Poison Dart Frogs
Vibrant but toxic,
poison arrow frogs
range from less than an inch to two and a half inches in body length. There are
more than 100 species of poison dart frogs, varying in color and pattern. The black and green species has black spots, the strawberry or blue jeans frog is all red with blue legs, the yellow-banded species appears painted with yellow and black. Color shades vary among frogs within a species. It is the skin that contains the frog's poison.
These beautiful colors are warnings to potential predators that the
frogs are poisonous. Other species, such as monarch butterflies, sport bright colors to advertise their toxicity. Several species of non-poisonous frogs evolved with similar coloring to avoid being eaten. Some scientists think that the reticulated pattern
of the frogs also acts as camouflage among the forest shadows.
Distribution and Habitat:
Poison dart frogs live in the rainforests of Central and South
America and on a few Hawaiian islands.
Diet in the Wild:
Poison dart frogs feed mostly on spiders and small insects such as ants
and termites, which they find on the forest floor using
their excellent vision. They capture their prey by using
their long sticky tongues.
They are fed small crickets daily.
Male frogs go through an elaborate ritual to attract a mate.
The males vocalize, a loud trill sound, to attract females. Once
the courtship ritual is complete, the females deposit dozens of eggs on leaves. The eggs are encased in a gelatinous substance
for protection against decay.
During the two-week development period, the male returns
to the eggs periodically to check on them. Once the tadpoles
hatch, they swim onto the male’s back and are attached by a mucus
secretion, which keeps them from falling off. The male carries
them to a place suitable for further development, such
as wet holes in broken trees and branches, little ponds,
wet coconut shells, and even in tin cans and car tires. Tiny pools of water that collect in bromeliads are also used by some species.
Once at their final destination, the
tadpoles are on their own. They need an additional three months
to metamorphose into small frogs.
They may live more than ten years in captivity.
Some poison dart frogs are endangered due to habitat loss, which is causing numbers to decline among many species.
The possibility of new medications from these frogs'
secretions is being explored.
Poison dart frogs, also called poison arrow frogs, are so named because
some Amerindian tribes have used their secretions to poison
their darts. Not all arrow frogs are deadly, and only three
species are very dangerous to humans. The most deadly species
to humans is the golden poison arrow frog (Phyllobates terribilis
). Its poison, batrachotoxin, can
kill many small animals or humans. These frogs are found
in Colombia along the western slopes of the Andes. Arrow
frogs are not poisonous in captivity. Scientists believe
that these frogs gain their poison from a specific arthropod
and other insects that they eat in the wild. These insects
most likely acquire the poison from their plant diet.
In 1999 a Zoo pathologist published
his discovery of a then-mysterious infection that was afflicting
and eventually killing poison arrow frogs and white’s
tree frogs. Through his effort, cutaneous chytridiomycosis
was documented for the first time as a vertebrate parasite.
The veterinarians along with keepers and pathologists also
developed a treatment for the chytrids. The same antifungal
that is used to kill athletes’ foot in humans can
be used with the frogs and toads.