Initial Care Of Wild-caught Mantella Frogs
By Devin Edmonds

Mantella frogs are said to be sensitive and often are looked upon as delicate amphibians. Although this may be true in some regards, I believe that much of the reason they are thought of this way is due to the initial treatment of wild-caught specimens. Using a good quarantine and acclimation procedure is key to succeeding with wild-caught mantella frogs. Just as important is starting with healthy frogs. An introduction to both of these topics will be discussed in this article.


The overwhelming majority of mantella frogs in the North American pet trade are wild-caught. These frogs are collected from their wild habitat, brought to a holding pen at an exporter in Madagascar, shipped to a heavily stocked tank at a reptile distributor in another country, and from there are sent to an additional reptile dealer or pet store where they are purchased by hobbyists. This transitional period of going from the wild to a terrarium can be very stressful, and during it frogs regularly develop health problems. Cuts and abrasions, missing digits, internal parasites, infections, and simply starvation are common problems associated with wild-caught mantella frogs.

Buying captive-bred frogs is an easy way to avoid purchasing unhealthy animals. Frogs that were produced in captivity do not have to go through the ordeal of being shipped across the world and inadequately cared for by dealers and distributors. They are always the best option for those considering keeping mantella frogs for the first time. Unfortunately, finding captive-bred mantella frogs is not always an easy task and may simply be impossible for certain species.

When dealing with wild-caught frogs, obtaining them directly from an importer is one option. Often large quantities must be purchased at one time and there generally is no way to inspect the health of individual frogs in person prior to purchasing them. This can make ordering frogs from a large importer somewhat risky, however it allows the hobbyist to receive frogs before they have been shipped to pet stores and retailers. This can be beneficial because the frogs do not have to tolerate as many transitions and possibly inadequate care at a retail location.

Pet stores and small reptile dealers who vend reptile shows also often carry mantella frogs. Although generally more expensive than purchasing from a large wholesaler, these sources allow the hobbyist to examine the mantella frogs before purchasing them which can be very helpful. They do not always provide suitable care conditions for the frogs though, so it’s important to make note of this when making a selection. Are the mantella frogs housed with other species? How clean is the cage? If there is more than one frog in the cage, do the others look healthy?

Above: Heavily stocked mantella frogs at a reptile distributor housed in an inadequate terrarium

A healthy mantella frog will have no cuts or scrapes. Its eyes will be clear and not cloudy. The body should be slightly round and convex in shape. There will be no digits missing from its limbs and its legs will look strong and supportive. Behavior is also a very good sign of the health of a mantella frog. A healthy frog will be very responsive when disturbed, and most species should hop away if there is quick movement near them. If the frog looks unhealthy do not buy it and resist all urges to “rescue” a sick or unhealthy frog from a pet store or dealer as this only encourages them to order more and subject other frogs to the same fate as the one being purchased.

Quarantine Procedure

Once apparently healthy mantella frogs are acquired it is recommended to put them all through a temporary quarantine period. During this time the frogs are kept in simple enclosures where they can be carefully observed. This allows the keeper time to notice any health problems that may be present, as well as to treat for any disease or parasite that may be affecting them.

Individually quarantining frogs in separate containers is ideal. This reduces stress on each frog because there is no competition for food or territory, and allows weak or small individuals to gain strength so that they can live well as part of a group in a terrarium. If space does not allow for frogs to be separated into individual quarantine containers, they may also be isolated together as a group in a large, simple enclosure. This approach often works well provided that all the frogs were acquired from the same source at the same time. When two separate groups of frogs are purchased, it is recommended to keep them separate to prevent any diseases or parasites from spreading between groups. Any frog that shows signs of declining health should be separated out from the group immediately and moved to their own individual container.

Most often the container used to quarantine frogs is either a plastic storage container or a glass aquarium. Individual frogs do not need to be provided with a large amount of space, and can be successfully kept temporarily in plastic “critter keeper” cages, small 2 ½ or 5 gallon aquariums, or extra-large plastic containers manufactured by companies like Superior Enterprise. When group-quarantining, a much larger enclosure is needed. Large plastic storage containers or totes work well and are often used because they are light, inexpensive, and easy to clean. Large glass aquariums can also be used. Adequate ventilation should be provided for all types of quarantine enclosures. Small holes can be drilled into the sides of plastic containers and partially screened covers can be used on aquariums. It’s important to ensure that the humidity remains high while providing ventilation, and in some situations ventilation may need to be sealed or restricted, such as with the plastic “critter keeper” style cages.


Containers suitable for quarantining mantella frogs

The substrate used should be simple. Moist paper towels are often the best option because they’re easy to clean, inexpensive, hold moisture well, and are easy to collect fecal samples from. Moist sphagnum moss is another option for a simple substrate. The cage can be furnished with fake plastic plants for hiding areas. Smooth, easily cleaned driftwood and rocks can be used as well. A small water dish with spring water or dechlorinated tap water will allow the frogs to stay hydrated. It can be helpful to cover the sides of the container with newspaper or black poster board as this will reduce stress.

The frogs in quarantine should be kept separate from other mantella frogs being cared for. This isolation period can range from as little as three weeks, to as long as three months depending on the source and health of the frogs. By using a disinfectant such as chlorhexidine or bleach solution and by caring for the quarantined frogs last, any diseases the new frogs may be carrying can be prevented from spreading to others in the collection.

It is often advantageous to have fecal samples from the quarantined frogs examined by a veterinarian that specializes in reptiles and amphibians. Wild-caught mantella frogs always arrive carrying internal parasites which can reach very high levels during the acclimation period due to stress and the poor conditions they are often kept in at the reptile distributor or importer. Fenbendazole (Panacur) is often used to treat many common parasites, and can be easily administered if purchased in granular form and coated onto feeder insects that are offered. Soaks in very dilute ivermectin solutions are often provided a week or so following a treatment of fenbendazole to rid the frogs of other types of parasites. Consult a veterinarian for information about dosage and use.

Once the frogs have successfully been acclimated and appear healthy for an extended period of time they can be moved to a larger permanent setup. The initial few weeks that the frogs are in their new terrarium they should be carefully observed, and any individuals that seem to be loosing weight or declining in health should be moved back to a simple quarantine enclosure.

Selecting healthy frogs to begin with and developing a good quarantine procedure are the keys to succeeding with wild-caught mantella frogs. The above recommendations are just guidelines that can be used as an example by hobbyists who will adapt and revise them to improve their success. Whenever possible, purchase captive-bred frogs to avoid having to deal with unhealthy or heavily stressed wild-caught animals.



© 2006 - Present Devin Edmonds