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Captive Care of the Phantasmal Dart Frog (Epipedobates tricolor and Epipedobates anthonyi)

The Phantasmal Dart Frog covers two species of dart frogs that originate from the El Oro, Azuay, and Loja provinces of southwestern Ecuador and the Piura, and Tumbes departments of northwestern Peru.
E. anthonyi is generally located in south-western Ecuador (Salvia, El Oro Province), while E. tricolor is found in central Ecuador, on the western slopes of the Andes (El Porvenir, Bolívar Province)
Although initially described as two different species they have also previously been considered together as one species (E.tricolor) but their captive care is essentially the same.

General Description
They are relatively small dart frogs, reaching a snout-vent length of up to 25mm, however what they lack in size they tend to make up for in boldness. As well as bold they are extremely hardy frogs making them an ideal starter species for those wanting to begin keeping dart frogs.
The most commonly available morphs consist of a base body colour of red with yellow or cream coloured stripes running longitudinally down the body. Different morphs do exist with tan, green or even blue stripes.

Females can be larger with a more rounded body shape although this is not always the case and so the most reliable method of sexing is observing male frogs calling.
Male frogs can begin calling as young as 3 months from morphing but 6 months is more common.

These frogs do thrive when housed in groups and although small, are extremely active and will exhibit territorial behaviour, so they do best in heavily planted, large vivaria with leaf litter as well as tropical seed pods and branches for climbing. A 20 gallon tank would adequately house a group of 6 to 8 adult frogs. They are a predominantly terrestrial species but will make use of all parts of a vivarium. Males will compete for the highest calling spots and some height is advantageous.

The 45cmx45cmx60cm vivarium in which i keep a 3.3 group

A source of fresh, de-chlorinated water should be available at all times, either in the form of a water dish or a pool integrated into the landscaping of the vivarium
For breeding purposes these frogs like to lay their eggs on sturdy, horizontal leaves (such as Pothos, Alocasia and Syngonium) as well as bromeliad leaves and axes and so they make useful additions to their vivaria as well as species of climbers and other plants.
They are best maintained at humidity in excess of 90% and temperatures slightly cooler than most other dart frogs, generally within the range 18 - 25°C (64 – 78F) with a slight drop at night. This is best achieved using a thermostat-controlled heat mat fixed to the bottom or side of the vivarium.
Lighting should be provided in the form of fluorescent tubes, either with or without UV depending on your preference, although live plants would benefit from at least some form of natural daylight bulb/tube.
Springtails and woodlice when added to the substrate prior to introducing the frogs not only act as excellent vivarium custodians but also provide a good food source to supplement your feeding regime.

These frogs are voracious feeders, taking prey items that would be too big for other similarly sized dart frogs.
Common food items are small and large fruit flies, crickets (hatchling to 1st/2nd instar), bean weevils, grain weevils, aphids, springtails, whiteworms, mites and dwarf tropical woodlice.
Food items should be dusted with a suitable calcium and vitamin supplement regularly.

Once sexually mature, these frogs generally do not need much encouragement to begin spawning however breeding can be induced by increasing feeding and misting of the tank.
Males have a very loud, melodic call and will compete for the highest, most prominent calling spots.

Male E.anthonyi calling for females

As previously stated they prefer sturdy, horizontal leaves for spawning but will just as happily spawn in horizontal film canisters. It is reported that they also spawn in leaf litter although I have never observed this myself.

Male E.anthonyi guarding a clutch of eggs laid on a Syngonium leaf

Male E.anthonyi guarding a clutch of eggs laid in a film-canister

Egg clutches can be left in situ or withdrawn for raising outside the vivarium (which I shall discuss in the next section). Once fertilised, clutches are guarded by the male for up to two weeks and will make regular trips to water sources to ensure the clutch remains moist.
Once the tadpoles begin to break free from their jelly the male frog encourages them onto his back and will deposit them in a suitable water source (normally a pool or water dish). The frogs will exhibit no further parental care from this point.

Male E.anthonyi transporting a clutch of around 20 tadpoles

Tadpole Care

If you decide to remove egg clutches to raise outside the vivarium they are best placed in a suitable clean (or sterile if possible) container such as a Petri dish. They need to be kept moist but not submerged until the tadpoles break free of their jelly and are free moving.

Eggs newly transferred into a petri dish and a few days later as they develop

A great advantage of these species is that their tadpoles are not cannibalistic like many dart frog tadpoles and can therefore be kept communally.

Tadpole raising tank

Tadpoles are raised in communal tanks in tadpole tea. Tadpole tea is made by boiling de-chlorinated, preferably soft water with Indian almond leaves, oak leaves or black alder cones. The tannins released by this process softens the water further as well as inhibiting bacterial and fungal growth.
Almond and oak leaves are added whole to the tea and act as hiding places and the tadpoles will graze on the leaves and any algae or bacteria that grows on them.
Plants such as elodea, hornwort and pothos can be added to the tank to oxygenate the water as well as providing vegetable matter for these truly omnivorous tadpoles.
Although not strictly necessary I have found the addition of a small air-stone helps improve water quality and can reduce the need for as regular water changes.
Even with an air-stone in situ, regular water changes are still necessary to maintain water quality, and may possibly reduce the incidence of spindly-leg syndrome (SLS) although this observation may be anecdotal.
As well as grazing on algae and vegetation in their tank, tadpoles will take a variety of foods. I maintain my tadpoles on tropical fish flake, Tadpole Bites®, freeze-dried bloodworm and sinking spirulina pellets with added carotenoid. Feeding high carotenoid containing foods to tadpoles should improve the colour intensity of the final froglets.
Once the tadpoles begin to develop legs slope the tank to allow an area for them to climb out and add floating pieces of cork-bark. Alternatively remove any tadpoles once they have developed their front legs and place in very shallow water with areas of orchid bark which they can climb out onto. Generally by this stage tadpoles will not feed until they have absorbed their tails.

Tadpoles at various developmental stages

Froglet Care
Froglets should be kept in vivaria with plenty of plants and leaf litter to provide adequate hiding spots. It is a good idea to set up such a tank in advance as this allows time for plants to grow and establish, as well as giving you time to establish a population of springtails on which the newly emerged froglets will feed.

Froglet rearing tank

Froglets are relatively dull when they emerge, generally brown in colour and often lacking their central stripe. This will develop over time although full adult colouration can take up to 18 months to form. Feeding springtails raised on high carotenoid foodstuffs such as fish flake, carrot and beetroot can help colour development even at this stage.
Whilst their diet will consist of primarily springtails initially, froglets can be moved on to fruit flies and gut-loaded hatchling crickets relatively quickly. These should be dusted at every feed at this stage.

A 2 month old froglet already developing its adult colouration

I hope you have found this guide useful and it encourages you to keep this lovely dart frog species.

1,411 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Cheers mate
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