Doyle's Dart Den
General Housing for Dart Frogs
by David Doyle 10/12/2002
Housing for dart frogs should mimic their natural environment as much as possible. For information regarding a specific species see "Species Datasheets". In general the, parameter of the environment should be:
Housing for dart frogs is most often referred to as a "vivarium". Vivariums may be as simple as a converted 10 gallon fish tank to a walk-in room. I have a description of a 10 gallon false bottom setup which covers most of the general requirements. It can be seen at "10 Gallon False Bottom Vivarium"
The following section discusses the different parts of an vivarium in detail. The parts are:
The container is the box that is used for the vivarium. The most common container is a standard fish tank, but may also be a custom-built glass enclosure or even a plywood enclosure. The fish tank will be discussed here, but if you would like to read about other enclosures see:
Fish tanks are the most often chosen enclosure because they are readily available and come in numerous sizes. To see some of the sizes available go to one of the following:
Good choices for a vivarium are
They provide enough room for 4 adult frogs, but are small enough to be moved without breaking down the setup (very important for college students and office vivariums). Also, they are large enough that the environmental parameters inside the vivarium are more stable than a 10 gallon tank. Return to top.
The purpose of the background is to provide a more natural appearance to the vivarium. The background also provides an area for the animals to climb and the plants to grow on. Some materials used are
The most popular is natural cork which can be purchased in "flat" sections. The flat section are still partially curved but they can be trimmed to lay relatively flat. To make the background, lay the enclosure on its side so that the section you wish to attach the background to, is the bottom. Mark the approximate level of where the soil or water will come to, and trim the sections of the material and place them in until you have covered the section. Once the background material has been cut and placed on the wall, attach the material. I have used GE 100% silicon rubber sealant and had good luck with it. Whatever you use, make sure that it does not contain any mildew resistant compounds. For areas in which the silicon is showing, dry peat moss can be placed on it. This will camouflage the silicon. Allow the silicon to cure until you do not smell the odor before you introduce animals. This normally takes 48 hours. Areas where there are gaps between the material can be filled with sphagma moss.
With the humidity inside the vivarium reaching 100%, allowing for an area for water to drain to is important. This is accomplished by placing a layer of inert material such as quartz gravel or charcoal in the bottom of the vivarium or the use of a false bottom. "False Bottom" is the term used when spacers are placed in the bottom of the vivarium, and then a porous layer is placed on top of the spacers. A common method used is to place sections of PVC pipe that is 3/4 to 2 inches in diameter in the bottom. The porous layer is normally "egg crate" wrapped in fiberglass window screen. Egg crate refers to the plastic grate that is used to cover fluorescent lights in offices. It can be purchased at "Do-it-yourself" stores such as Home Depot or Lowe's.
insert photo of egg crate
These "spacers" are held in place by use of silicone or hot glue or they can be tied to the egg crate with nylon twine or plastic cable ties. Return to top.
Flowing water is not required for success of keeping frogs but it does help maintain the humidity and provides an aesthetic element. I have experimented with different water flow setups and have moved to the "Spring / Rock Stream" on my setups. This is accomplished by deleting the false bottom from one section of the vivarium. In this area. I place a small submersible pump (power head). On top of this, I construct a small structure of rocks using flat slate or sandstone. I leave the center open so that it will fit over the power head and allow an area for the water to flow up through. On the front side, I leave an open area for the water to flow out of and allow the water to flow along a "stair step" of rock. I use silicone to attach the rocks together to prevent movement and to allow removal. The advantage to this method is when the pump becomes clogged or needs cleaning, all one has to do is remove the rock structure and then remove the power head.
I have also experimented with drip walls which flowed down the background, but unless the background is an inert material it begins to rot away in a year or two. Return to top.
There are numerous substrates that are suitable for the dart frog vivarium. The two most commonly used are gravel and soil mixes. Gravel is the least costly and easiest to maintain. This is normally a quartz gravel that is rounded and of a size the frogs can not accidentally ingest. This can be found at a fish store or a garden supply store. The gravel should be washed before use. The disadvantage to gravel is the weight and for some people the aeshetics. I personally like the mix that is used at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. The mix is:
2 parts fine fir bark
Place the ingredients into a bucket and mix. After it is mixed, fill the bucket with hot water. This will hydrate the soil and will help to leach out any chemicals that may be in the soil. After about ten minutes, drain the water and repeat. Do the same with enough medium charcoal to cover the false bottom with approx. 1 - 2 inches. See the "Plant Source Links" for establishments that sell these ingredients. I also sell the soil mix. Click Here for more info.
Place the charcoal over the top of the false bottom so that there is 1 to 2 inches. Then place the soil mix over the charcoal and construct any landforms you wish. Return to top.
Humidity and Ventilation Control The balance between the proper amount of ventilation and maintaining the proper humidity can be one of the more challenging aspects of the dart frog vivarium. If too much ventilation is provided and the room humidity is lower than 80% (which is the case in almost all homes), the humidity will drop to unacceptable levels in the vivarium. If too little ventilation is provided, the environment of the vivarium will become stagnate. Covering 80 to 95 % of the vivarium top with a solid material such as glass and the remaining portion with screen will normally provide the proper amount of ventilation. If the room the vivarium is kept in has low humidity, use the higher portion of the range. If the room has higher humidity, the lower portion of the range may be used. Some people maintain "frog rooms" to house their vivariums in, and they maintain high levels of humidity in these areas even to a point that the entire top may be screen. One can construct the vivarium with a larger portion of the top as screen and then cover parts of the screen with glass plates or plastic wrap to adjust the ventilation.
Misting systems are also a too by which to control humidity. Normally the vivarium is misted between once a day and once every 3 days with a hand operated spray. With the use of misting systems, the vivarium may be misted several times a day. The more frequent misting allows for more ventilation but still maintain the humidity levels. For more information regarding misting systems see:
Commercial misting systems - http://www.cloudtops.com
Homemade misting system - http://www.trix.com/binx/mister/
Homemade system and parts - http://www.barrs.com/
The best way to maintain the correct temperature of the vivarium is by maintaining the room temperature. Keep in mind that the vivarium will be a few degrees warmer than the room because of the lights. Also, this will reduce fogging of the tank. If the room is much cooler than the vivarium, moisture will condense on the glass obstructing your view.
Some people also use heating pads under. I have used submersible fish tank heaters, but you have to dig them out anytime you need to adjust them, and if the water drops below the heater, it will crack.
See the Plant Page
Please see my lighting section HERE.