Untold StoriesWorld Nature

Dart frogs: One of the most poisonous animals on Earth

Poison dart frogs, members of the Dendrobatidae family, wear some of the most brilliant and beautiful colors on Earth. Depending on individual habitats, which extend from the tropical forests of Costa Rica to Brazil, their coloring can be yellow, gold, copper, red, green, blue, or black. Their elaborate designs and hues are deliberately ostentatious to ward off potential predators, a tactic called aposematic coloration.

#1. Golden Poison Frog

The golden poison frog is considered one of the most toxic animals on Earth. A single specimen measuring two inches has enough venom to kill ten grown men. The indigenous Emberá people of Colombia have used its powerful venom for centuries to tip their blowgun darts when hunting, hence the species’ name.

Population

These brightly colored amphibians are among the largest of the more than 100 poison dart frog species, averaging more than one inch in length. They live within a tiny plot of rain forest on the Pacific coast of Colombia. And though the population in its small range is abundant, widespread decimation of the rain forest has landed this species on international endangered lists.

Coloring and Diet

Their coloring, which can be yellow, orange, or pale green, depending on their particular range, is deliberately ostentatious to ward off potential predators, a tactic called aposematic coloration. Their diet includes flies, crickets, ants, termites, and beetles.

Toxicity

Scientists are unsure of the source of this frog’s amazing toxicity, but it is possible they assimilate plant poisons, which are carried by their prey. Poison dart frogs raised in captivity and isolated from insects in their native habitat never develop venom.

The medical research community has been exploring possible medicinal uses for the golden poison frog’s toxins. They have already developed a synthetic version of one of the poison’s compounds that has promise as a powerful painkiller.

#2. Blue Dart Frog

The Blue Poison Dart Frog is a small frog with bright blue coloring.  Its back and top of the head are a lighter-colored sky blue, while its belly and legs are a darker blue color.  Dark blue and black spots cover the frog’s body, primarily its back and head.  The sexes are similar in appearance, with females being slightly larger than males.

Blue Poison Dart Frog is a small frog with bright blue coloring

Toxicity

Dendrobatids include some of the most toxic animals on Earth. The two-inch-long golden poison frog has enough poison to kill 10 grown men. Indigenous Emberá people of Colombia have used its powerful poison for centuries to tip their blowgun darts when hunting, hence the genus’ common name.

Scientists are unsure of the source of poison dart frogs’ toxicity, but it is possible they assimilate plant poisons which are carried by their prey, including ants, termites and beetles. Poison dart frogs raised in captivity and isolated from insects in their native habitat never develop poison.

The medical research community has been exploring possible medicinal uses for some poison dart frog poison. They have already developed a synthetic version of one compound that shows promise as a painkiller.

Size

A Blue Poison Dart Frog measures 1-1.5 inches (2.5-3.8 centimeters) long and weighs about three tenths of an ounce (8.5 grams).

Adaptations

  • Poison Dart Frogs have toxins in their skin that can paralyze or kill potential predators.
  • The bright blue color of this frog’s skin warns predators not to eat it.
  • Blue Poison Dart Frogs are covered with a sticky skin that helps to hold in moisture and allows the tadpoles to cling to the adults while being moved between locations.

Diet

In the wild, Blue Poison Dart Frogs eat primarily insects, including caterpillars, ants, beetles, flies and mites.  They will also consume spiders and other arthropods.  At Cosley Zoo, these frogs are fed fruit flies and crickets.

Reproduction

Blue Poison Dart Frogs breed in February and March.  The female lays 5-10 eggs at a time.  The eggs are laid in moist areas, but are not completely submerged in the water.  Tadpoles hatch 14-18 days after the eggs are laid.  It takes tadpoles 10-12 weeks to undergo metamorphosis and become adult frogs.

Shelter and Space Needs

In the wild, Blue Poison Dart Frogs are found in Surinam, South America.  They inhabit a few isolated areas of rainforest, choosing areas that are warm and humid, near a water source such as a stream.  While they are able to climb trees, Poison Dart Frogs are typically found on the ground.  These frogs are diurnal (active during the day).

Life Expectancy

In the wild, Blue Poison Dart Frogs live for 4-6 years. In captivity, they can survive up to 12 years.

Relationship With Man

The toxins in the skin of a Poison Dart Frog can be poisonous and even fatal to humans. However, these toxins may also be beneficial to humans, and scientists are researching them to see if they can be used in pharmaceuticals.  Poison Dart Frogs have also become popular as pets.  Only captive-bred frogs should be purchased as pets to preserve the wild population, which is threatened due to habitat destruction and illegal collection for the pet trade.  Zoos around the world are working on conservation projects to protect the wild population of these frogs, which play an important role in the ecosystem as a predator of insects and other invertebrates.

Fun Facts

  • Each Blue Poison Dart Frog has a unique pattern of spots, much like humans’ individual fingerprints.
  • The toxic compounds in the skin of a Poison Dart Frog come from its prey, especially the ants it eats.  The compounds are absorbed into the frog’s skin when it consumes its prey.  Because the frogs at Cosley Zoo are fed fruit flies and crickets, which do not contain these toxins, the frogs are not poisonous.
  • Poison Dart Frogs have no webbing between the toes on their feet, so they are poor swimmers and are not often found in the water.
  • The toxins by Poison Dart Frogs are applied to the darts and arrows used by some South American Indians for hunting.  The poison helps to quickly kill the animals being hunted.
  • Because the area it lives in is so remote, the Blue Poison Dart Frog was not discovered until 1969!

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