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Golden Mantella Frog (Mantella aurantiaca)

Introduction: Golden mantellas are small frogs endemic to the island of Madagascar. There are only a handful of isolated populations remaining in east-central swamp forests. In the recent past they were exported heavily for the pet trade, with thousands being removed from the wild annually.

Adult female golden mantellas grow slightly over 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length, while males are usually smaller and have a more slender body structure. Male frogs also call. The call is a quick chirp chirp, very similar to the sound of an adult brown cricket. Golden mantellas range in color from solid bright orange to deep red.

Cage: Although golden mantella frogs are small animals, they do best when provided with plenty of room. Males are territorial and often fight over potential breeding sites and feeding areas. For a group of six to nine adult frogs, a 20 gallon long aquarium that measures 30 inches long by 12 inches wide by 12 inches high (76 cm by 30 cm by 30 cm) is enough room, provided that there are plenty of visual barriers and hiding spots for each frog.

Golden mantella frogs can be kept in both living terrariums as well is hygienic setups. To learn how to create a terrarium that is suitable for golden mantella frogs see the article about tropical terrariums. If breeding is your goal, it may be best to keep the terrarium simple so that eggs can be located easily.

A simple setup will also work well as long as regular cage cleaning is done. A substrate of moist paper towels or foam rubber works well. Clippings of live pothos or artificial plants can be scattered around the cage for hiding areas along with curved pieces of cork bark, clumps of moist sphagnum moss, rocks, pieces of driftwood, and crumpled up moist paper towels.

In either of the two types of housing, there are a few things that are needed for golden mantella frogs to live well in captivity. The substrate needs to hold moisture and shouldn't stick to the frogs. Gravel and reptile carpeting are two substrates that you should avoid. There also should be multiple hiding spots and ground cover so that the frogs feel secure. Provide as many hiding spots as there are frogs, or at least enough visual barriers to let the frogs get out of view from one another. The cage should also have a secure cover because golden mantella frogs will escape through any hole or gap that they can fit through.

Temperature & Humidity: Golden mantella frogs are sensitive to temperature. They need a moist, cool spot in the cage that does not rise above 78°F (26°C). It's best if the whole cage can be kept between 68°F (20°C) and 74°F (23°C) during the day, with a drop to around 65°F (18°C) at night. Warm temperatures are not tolerated well, and frogs may have heat-related muscle spasms that lead to death when exposed to temperatures above 80°F (27°C) for extended periods of time. Golden mantellas tolerate cool conditions well, and do fine if temperatures occasionally fall to as low as 58°F (14°C).

There are a number of things that can be done to keep the temperature inside the cage cool. The best, and easiest way to control the temperature of the cage, is to keep the terrarium in a cool room, such as a basement or air conditioned living room. A small (12-Volt or under) computer CPU fan can be placed above an area of ventilation to increase air circulation and prevent the temperature inside the terrarium from rising much above room temperature. This can be put on a timer so that it goes on during the hottest time of the day, or it can just be turned on when the weather is warm. Spraying the terrarium with water normally decreases the temperature by a few degrees, as does placing ice packs or ice cubes on the cover. Light fixtures produce reasonable amounts of heat and can be turned off during warm days to further cool an enclosure.

The humidity level inside of the cage can vary throughout the year. During dry times, golden mantellas burrow and find there way into moist crevices to avoid desiccation. During warm parts of the year, keep the humidity high, between 70% and 100%. To achieve this, restrict ventilation and mist the cage with water regularly.

Water: A shallow water dish or area of clean water should be provided throughout most of the year. If tap water is used, make sure to treat it with tap water conditioner to remove chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals. Bottled spring water can be used instead of tap water.

Food: Golden mantella frogs are able to eat large insects compared to many other similarly-sized amphibians. Most eagerly chase any insect that is 1/4 inch (6 mm) in length or less. Three day old crickets and flightless fruit flies can make up the majority of their diet. Most pet stores do not carry fruit flies or three day old crickets, so it's best to either culture them yourself or order them from a large commercial supplier. Other food items that can be offered include aphids, roach nymphs, springtails, rice flower beetle larvae, small wax worms, and termites. Use a variety of different feeders to avoid nutritional defficiencies and imbalances.

The amount of food that is offered depends on how large the feeder insects are and how often you are feeding the frogs. Using somewhere between 5 and 15 food items every two days per frog is a good place to start. This can be adjusted if frogs start loosing or gaining large amounts of weight. Often weak or small males will be bullied out of food by stronger ones, so it is a good idea to feed in multiple areas of the cage rather than one main spot or territory. During cool temperatures, golden mantellas may only need to be fed weekly in small amounts. High quality vitamin and mineral supplements should be dusted onto the feeder insects every few feedings. Juvenile frogs should have their food dusted at every feeding.

Breeding: Male golden mantellas can be distinguished from females by their call, streamlined appearance, smaller average size, and presence of visible femoral pads on their inner thighs. It has been suggested that golden mantella frogs breed more readily in captivity when kept in groups with multiple male frogs for each female, but it is also possible to breed golden mantellas when kept in pairs or female-heavy groups.

It can be helpful to cycle the frogs through a cool/dry period for up to three months of the year to mimic the conditions that they would experience in the wild. During this time, the lights can be cut back to around ten hours per day, the temperature should rarely rise above 72°F (22°C), misting should be reduced to a couple times a week, water levels can be lowered, and the quantity of food and feeding schedule should be decreased. This winter period can often be stressful, and care should be taken to carefully monitor all frogs in the cage during it. If a frog shows signs of poor health or seems to be loosing substantial weight it should be removed to a new cage. After two or three months of these harsh conditions, the photoperiod, temperature, and feeding schedule can be increased. Daily mistings can resume. Mature female frogs often begin to swell with eggs a few weeks after the cool/dry period has ended. The day before a gravid female frog deposits her eggs, the spherical shape of them can clearly be seen outlined in her skin.

Eggs are normally deposited in moist burrows or crevices, although occasionally they will be laid in the open. My female normally lays eggs under moist clumps of moss, or in dark corners of the terrarium that are shaded by plants. It's common for only part of a clutch of eggs to be fertilized by a male, or for none to be fertalized at all. I have counted anywhere from 11 to 90 tadpoles from one clutch of eggs, and have found three to eight clutches of eggs per year. The ovum of golden mantella eggs are bright white in color, but quickly turn to a faded tan or brown and loose their solid shape within the first week if they have not been fertilized. The eggs should be removed from the terrarium three days after they have been laid, and should be placed into a separate tadpole rearing container on top of a clump of java moss so that they are not submerged in the water, but just touching the water's edge. Alternatively, the eggs can be placed on the bare-bottom of an aquarium or plastic container containing less than 1/4 inch of water rather than on top of java moss.

Left to right: 1) Eggs in terrarium, fertilized the previous night 2) Different clutch of eggs, 3 days after fertilization 3) Different clutch of eggs, 4 days after fertilization 4) Close up of previous eggs

During the next week, small white tadpoles can be seen developing inside of the egg mass. The eggs should be kept in a covered container to maintain high humidity. Anywhere from three to twelve days after fertilization, the tadpoles will have developed enough to break out of the egg. Some people have suggested that the longer the tadpoles remain in the eggs the stronger or larger the tadpoles will be, and because of this the eggs should not be sprayed with water to help the tadpoles free themselves from the egg casing.

Tadpole Care: For the first few days after leaving the egg, the tadpoles do not need to be fed. I've had the best success raising tadpoles communally in large plastic containers with a clump of java moss or a clipping of pothos. The plants will give the tadpoles an area to hide and help maintain good water quality. For the first couple weeks, the water depth should remain shallow, between 1 and 2 inches (2.5 cm and 5 cm). As the tadpoles grow, the water depth can be increased to around 4 inches (10 cm). Water quality is extremely important. Tap water can be used from some areas, provided that it is treated with a tap water conditioner to remove chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals. Bottled spring water can be used instead of tap water.

Left to right: 1) Tadpoles directly have breaking free form the egg 2) Tadpoles with pothos 3) Tadpoles with java moss

The water temperature should stay within a range from 65°F (18°C) to 78°F (26°C), but should be controlled so that it doesn't fluctuate too much in too short a period of time. I have raised the tadpoles by feeding them a mixture containing roughly three parts powdered spirulina, three parts powdered chlorella, one part Wardley spirulina fish flake, one part Ocean Nutrition tropical fish flake, and one part Reptomin turtle pellets. These five ingredients are crushed into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle and mixed together. Other foods, like bloodworms, daphnia, shrimp pellets, and algae wafers can also be used. The tadpoles should be fed daily or every other day, but make sure not to overfeed or the water will spoil.

The water does not have to be filtered as long as regular water changes are done. The strong currents that are produced by most submersible filters can actually cause problems during the first few weeks of the tadpole's life. I normally suck up waste with a turkey baster or small siphon daily, and change roughly 1/5 to 1/3 of the water while removing the waste. 100% water changes are only done if a problem is encountered.

Tadpoles from the same clutch of eggs often develop at different rates. Generally, the first tadpoles develop front arms and emerge from the water around eight weeks after the eggs are laid. Tadpoles continue to complete metamorphosis over the next four to eight weeks. Once the first tadpoles show signs of their front arms developing they should be moved to a separate container that has a water depth of half an inch (1.3 cm) or less. The new container should also have a tight fitting cover. Once the tail begins to be absorbed, the little frogs should be moved to a terrestrial setup with moist paper towel as a substrate. In addition to the substrate, there should be a hiding area such as a pothos leaf, fake plant, dried oak leaf, or simply a crumpled up piece of moist paper towel. I keep my young mantella frogs either individually in standard 16 oz. deli containers or in groups of two to five in plastic containers that measure 5 inches long (13 cm) by 5 inches wide (13 cm) and 3 inches (7.5 cm) high. They can also be raised in groups in large terrariums, but must be fed very heavily to ensure all frogs have access to food.

Froglet Care: As soon as the tail is fully absorbed the tiny (7-10mm) bronze colored froglets will require lots of tiny insects to feed on. Drosophila melanogaster and hatchling crickets are accepted by most froglets, although some of the smaller frogs won't be able to handle insects this large. For frogs that are too small to eat fruit flies or crickets, small clumps of wet leaf compost from outside can be placed into their deli containers to introduce insects. Springtails and aphids are also two great food sources to use for young golden mantella frogs.

Left to right: 1) Froglets emerging from water 2) 10 days out of the water 3) 5 weeks out of the water 4) Froglet containers

At between two and three months of age, the frogs can be moved to larger containers with moist sphagnum moss or soil as a substrate and pieces of bark, rocks and fake plants as hiding spots. The juvenile frogs should be cared for in exactly the same way as the adults except for the frequency with which they are fed. Young frogs should always have food available to them in small quantities. Use a varied diet that is supplemented with appropriate calcium and vitamin supplements. Three to eight months after emerging from the water, most of the frogs will have completely developed their orange adult coloration. Occasional frogs won't complete their adult coloration until they are as old as ten months.

Online Resources
AJC's Mantella aurantiaca
Andrew Clark's Mantella Gallery
CITES Proposal For All Mantella Species
Golden Mantella Care
Mantella Conservation
Marc Stanzewski's Mantella FAQ
Poison Frogs of Madagascar: the genus Mantella

Rich Terrell's Insular Exotics