The genus Phyllobates contains some of the most deadly vertebrates on earth, most notably Phyllobates terribilis, aka the Terrible Poison Arrow frog. Fortunately for us, all dart frogs raised in captivity are harmless, as they loose their ability to produce toxins when reared on a captive diet. Epipedobates are another genus of dart frogs that are not very well represented in captivity, with the most common species being E. anthonyi. This blog will go over the 3 most common species of Phyllobates, as well as E. anthonyi. All of these frogs are easy to keep, relatively easy to breed, and are great group frogs.
In the wild, Phyllobates terribilis is the most toxic vertebrate on the planet – one adult frog contains enough toxins to kill over 10 people! In captivity, this frog is completely harmless, like all poison arrow frogs. These frogs are found near the Pacific coast of Colombia.
Phyllobates terribilis 'Mint'
In captivity, P. terribilis is a large, bold frog. They can consume much larger prey items than most other dart frogs – adults are capable of eating a ½ inch cricket! They make excellent captives, as long as they are kept below 75°F.
There are 3 primary 'morphs' available in the US trade: mint, yellow, and orange. Their care is identical, and size varies slightly, with the mint form being the largest, and the yellow form being the smallest.
Phyllobates terribilis is available in 3 color forms–this is the 'Mint' variety
Phyllobates terribilis can take from 2-3 years to mature, even though frogs breeding at a younger age is not unheard of. Typically, clutches are very large for dart frogs, averaging from 15-25 eggs, with clutches numbering in the 30s not unheard of. These frogs have a loud, trilling call.
The second deadliest vertebrate on earth is the wild Phyllobates bicolor, the second of the 'deadly three' dart frogs used by Colombian Indians to poison darts. These frogs inhabit the jungles of Colombia, and resemble miniature P. terribilis, being about the size of a Dendrobates leucomelas or D. auratus.
Phyllobates bicolor 'Green Leg'
Like other Phyllobates, bicolors can consume larger prey than most other dart frogs. They have a ravenous appetite, and can be quite entertaining to watch. Bicolor are every bit as bold as P. terribilis, and generally are more widely available.
There are several forms of bicolor in the hobby, with most being imported from Europe. The two most popular forms are the 'green legged' and 'gold' varieties. The 'gold' bicolor were actually imported originally as P. terribilis, until DNA testing proved otherwise.
Phyllobates bicolor 'Gold' was originally thought to be a form of P. terribilis
Phyllobates bicolor matures a bit quicker than P. terribilis, with breeding possible as early as 10-12 months. Males will emit a loud, trilling call as young as 8 months. Egg clutches are not quite as large as P. terribilis, and typically consist of 10-20 eggs – still large by Dendrobatid standards.
Phyllobates vittatus, a very under appreciated frog indeed
Phyllobates vittatus, also known as the Golfo-Dulcean Poison frog, hails from Costa Rica. Unlike the other members of the genus, P. vittatus is known to be a fairly shy animal – with my group at home, they are more often heard (once again, a loud trilling call) than seen. Due to this, and their ability to reproduce like rabbits (clutches of 10-20 eggs every couple weeks year round is not unheard of), Phyllobates vittatus has suffered from boom and bust popularity cycles in the wild. At times in the past, vittatus were so common that breeders had trouble giving the frog away. At other times, it was very difficult to locate specimens. Unfortunately, this is a common issue with many of the more prolific species of dart frogs in the hobby, and has resulted in species disappearing from the pet trade altogether.
Phyllobates vittatus can easily lay 10-20 eggs every couple weeks
Like other Phyllobates, vittatus prefers temperatures that are slightly lower than average for dart frogs – temperatures higher than 75°F can cause stress for your frogs. To increase your chances of seeing the Golfo-Dulcean poison dart frog in a vivarium, plenty of cover, both in the form of hardscape and plants, and leaf litter should be provided. In the wild, P. vittatus is commonly found near streams and small pools – providing high humidity and a water source will go a long way towards encouraging the frogs to spend more time in the open.
Female Epipedobates anthonyi 'Santa Isabel'
The Phantasmal Poison Dart Frog is one of the most under appreciated frogs in the US hobby. E. anthonyi starts out life as a dull, brown frog – it takes a year or more before the frog shows it's true colors. When mature, anthonyi will be a bright reddish brown frog with stripes, which can range from yellow to blue to green, depending on locale. There are several locales represented in the hobby, with the most common being 'Santa Isabel', which most likely represents several populations. I have three different bloodlines of Epipedobates anthonyi 'Santa Isabel' in my collection, and the adults in all three groups look distinctly different from the others.
Epipedobates anthonyi makes a striking contrast in a well planted vivarium
These are fairly small frogs, with adults being about 1–1.25 inches long, making them ideal for smaller vivaria in the 10-20 gallon range. A group of 4 animals will do well in a vivarium as small as a 20H. These frogs can be flighty when young, but generally grow into fairly bold, visible animals. A group of E. anthonyi is a sight to behold in a well planted vivarium with a water feature. Anthonyi are commonly found in association with streams, ponds, pools, or even irrigation ditches in their natural habitat – they are not picky about what kind of water feature they are provided, but certainly will utilize one, both in their everyday behaviors and breeding.
Epipedobates anthonyi 'Santa Isabel' male calling
Male anthonyi will emit a loud, trilling call that is very similar to that of Phyllobates, but higher pitched. They also call much more regularly, and don't seem to mind calling out challenges to other species, such as Dendrobates leucomelas. E. anthonyi can lay up to 25 eggs per clutch, even though clutches of 10-15 eggs is more common. If left to their own devices, a male anthonyi will transport all of the tadpoles produced from a clutch to a water source at one time – when I first witnessed this, it appeared a large, withering, black mass was hopping across the vivarium.
Phyllobates and Epipedobates are two genus of poison dart frogs that could hardly be considered mainstream (if any dart frogs can be considered mainstream). Fortunately for the average hobbyist, these species are fairly easy to reproduce in captivity, are hardy, and (for the most part) bold. If you're looking for something a little different than your typical dart frog, look no further than Phyllobates or Epipedobates.