The Mantella Frogs of Madagascar
Madagascar mantella frogs
Mantella frogs are the Malagasy equivalent of the South American poison dart frogs. They are small, very brightly coloured frogs, found only in Madagascar, off the eastern coast of Africa. Most species secrete toxins, and the bright colours serve as warning to predators to warn them that if they swallow the tiny frog, it might be their last meal. Mantellas have not been studied as extensively as poison arrow frogs, it is generally thought that the toxins are less harmful, but they can still make an animal quite ill if eaten.
Several species are not poisonous, yet still exhibit bright warning colours, this is known as protective mimicry, the little frogs are hoping to remain safe from predation by pretending to be toxic.
There are about 16 confirmed species of mantella and several possible species and many subspecies that are found in different regions. This might sound unusually complicated, but it is actually quite difficult, to know whether two frogs that look quite different are two morphs of the same species, or two different species, the usual test is that frogs of the same species will breed together and produce fertile offspring. Given that much of the fauna of Madagascar is still unexplored and new reptiles and amphibians are being discovered, there are probably species of mantella that have never been seen by Western scientists.
Habitat in Madagascar and in the home terrarium
The majority of species are terrestial, although there are a couple of arboreal (tree climbing) species. Several mantella frogs can be housed together in a long terrarium, in fact it will aid breeding if males outnumber females, but the terrarium should be quite roomy, despite the tiny size of these frogs. because they are territorial. The males in particular will each need to have a mini-territory, which they can defend from other males. The décor of the tank should be a rainforest or woodland with thick moisture absorbing substrate of topsoil, Eco-earth, or orchid bark. Water only needs to be provided in a shallow dish. The terrarium should be furnished with a variety of logs and live plants, and pebbles.
Mantellas are endemic to Madagascar
Madagascar is an island off the East Coast of Africa, because of its isolation it has unique flora and fauna, not found anywhere else in the world.
Eggs will be laid in moist, hiding places, in depressions in the substrate, undeneath pebbles or logs, or in crags in the branches, they are laid on the ground rather than directly in the water. The eggs can be fertilized up to two days after being laid, sometimes by several males! The eggs absorb moisture as they develop into free swimming tadpoles within 2-6 days. In the wild these will be swept into the water by rain, in captivity they must be removed into their own tanks at this stage and raised.
Sadly along with much of Madagascar’s unique fauna, the mantella frogs are facing severe challenges, about half of the species in the genus are facing extinction. Habitat destruction, caused by the logging of forests to be replaced by agricultural land is mainly to blame. Although the collection of wild frogs to be sold to frog keepers also plays its part. This is why it is important to always buy captive bred stock, which is often healthier and easier to care for than wild caught frogs.
Mantellas in captivity
The most common frogs kept in captivity are probably the golden mantella, M. aurantiaca. but many other species are now available to keep. Only captive bred stock should be considered, Most of the frogs do well when maintained at a temperature between 65 and 75oF (18-24oC). Frogs from higher elevations are intolerant of heat, temperatures that are too high lead to muscle spasms, and finally death. As with the majority of frogs, high humidity must be maintained while at the same time providing ventiliation to prevent bacterial or fungal blooms.
Because the frogs are so small, feeding is often a challenge. Although pinhead and very small crickets are a staple, along with fruit flies, in the wild mantella frogs mostly feed on ants and termites. other small feeder insects that can be considered, if they are found are springtails and aphids.