate, I recommend covering half of the screen lid with plastic wrap to maintain high humidity. Ventilation is very important so that the substrate (soil in the cage) doesn’t get too wet and so fungi and mold won’t grow. I drill a hole (5/8 of an inch) in the bottom of my cages to provide drainage, but that is not always a practical solution for the average hobbyist.
I always layer the substrates. I start with a thin layer of Styrofoam and layer it with a plastic screen. I use Styrofoam because it is cheap, sanitary, readily available, and lightweight (putting less pressure on the enclosure). Also, aquarium rock can hurt your frogs if there are any sharp edges protruding from the soil. These frogs are quick and active, and one sharp edge can result in the loss of an arm, leg, or finger. I layer the top of the screen with at least 3 inches of coco chunks (40%), with coco fiber (40%), and cleaned play sand (20%), measured by weight. The coco fiber and chunks provide nutrients for the plants and keep humidity high, while the sand helps with drainage.
I always have growing plants and live moss in my enclosures. Try to buy plants from growers that grow for herp use because you don’t want plants with pesticides/insecticides or chemical fertilizers on them. If you are uncertain of the plants you buy, wash the leaves and stems with antibacterial soap, and replant the roots in approved soil that you know contains no chemicals or pesticides/insecticides. Plants keep the humidity in cages high and provide fresh oxygen for your frogs. I also believe that the presence of plants decreases the stress in frogs because plants mimic their natural environment. Having plants in an enclosure is also a great way to keep your terrarium clean because the plants use the frog’s fecal matter as a natural source of fertilization.
I also recommend cork bark for cages because it is lightweight, aesthetically pleasing, and a great hiding area for frogs. Ghost wood can also add depth to your enclosure and is great for vines, creepers, and epithetic plants (bromeliads, orchids, and tillandsias, which don’t grow in soil). Cork bark and ghost wood are great for tropical vivariums because they do not grow mold. Coco huts (half a coconut shell) are also great hiding areas and are used by many terrestrial species for breeding. Look into the specifics of the frog that you are purchasing in order to decide what should be in your vivarium. If you have live plants, it is usually only necessary to clean fecal matter off the ground and the glass of the enclosure. Wipe down glass of the enclosure and the leaves once a week to ensure a sanitary environment.
Terrestrial species spend their time almost on the ground. Coco huts are important to have if you are attempting to breed hut-breeding frogs as they provide good hiding areas for the frogs. I recommend the terrestrial varieties that need lots of ground space, purchasing a wide tank as opposed to a tall tank. I also recommend that you provide either type of frog, terrestrial or arboreal, with at least a few tropical plants such as of vines, ferns, creepers, tillandzias, orchids, tropical cacti, or very limited carnivorous plants (butterwort, bladderwort, and some sundew species). Don’t overcrowd plants, and be sure that you know the height and logistics of the plants you choose.
Arboreal species need the back of their enclosure layered with plants like vines, creepers, tillandzias, orchids, tropical cacti, very limited carnivorous plants (butterwort, bladderwort, and some sundew species), ferns, and bromeliads that can be attached to cork bark or compressed coconut or palm fiber. Dried mushrooms also add a nice accent to your tank and can provide arboreal frogs with platforms in the high areas of the tank.
Water bowls are not a necessity for the tank if the humidity is correct, but I still recommend them. Poison arrow frogs have no webbing on their feet and can drown. I recommend lightly spraying the cages with a water bottle and never letting any water settle at the bottom. If you are including waterfalls or waterways in your cage, be sure to have a good pump and to do consistent water treatments and changes. You also want to be certain that the currents aren’t very strong and that there are easy ways for the frogs to escape the water source…the frogs can even wrestle each other into the water source and drown. It is important to provide a shallow water bowl with distilled or carbon-filtered water or dechlorinated water, and to change the water daily. A lower PH balance is preferable. Minerals in the water source are important, so distilled water and water obtained via reverse osmosis may not have the minerals necessary to sustain frogs. Tannins, tadpole tea (peat moss), black water, liquid vitamin D and/or minerals can be added to the water sources for the frog’s health and to help prevent bacteria growth. Provide only enough water for the frog to fully submerge itself while being able to touch the bottom of the water bowl with all four feet. Spray the enclosure with a light mist one to two times a day. Some keepers prefer to have their enclosures on automatic mist systems connected to timers. Foggers and humidifiers provide great accents, but are not required for your frog's well-being.
Lights are not necessary for the well-being of the frog but can have some physiological effects when it comes to breeding. However, poison arrow frogs require live plants in their enclosure, and the plants require lighting. Florescent bulbs can be purchased at any local pet/reptile store and are adequate for a 40-gallon-and-under tank. For larger tanks, you may require high-pressure sodium bulbs and fixtures…these can be quite expensive. An added danger is that sodium bulbs and fixtures produce a lot of heat and may dry out the tank. You can use a small computer fan or a number of small computer fans to keep the tank from overheating. I recommend an automatic mist system if you are using high-pressure sodium bulbs as these systems regularly cool down the tank and prevent the tank from drying out. Put your lights on a simple timer (which can be purchased at a local hardware store) for a photoperiod of 10-12 hours.
Most poison arrow frogs prefer a temperature range of 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. IT IS VITAL that you DO NOT allow the temperature to drop below 65 degrees or to rise above 85 for extended periods of time. Temperature should remain in the 70s but may vary slightly depending on the species. It is important to let the temperature drop a few degrees at night so the frog may get a sense of circadian rhythm.