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Golden Mantella - Mantella aurantiaca Print E-mail

Golden Mantella

Mantella aurantiaca

The Animal
Gilden Mantella

Not many of the animals available to the home herpetologist can be described as 'jewels'. There are three though which are usually referred to as such; the Poison Dart Frogs of South America, the Harlequin frogs of Argentina and the very special Mantella's of Madagascar. Here we are looking at the latter of the three.

There are currently 11 described species of Mantella but this under review as some sub species are being given their own name due to significant morphological differences and there are others which have not yet been named.

They all belong to the family of frogs known as Ranidae which is the family name of all 'typical' frogs, Mantella belong to a sub family of this group known as Mantellinae.
Mantella are vibrantly (mainly) coloured and this serves as a warning to potential predators that many of them contain toxins in their skin so should be avoided, rather like the Dart Frogs of South America. They are also active during the day (diurnal) which is another unusual aspect of the frogs as most frogs are active at night (nocturnal). This is likely to be a result of the lack of natural predators on the islands.
The most often offered Mantella is without doubt the Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) which is a bright orange colour with jet black eyes and a red spot on the inner thigh. Adults of the Golden Mantella are between 1 - 1.25 inches long, the females are slightly larger than the males and have a 'fuller' shape. When gravid, the females look like orange grapes with legs! A sight to be seen especially with a rampant male in hot pursuit ... oo la la! The males are the ones that chirp, if more than 1 male is present they will happily chirp all day to declare they are best.
Mantella are native to the tropical island of Madagascar which lies off the East coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean but they can also be found on Reunion and Seychelles. Although these Islands are considered tropical the Mantella's prefer quite cool conditions as they thrive on the highland forest floors, beside streams and waterfalls where the temperature remains pretty constant, they will actually survive anywhere that their requirements are met. With a good ambient temperature on the islands there must be endless possibilities for breeding sites. Anywhere that's not too polluted and offers fresh water, hiding areas and food should be colonized by them. Unfortunately the introduction of non native animals like rats and cats combined with land development and pollution will reduce the number of ideal sites available.
Captive Care
Here's a fairly easy set up to create using a 24 inch Terrarium, this will be perfect for up to 8 adult frogs although a smaller tank of 12 inches can hold up to 5. The more permanent you can make the set up the better the frogs will do. A complete kit is available from Faunology web site. The idea of the excersise it to create a little slice of habitat for them in your office, living room or reptile room.
Mantella need to interact with each other if breeding and natural behavior is to be observed. Males often have sparring matches which involves pushing each other around and does not harm them. The males also make advertising calls which some say sound rather like a cricket chirps, I think they are much nicer than that, they actually 'sing' the note rather than rattling it out! With this in mind you should have at least 3 males to each female; this will allow them to 'battle' for the female's attention and will happily chirp all day
Housing these charming frogs is a quite easy. In captivity we can use their adaptive abilities to create a new home quite easily and with a good bit of latitude.
The base of the tank should be covered to a depth of 3 inches in a mixture of sphagnum peat and orchid bark 80/20, 10% activated charcoal chips (not off the BBQ!) can also be added to help reduce odors. The orchid bark helps maintain the right texture and the peat holds moisture and is acidic (helps with keeping sterile). On top of this basic mix should be a layer of live moss, this can be sphagnum moss or carpet moss. This layer of moss will need periodic changing when soiled or when it breaks down.

The substrate should not be allowed to dry out but should be kept constantly moist to the touch. You can also purchase moss spores (used by many Bonsai artists) to grow your own carpet of moss direct on the substrate, you would need the tank set up for a few months though until the substrate has 'bedded in' and the moss started to grow.

The rear wall of the terrarium has a fitted simulated rock face, this is ideal territory for a plant or two! You could use almost any plant thats fairly slow growing, has nice evergreen leaves, an interesting form and as a bonus some produce beautiful flowers. Angraecum (native), Phalaenopsis (not), some Cattleya (not), certainly Aerangis (native) will all fit the bill. As will Platycerium the stag horn fern (native).

Golden Mantella Eggs
If you have opted for one of the taller tanks they you can also include a tall shrubby plant to provide natural mottled lighting for them. Many of the Ficus plants will grow well but will require frequent trimming. Tank decoration is also important to Mantella's and there should be a flat basking area (can be a large flat water dish),cork tubes or commercially available hides available as hiding places.
As they are active during the day you will need to supplement the lighting with an ultra violet light source, this will enable good utilization of calcium for proper growth of bones. A low wattage spot lamp can also be used and should be aimed at one corner of the enclosure. The spot light can lead to over heating so you should incorporate a dimming thermostat set to the correct temperature, this will lower the output of the spot light. The day lights should be left on for 12 hours a day from September through March and gradually rising to 15 hours a day in the mid summer, the tube will need replacing at least every 6 months as their UV output fades. I have not seen adult frogs climbing the glass walls but it is advisable to make sure the tank is escape proof just in case.
Temperature with any amphibian is critical as if they over heat then will not survive very long. Golden Mantella prefer a daytime temperature of around 75F (70 - 80) with a night time drop to 70F (65 - 75). Do not allow the temperature to go above 85F at any time otherwise you could loose your frogs.

Heating the enclosure during the day is taken care of by the small tank heating mat (preferred method). The actual heating requirements can't be worked out until you have found what the temperature cycle is in the room where the frogs are to be kept. If the room temperature is 75F during the day then you shouldn't need additional heating, at night 68F will be fine for them. you may only need a small heat mat at night or none at all if you have central heating installed. Use a Max/Min Thermo/Hygro device to find out what temperature and humidity levels have been at over night and day.

For night time you can just leave the heat mat on or opt for an overhead night time lamp either a red coloured infra red heater or a blue coloured moonlight lamp. The lights are only really necessary in situations where the animal is nocturnal; i.e. Red Eye Tree Frog where the main part of keeping them is watching and listening to them at night. In the case of the Golden Mantella, they will be fast asleep so there's nothing to see. If you use this method make sure you test the tank for a week to make sure they are not overheating.

Humidity is also very important for these animals. Typically if the substrate is moist and the temperature is set to the correct levels then the humidity will take care of itself with the aid of the live plants. A digital temperature and humidity measuring device can be purchased fairly inexpensively and will give you an accurate measurement of both within the tank. The relative humidity level should be between 60% - 80% most of the time, if your tank is drier than this then you can simply spray luke warm water on the substrate or pur water in to one corner of the tank to moisen the substrate more, this will increase the humidity levels. You should routinely lightly spray on a daily basis as it will also encourage the animals to come out of their hiding places.
Mantella frogs are not too bothered where they leave their droppings and sometimes this will be in the water dish but typically they don't have any specific place they use, for this reason you will need to change the moss on the surface at least once every 3 months and change the whole of the substrate every six months. If it sours before this then you should change it, they do not like dirty conditions.
Golden Mantella are insectivores and will readily take a wide variety of live foods of an appropriate size. Crickets of various types are readily taken and the size should be in the 2 - 5mm range; anything larger is likely to be refused. Flightless fruit flies, small size crickets, aphids are all good sources of food items. The food should be dusted every third day with a good quality multi vitamin powder which should include calcium. The crickets should also be fed on a good quality cricket food, carrots, cabbage, dandelion leaves and cuttle fish bone will all add to the foods nutritional value, this is known as 'gut loading'.
Feed your frogs two or three times a day and allow 4 or 5 crickets or other food items per 'sitting', this will keep your frogs actively searching for food and will help prevent over crowding of live food in the tank.These animals can be trained. If you make a noise before putting in the food they will associate it with food, simply making the noise then will cause them to appear. Use a 'clicker' type device so the sound remains the same and in a few weeks they will have learned.
Fresh water should always be available in the form of a thin film over pebbles or no more then 1/2 inch deep in a large shallow water dish. (the feeding dish is shallow) Waterfalls can also be incorporated in to the design but will take up a lot of space unless you build one in to the tank yourself.

This species has some specialist needs in its breeding cycle. Temperatures, humidity combined with special techniques required to feed the tadpoles makes pre knowledge a great benefit if you want to breed them. The complete article including Breeding in Captivity is available in the downloads section.


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