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Choosing a Golden Mantella

By: R.D. and Patti Bartlett

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Until the early 1990s these little Madagascan frogs were virtually unknown in the American pet trade. In richness of color and pattern, these are the Old World equivalents of the neotropical poison frogs.

History and Origin

These tiny frogs are in the subfamily Mantellinae, a subdivision of the huge family of true frogs, the Ranidae. There are about a dozen species in the genus Mantella, of which the golden mantella is among the best known.

It seems probable that, like the poison frogs, the comparative toxicity of the skin secretions of the mantellas is diet related. Little is known with certainty about the glandular secretions of the golden mantella or whether the typical diet of captive bred insects lessens the efficacy of the frog's skin secretions.

Despite their small size, if a clean terrarium and tiny insects are readily available for food, these frogs are rather easy to keep. They are considered a species for moderately advanced hobbyists. To date, the record reported captive life span for the golden mantella is in excess of 8 years. From 10 to 15 years should be possible.

The mantellas are tiny frogs. The largest species of this genus is just over an inch in length. These frogs move rapidly in erratic little hops, and despite the gaudy colors of many, can be surprisingly difficult to see and follow in the rainforest undergrowth.

Appearance

This species is brilliantly clad in bright orange or red. Some red individuals have a black ear patch. The venter (belly) is nearly as bright as the dorsum (back). This species is adult at a slender 3/4 inch svl (snout-vent length). Males are less robust, slightly smaller, and sit a little more erect than the females. Small toepads help these little frogs ascend into low vegetation.

Behavior

Although brightly colored, golden mantellas are secretive. It doesn't take much cover to completely hide a frog that is somewhat under an inch in length. Mantellas require a moist microhabitat. Males often emit their buzzing vocalizations while sitting atop logs or vegetation.

These frogs can be kept communally if there are plenty of visual barriers present. To assert dominance, males grapple (wrestle) with each other. Adult females also are hierarchical. The preferred temperature range for the terrarium is a humid 78 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

For their size, mantellas eat a great amount. Food should always be available. Terrarium freshness is the key to good health and long life for these frogs.

Feeding

In the wild, the diet of this tiny frog consists of a wide variety of tiny insects and arthropods. Ants and termites of various species seem preferred prey items.

Captive mantellas eat pinhead crickets, termites, springtails, fruitflies and aphids. They are especially fond of termites. The crickets and fruitflies are commercially available. The other insects must be gleaned from nature.

Fast growing baby mantellas need considerable dietary calcium. Dust the baby crickets with vitamin-mineral supplements at least once weekly.

Handling

These tiny frogs should be considered terrarium pets of the "no-hands- on" variety. This is not because of the possible danger to you from their skin secretions, but because of the danger to them from your skin secretions. If you must handle your mantella, wash and thoroughly rinse your hands both before and after. The frog's permeable skin will absorb any substances from your hands. Residue from soaps, perfumes, cleaning agents, insecticides or insect repellents, can be quickly fatal to your frog.

Housing

These are active frogs, but rather than leaping, they move in quick, short, erratic hops. They should be given a minimum of a 15-gallon rainforest terrarium for a trio or 2 pairs. The tank should have a substrate of damp unmilled or live sphagnum moss (or a carpet of green woodland moss).

The frog's terrarium should also contain vining plants (such as "pothos") for beauty, visual barriers, and to help create a high relative humidity. The terrarium should also be provided with several tiny hide boxes and a Petri dish or two of fresh water. Many mantella keepers use halved coconut shells with access holes chipped into them as hide boxes. Maintain the terrarium temperature at 78 to 85F. Full-spectrum (UV producing) lighting will help keep the plants alive and a glass cover over all except where the light is sitting will promote high terrarium humidity. The tank should be gently misted once or twice a day, but don't allow a water buildup in the substrate.

Since frogs quickly absorb impurities through their skin, it is imperative that the water and the substrate be kept immaculately clean.

Common Diseases and Disorders

  • Metabolic bone disease may be caused by an inability to metabolize calcium or by insufficient dietary calcium.

  • Absorption of impurities (soaps, perfumes, cleaning agents, insecticides, insect repellents) through the skin can be almost immediately fatal to this frog, or any other amphibian.

  • Redleg, a disease in which Aeromonas bacteria are often involved, can occur if the frog's quarters are allowed to become dirty.

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