Poison dart frogs typically display reproductive characteristics unknown elsewhere in the frog world (except, perhaps, in the lookalike mantellas of Madagascar).
Precise patterns of parental care are shown by most poison dart frogs.
Most poison dart frogs do not indulge amplexus. The males of some species may sit on the backs of the females, but this usually happens prior to, not during, the expelling of the eggs. The do indulge in much tactile stimulation, stroking each other's back, sides, and cloacal areas with their foretoes.
The actual fertilization of the eggs is accomplished in several ways. The males of some species may first expel sperm onto a chosen deposition site, after which the female lays her eggs on that spot. In other cases there may be vent-to-vent contact while the frogs are facing in opposite directions.
Several minutes may pass between egg laying and fertilization, with the male sometimes leaving the site, then returning to fertilize the eggs.
The females of a few species, notably D.pumilio, D. histrionicus, D. granuliferus, and D. speciosus, lay fertile eggs, ether on fallen leaves or in bromeliad cups. If on the ground, the female remains near the egg mass, leaving only for brief periods to feed and find water. When the young hatch, she carries them to the bromeliad cups. After depositing them, she then returns periodically to deposit infertile "food eggs" in each bromeliad cup for the tadpoles to feed on. In captive programs, dilute yolk of hen egg (unhooked) has also been offered with varying success to these specialized feeders.
A specially designed terrarium will be necessary. For egg-laying, these species need a vertically oriented enclosed in which small, spineless bromeliad types (Vresia, ect.) grow.
Although female poison dart frogs of the reticulatus complex (D. fantasticus, D. ventrimaculatus, D. quinquevittatus, D. reticulatus, and others) seem to deposit food for there tadpoles, hobbyists question whether these are actually critical to development. If provided, food eggs may result in stronger tadpoles, but the larvae of some species have been brought through to metamorphosis on prepared foods alone.
The more typical method of reproduction involves the laying of the eggs in terrestrial situations by the female and their subsequent fertilization by the male. The male waits nearby until the eggs hatch. After hatching, the tadpoles wriggle onto the back of the male, who carries from the terrestrial deposition site to the chosen waterhole, where the tadpoles then undergo normal growth and metamorphosis. This rather standard method of parental care is utilized by most species of poison dart frogs commonly seen in captivity. Some examples are D. tinctorius, D. auratus, Epipedobates tricolor, and Phyllobates vittatus.