Keeping and Breeding Dendrobates Pumilio
by Patrick Nabors, 2002
Dendrobates pumilio are a small diurnal frog, occurring in the wild in Central America from Nicaragua in the north to Panama in the south. They are limited to the eastern lowland rainforest. Most of the populations, especially those in Nicaragua and Costa Rica are the "blue jean" type, with the red back and blue legs, in particular the hind legs. However, in the south of Costa Rica, and in Panama, many other forms of these fascinating frogs occur. Pumilio are typically found in disturbed forest, or forest edge areas. Areas such as dumps and plantations are often utilized for large colonies of them. When you find one of these areas, they can be so thick that it is easy to imagine you might step on one if you are not careful. The air is filled by the rasping sound of their calling.
Pumilio have been extensively studied in their habitat, so much is known of their behavior and biology. One thing which is clear is that pumilio are intensely competitive frogs. The males fight with other males for calling spots, and the females for tadpole deposition sites. In the wild they seem to be able to move away from each other as each encounter plays out, but in captivity they cannot move as far. For the most part I have found pumilio to be very hardy frogs, but the stress of being the subordinate frog in a tank, and being unable to escape the attention of another frog could be enough to cause a frogs immune system to collapse, leading to death.
In this article I will offer some ideas as to how to deal with this problem, and hope to answer any questions regarding care of pumilio. In addition I will offer some insight into how to best sex and breed your frogs. These techniques reflect my brief experience with this fascinating frog, and they are far from absolute. There is probably more than one right way to keep and breed these frogs, but these methods work for me.
When you receive your pumilio from Saurian Enterprises, they will probably be between eight and twelve weeks of age. At this age they are poised to shoot up to adult hood, in just two or three months. I recommend keeping them just as I describe on my froglet care sheet, but with only one frog per box or container. Alternatively you might set up small (five gallons or less) terrariums for each young frog. In most cases your frogs will be accompanied by a pedigree of sorts, so try to keep your frogs labeled correctly. The young frogs will be able to eat fruit flies and up to five day old crickets, give or take. Pumilio need a lot of food, so make sure to feed these growing frogs daily if at all possible. Good quality supplements are vital also, in particular Rep-Cal is critical for proper development. In addition, it is coming to my attention that the red pumilio, both the Bastimentos red form and the solid Reds seem to lose color as they age. My frogs of both type are a bright color when they emerge, and when they are a few months old, they are still nicely colored. But some of the frogs I have kept till adult hood are fading in color. One way to fix this problem is to add a little paprika to the frogs supplement, once or twice a week. This color fading also occurs in wild caught frogs, so we are lacking something in the diet we are feeding these frogs, and I doubt it is paprika, but it will work, both to keep the color in your frogs, and to bring it back if they are already fading.
If you are especially interested in breeding your frogs, then I recommend that they be kept only in pairs. If you dont really care one way or the other, then you can set the frogs up in the terrarium without sexing them. If you are mixing unsexed frogs, make sure that the terrarium is spacious, and allows plenty of places where frogs can go to get out of the line of sight of the other frogs in the tank. If you do decide to try to breed your frogs, you will need to sex them, so you can set up a pair. When the frogs are about six months old begin by taking one frog, and place it in a ten gallon or larger aquarium, set up with plants, and a good light source. You can use the tank you eventually plan to setup your frogs in. Give the frog a few days, and if under appropriate conditions it does not call, then assume it is probably a female. Now remove it, and record the information so you keep the frog identified. Now put another of the young frogs in the tank. Work through the frogs, determining your sexes. Obviously if the frog calls it is a male, but if it does not call, it is not a definite that it is a female, but most males will call, if the tanks is warm and humid, and well lit.
Now you will set up each pair in its own tank. Keep any extra animals aside in small tanks. Adult frogs seem to do fine for extended periods in small tanks, such as a sweater box. Many other hobbyists will be interested in trading other frogs for your surplus, or you may wish to acquire the opposite sex to pair up your extras. Try to keep the bloodline information on the frogs you have received accurate. At Saurian Enterprises we are working with many distinct bloodlines, and will attempt to supply the hobby with frogs which are of known bloodlines.
Breeding tanks for D. pumilio can range from around the size of a ten gallon to large custom tanks. Most pairs of pumilio here are kept in fairly small custom built tanks, made of glass, and with a door which opens in the front. The tanks are about seventeen to twenty inches high, but have the floor dimensions of a ten gallon, twenty inches by ten. The typical setup is to mount several bromeliads to some cork bark which is stood up on the back wall of the tank, and several leaves are scattered around the floor of the tank. The floor consists of small aquarium gravel. A bit of moss is added for decoration, and to grow out and cover more of the floor. If you have access to live moss, and like it use it as much as practical. Watch placing it in areas which are not well lit, since it will die and rot fairly quickly. Other decorations and hiding places are added as needed. I do not plant any of the more traditional plants in my tanks any longer, such as pothos, as they tend to take over the tank, even if you keep them pruned back the root system will eventually fill the bottom of the tank! The bromeliads and the moss need high light for good growth, and I have had a difficult time getting some bromeliads to grow with most standard light sources. I am currently using a fairly new type of light, called a power compact fluorescent. Power compacts are still a bit more expensive than the often used shoplight, but offer much more light for your wattage than standard fluorescents. I have found AH Supply (ahsupply.com) to be a good source for these lights, which they sell in do it your self kits. A fixture which might do for a single tank or two, would be around sixty dollars, give or take. Check their site out at www.ahsupply.com and see what they have which might work well for your situation.
Care for adult pumilio is quite simple. They like it a bit warmer than the standard Dendrobatid frogs, temps in the low eighties have worked well for me. I let it drop to the ambient temperature at night, low sixties to seventies are fine. Each tank is fitted with a misting nozzle, I feel that the changing of the tadpoles water is very important, and the misting system is an excellent tool for doing this. Otherwise you should pay special attention to spraying the bromeliads and flushing the water from them on a regular basis, say every other day. When using the misting system, set it to run two or three times a day, for a couple of minutes each time. In addition to aiding any tadpoles the misting system will rinse the tank down, and keep the humidity up. D. pumilio like things a bit dryer than most dart frogs, and would benefit from having some ventilation. The leaves and glass should dry out within an hour or two of misting, so adjust the ventilation accordingly.
If you follow these guidelines, you will be richly rewarded. Your pair of pumilio will be very active, several daily sessions of calling and following the female around courting her are almost standard. And then of course when they do lay eggs, you can try and catch the female carrying the tadpoles to the bromeliad to drop it off, and continue to watch her feed it. If the tank is fairly small like those I describe, you will often see the developing tadpole, as it nears emerging especially. This stuff is great!
I try to feed my pumilio a lot, in particular when they are caring for tads it seems to directly influence the size of the resulting froglets. I have used three foods for my pumilio exclusively. They are Drosophila melanogaster a flightless variant of fruit fly, small crickets and a type of wasp referred to as a jewel wasp. Fruit flies are easily cultured yourself, and I cant over emphasize how important I feel it is to your success to have control over your food supply. Most of the problems that I hear about with peoples frogs are related to food shortages at one point or another. Crickets are great food for pumilio, but are often harder to get, and can be expensive. Both of these foods are routinely coated with several vitamin and mineral powders. The first is Rep-Cal, a calcium powder which contains the vitamin D necessary for the frog to metabolize the calcium. I use it at every feeding. I often mix it with Herptivite, a vitamin and mineral supplement. There are a couple of other vitamin powders I use, Nekton MSA and Reptivite are the most often used. In all cases, I mix the vitamin supplement with Rep-Cal. I alternate adding these vitamins to the calcium powder.
As for the jewel wasps, they are a parasitic wasp, which is generally sold in the form of the fly pupae they have parasitized. They then hatch out, and are tiny little wasps. The frogs love them, and they are especially useful for feeding the baby frogs when they morph out. More on this later. For use with adult frogs, the wasps are an indulgence, not a necessity, and they dont really seem to be that filling, they are too small!
Breeding pumilio has long been regarded as almost impossible, and accounts of past attempts often refer to the difficulties in raising the tadpoles, and the high incidence of spindly leg syndrome in the froglets. Most of these accounts refer to raising the tadpoles yourself, with chicken egg yolk. I have not tried this method, but it sounds like an unrewarding process. I am not sure why the reputation for being so hard to breed has persisted though, since if you set up a pair of pumilio in a tank, it has been my experience that breeding is more likely between them than it would be for many other types of frogs, such as some D. tinctorius, and definitely many of the thumbnail group. And of course the production of froglets is pretty easy if your pair breed, since they do all the work. Raising the newly morphed babies is work for the experienced hobbyist, but even it is not all that hard, it is just critical to have a supply of springtails and jewel wasps, or other super small foods.