Poison Dart Frogs Part of Rust Belt Charm

Poison Dart Frogs Part of Rust Belt Charm

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 29, 2018)

Ferndale, MI – Big box stores have greeters that say hello as shoppers enter. But Rust Belt Market in Downtown Ferndale does things differently. Here guests are welcomed by a pack of poison dart frogs and their beautiful chirping song.

The Rust Belt Market is home to over 40 independent artisan vendors, selling everything from clothing and jewelry, art, and décor, to soaps and other personal product, to vintage items and other unusual finds.

But not only is it just a space for artists, it is a work of art itself. Owners Tiffany and Chris Best took what used to be an Old Navy Store at the corner of 9 Mile and Woodward and came up with the Rust Belt theme. From the ceiling there are decorative lamps forged in steel.  A wall cordoning off the event space in the center is a 3d design made of re-purposed wood, and a cozy little nook with a red velvet bench. Out front the entrance is adorned with metal sculpture mixed with a lush variety of plants.  And by the back entrance, a terrarium.

“For me, I like the way it looks when there is nature mixed with industrial features,” said Chris Best.  “I think the word juxtaposition is over-used, but that is what it is. We can build great things, but we also can’t forget that we come from nature. When I see things like that, it’s what I think of.”

The terrarium is home for six poison dart frogs.  Four are blue, one is green, and one is a bumble bee frog, named for its yellow and black stripes. Best built the habitat out of tempered glass and chose a mix of tropical plants that includes carnivorous pitcher plants. He also purchased special LED lights that show off the brilliant colors of the frogs, and designed an air flow system that would help keep the glass clear without reducing the moisture the frog need in order to stay hydrated.

“People ask me all the time if I will build them one, but it’s not that simple.  Tempered glass is expensive.  I had to buy special glue for the hinges. I custom built the stand. It takes a long time and it’s not cheap.  And you have to be really dedicated to keep it up,” he said.  In addition to regular cleaning, Best gets flightless fireflies and powered nutrients to keep them fed.  The frogs feel the vibrations of the flies and come hopping to gobble them up.

It’s a lot of work, plus there was a lot to learn.

To begin with, Best had to make sure that poison dart frogs would be safe.  “My wife and business partner Tiffany was very clear about not letting me get something that had the potential to hurt people,” he said.

Poison dart frogs are not actually poisonous unless they have been feeding in the wild.  According to Josh’s Frogs, a top breeder, “In captivity, Poison Dart Frogs are harmless. They glean their toxic characteristics from a diet of various insects and arthropods found in the jungles of Central and South America. At this point in time, it is not possible to make a captive bred dart frog toxic. Even with wild caught frogs, they tend to lose their toxicity over a period of months when they are subject to a captive diet.”

Originally best had wanted to get tree frogs – the little spring green frogs with the bright red eyes that many people associate with the rainforest.  “But those are nocturnal,” he said.  “I considered other amphibians too, but when I read about these I knew this is what I wanted.”

Best never gave the frogs names, and has no idea of their gender. They are about two years old and have not yet tried to breed that he knows of. Mainly they just hop around and look curiously out of the glass when people are around.  Since they were bred in captivity they have known humans their whole life.  When Best opens the glass pane to feed them, they know what’s coming and they hop over to him. The green one, who is most vocal, gets extra chirpy at feeding time.

The Best family loves them, and so do the visitors. “Customers love them.  I didn’t understand how much people would like it. People are always taking pictures.  We have weddings here, and other events, so people that have never been to the Rust Belt and don’t really know what we’re about, they’re just in awe.”

The vendors in the Rust Belt as also awe-inspiring with their artistic creations.  Learn more about the market at http://www.rustbeltmarket.com/.

For more on Poison Dart Frogs, check out Josh’s Frogs website.

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