Can Poison Dart Frogs Swim? (Is A Paludarium A Good Idea?)

poison dart from in paludarium about to swim

Poison dart frogs are some of the most visually interesting creatures on the planet. Their bright colors, beautiful patterns, and bold attitude make the Dendrobatidae family of poison dart frogs one of my favorites to keep.

Naturally, some people want to take the visual appeal a step further and upgrade their vivarium into a paludarium with beautiful water features. But before you start adding water to your dart frog’s enclosure, you have to answer one important question…

Can poison dart frogs swim?

Yes, poison dart frogs can swim but not very well. Without webbing between their toes and other physical adaptations, they’re clearly not built for the water. Still, they can safely live in an enclosure with water as long as there are no caves or ledges for them to get stuck on. 

But let’s look a little closer at poison dart frogs and their swimming ability along with what you need to know if you’re building a paludarium or any enclosure with water for a dart frog.

Why Poison Dart Frogs Aren’t Great Swimmers

Even though poison dart frogs can swim, it isn’t where they’re strongest. Let’s break down a few reasons why:

1. Poison Dart Frogs Don’t Have Webbed Feet

The lack of webbed feet is the most obvious reason why dart frogs are clearly not made to spend much time in the water. Webbed feet are seen in just about every water-focused species from ducks to dogs and of course many species of frogs- but not in the poison dart frog.

This tells us quite clearly that the Dendrobatidae family did not evolve to spend time in the water but more importantly it will make any water excursions much more difficult for these frogs.

2. Dart Frogs Have Smaller Legs Compared To Swimming Frogs

Not only are dart frogs missing webbed feet but they’re missing a lot of the power that aquatic frogs have in their legs. This is especially clear when you compare the leg size relative to the body of a blue dart frog (Dendrobates tinctorius “azureus”) to the common water frog (Rana esculenta). Check it out the difference in the image below:

leg size comparison between Dendrobates tinctorius "azureus" and rana esculenta to highlight leg size and power

It appears that our little blue poisonous friend is clearly skipping leg day! At least compared to the large and powerful legs of the common water frog. Without large legs, the dart frogs will have a hard time excelling in the water.

3. Dart Frogs May Have Less Endurance Than Other Frogs

This explanation is much harder to quantify but poison dart frogs aren’t known for their speed or ability to flee. Instead, they rely on aposematism which is when toxic prey species use vibrant and bright colors to signal to predators that they’re not a good source of food.

With bright colors and the title of the most toxic species on earth, the poison dart frog family doesn’t need to spend much time working on speed, endurance, or evasiveness. Because of their powerful poison and easy-to-catch prey, a lack of endurance doesn’t impact their ability to survive but it does put them at a disadvantage in the water.

But Poison Dart Frogs Can Still Swim

Even though they aren’t good swimmers, some species of dart frogs still spend plenty of time near the water and so the ability to swim would be important. Or at least the ability to get out of the water if they fall in which you can see clearly demonstrated by this video:

Are Paludariums Or Enclosures With Water Safe For Poison Dart Frogs?

If you’re considering a paludarium (or any other enclosure with water) you might be worried that it will be too much for poison dart frogs.

So are paludariums a good idea for dart frogs?

Poison dart frogs can live quite happily in a well-designed paludarium and it may even make maintaining the required humidity levels even easier. Avoid overhangs or caves that could trap dart frogs in the water and make sure dart frogs don’t have to climb over a ledge to get out of the water. 

Additionally, make sure that there is plenty of terrestrial space for dart frogs to spend their time and water shouldn’t be the focus of the paludarium. In other words, the paludarium should be designed with mostly semi-arboreal dart frogs in mind first.

You can also play it safe by avoiding deeper water and adding plenty of rocks and other features for dart frogs to get to if they do end up in the water.

Still, paludariums don’t add anything to the quality of a poison dart frog’s life and in the wild these creatures would not seek out these small bodies of water- at least not for day-to-day life. The introduction of a paludarium also introduces a whole new set of risks for your dart frog. Not only the issue of an accident in the water but the potential for new diseases and bacteria growth that could result from the water.

Overall, paludariums will usually add more work for the keeper and more risk to the frog so it’s a decision that should not be taken lightly.

Can Poison Dart Frogs Drown In Water?

Yes, poison dart frogs could drown in water but so can many other frogs, including frogs that are generally considered good swimmers. Without strong legs, webbed feet or other special adaptations, poison dart frogs can quickly become tired and drown if they don’t have an easy way to get out of the water.

But unfortunately, what looks easy to us isn’t always so clear to our dart frogs. Like most members of the order Anura frogs aren’t exactly considered smart and can easily get stuck on objects within their enclosure.

Can Poison Dart Frogs Live With Fish?

Yes, poison dart frogs can live with fish. It would be difficult to find a fish small enough for a dart frog to eat but the bigger concern is making sure the fish doesn’t want to eat your frog. Captive dart frogs aren’t poisonous so that’s a concern for the fish either. 

The bigger issue is usually constructing a paludarium or enclosure that’s suitable for both the poison dart frog and the fish. In most cases, you’ll need a very large enclosure to make this combination work.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, it’s usually best to play it safe and skip the water feature in your dart frog’s enclosure. However, if they’re made the right way, water features can absolutely work for a poison dart frog and if they do fall in they can swim- even if it’s not very well. If you want to have a unique paludarium but have now decided to skip the poison dart frogs, you can consider adding a snake instead and the right species can do well in this type of enclosure.

What do you think? Are you going to build a paludarium for your dart frog?