Ranitomeya imitator ‘Varadero’


Ranitomeya imitator “Varadero” (pronounced Ran-it-oh-MAY-ah im-it-tate-or var-ah-dare-oh) are orange, blue, and black frogs.  Being a Ranitomeya, Varadero are small frogs.  These little fellas are quick and can be a bit on the shy side, but may warm up to you if you visit them through the glass a lot.  They are diurnal like all Ranitomeya, so you won’t have to get up late to watch them.  They should be active when you are!  These are very small but easy to care for and make a great beginner frog with adequate preparation.


Quick Stats:

Enclosure: 30cmX30cmX45cm (12”X12”X18”)

Heat:  18°C-27°C (65°F-80°F)

Humidity:  70-100%

Food:  Juveniles D. melanogaster, Adults may take D. hydei, small isopods, springtails.

Lifespan: Approximately 10+ years

Varadero frogs are not too variable in their coloring.  These frogs are an astounding orange color on their heads and bodies.  Their legs are a deep royal blue.  Heads, backs, and legs are striped and blotched in black, and these frogs are often quite thickly striped.  This can vary somewhat in each individual frog.  Average for a Ranitomeya, big females measure in at about 18-19mm, and males are typically slightly smaller.  Females are often rounder than males.  Varadero frogs share the common pearlescence of the Ranitomeya genus.

Distribution and Natural Habitat
Varadero are native to Peru, in the Amazon basin.  These frogs prefer to be off the ground and can be found living in bromeliads and leaves in the tropical rainforest. However, they like to lay their eggs in the leaf litter on the ground.  Imitator is considered by the IUCN Red List as “Least Concern”, making Varadero stable in the wild and fairly common to spot within their geographic range.

Like all Ranitomeya, the Varadero frogs are diurnal meaning they are awake during the day.  They are arboreal and live in the low hanging leaves of the jungles they inhabit. In the wild they are constantly foraging for small insects, invertebrates and arthropods on and around their plants. Some of the plants in the jungles contain various alkaloids and toxins, the micro fauna eat these plants and in turn get eaten by the frogs.  This causes a downstream effect and these amazing frogs have evolved to harness the toxins as a means of self-defense. A combination of their striking colors and the toxins stored in their glands help ward off potential predators. In captivity the Varadero do not contain any of these toxins due to the diet provided to them. They don’t have access to the food they would be eating in the wild.  Varadero live near streams and ponds, or right on the edge of slow moving water. While being frogs they are not very good swimmers and great care should be taken when making a suitable vivarium for them to live in. Once mature, the males will boldly perch in the open and call out to attract females. The Varadero call is soft.  It sounds like a short, soft “buzz buzz” or “chirp chirp.”  When a female selects a male, the pair will hop away to a nice quiet place, often in a bromeliad, and mate. Imitator are aggressive to each other and should only be housed in pairs.

Life in the Vivarium
Like all dart frogs, imitator require a humidity range of 70-100%. They can survive for brief intervals at 50% humidity if clean water is provided for them to soak in.  You can place a bromeliad or small shallow dish of water in the enclosure or add a pond feature to achieve this.  Remember, Varadero cannot swim well, so ensure that the water source is shallow and easy to get out of. The water level should be no higher than the smallest frog can sit in with his head and upper torso out.

Imitator thrive at temperatures near 21°C (70°F) but can survive a range of 18°C-27°C (65°F-80°F).  Never exceed 29°C (85°F) as this can be fatal to the frogs. Generally a heat source such as a pad or light is not needed on a dart frog vivarium, apart from any lighting for plants.  Do not rely on sunshine from a window, because the sun through the glass will heat up to extremely unsafe temperatures very quickly. Keep note of any air conditioning or heaters used in your home as well, as they may affect the temperature in your frog cage.

It is possible to house a single Varadero in a 7 gallon aquarium.  We recommend a 30cmX30cmX45cm (12”X12”X18”) enclosure – but bigger is always better. This size vivarium is suitable to house 2 adult Varadero. 

As juveniles you can house several Varadero together, but as adults you must never house more than a pair together.  In our experience Varadero can be housed in pairs and anything else will result in extreme aggression from both females on females and males on males. It is common to keep a pair of frogs in one enclosure.

It is common for a healthy Ranitomeya to live for 10+ years in a vivarium. Please consider this before deciding to take them home to your family. As with most amphibians they are considered a “hands off” pet similar to a fish. Due to their delicate and permeable skin, it is not advised to handle your frogs. The chemicals, oils and debris on your hands could prove fatal to your dart frog pet when it is absorbed through their skin. It is recommended that you wear powder free rubber gloves if you are required to handle your dart frogs. In an emergency, such as an escape from the enclosure, try to capture them as fast as possible (bare hands will do… if needed) as they will try to hide quickly, and unfortunately this will become fatal very rapidly.

Imitator require small live prey to hunt. This is easily achieved by providing them with flightless or wingless fruit flies. Baby and juvenile Varadero will eat Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies, and large adults may seek out Drosophila hydei. Springtails are also a wonderfully sized snack for fingernail frogs.  The flies and springtails on their own are a poor nutritional source.  We recommend “dusting” your fruit flies with a high quality vitamin and mineral supplement. We use and recommend Dendrocare all in one vitamin/mineral supplement. You can combine and use other supplements available to you, however please ensure you research what ratio or frequency you can supply vitamins as some can be lethal in high dosages. 


It is very common to build a bioactive vivarium for your dart frogs. This is achieved by introducing isopods and springtails into the environment. These little land crustaceans (no they are not insects!) will eat the decaying and decomposing bio matter as well as any excess feces in the vivarium. Some of these micro fauna will be eaten by your dart frog, as a little snack.

As with all our frogs, we do not recommend that you house multiple species or morphs together. Please supply each group with a vivarium to call their own.

Breeding in Captivity
If you have provided all the necessary parameters to keep your Varadero happy and healthy, they are considered easy to moderate to breed in a vivarium. This makes them a popular choice for many dart frog enthusiasts, but less common with beginners.  Eggs will be laid in the leaf litter or in a bromeliad in a secluded location. Many hobbyists will place a film canister, at 35-45 degrees on the floor of the enclosure, preferably upside down.  The male will clean and protect the eggs until they hatch.  Tadpoles who are left to grow up with their parents will end up larger than tadpoles that are removed.  Once the eggs hatch, the male will move the tadpoles to a pool and show the female where he has placed them.  The female imitator will feed her tadpoles by laying an infertile egg in their pool with them, for them to feast on.  This is called Non-obligate egg feeding.  She will do this on average every 2-3 days until the tadpoles emerge from the water.  Tadpoles will eat other food than the eggs, but the egg supplementation makes them healthier.  The eggs take approximately 10-14 days to fully develop.  The tadpoles will take approximately 60-80 days to fully metamorphosis into colorful little froglets.

Final Notes
Ranitomeya Varadero are a beautiful and excellent beginner frog, but also an amazing addition to an established collection.  Their extreme orange and blue coloring makes them unique among imitator, and they’re bold little frogs as well.  

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Jungle Jewel Exotics is located in Calgary Alberta and was founded by Lucas and Dawn to preserve and expand the amazing hobby of amphibians and reptiles in Western Canada. Currently working with over thirty five species and morphs of dart frogs plus other enchanting species of frogs. We are also working with several types of dwarf day gecko. Jungle Jewel Exotics is on the fore front of our favorite hobby and rapidly expanding our breeding program.

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