Animal Fact Sheets

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poison dart frog range map

POISON DART FROG

(Dendrobates sp.)


 

Classification and Range

The Dendrobatidae family of frogs makes up a group of about 75 different species of poison dart frogs; each characterized by different coloring and behavioral patterns. Poison dart frogs are found in Central and South America.

Habitat

Poison dart frogs make their home on the moist floor of the tropical rain forests.

Physical Characteristics

Poison dart frogs are conspicuously colorful, their bright colors warning predators about the toxic poisons that exude from their skins. Different species of dart frogs sport varying colors. For example, the species Dendrobates granuliferus is red and black, Dendrobates auratus is green and black, Dendrobates histrionicus is orange and black, and Dendrobates leucomelas can be yellow or orange and black. Most species of poison dart frogs are bright red, orange, yellow, or green and black. However, some species without toxic poisons are usually very dull in color.

Life Span

Approximately 10 to 15 years. (Record 20.5 by Dendrobates auratus at Woodland Park Zoo)

Diet

In the wild: Dart frogs hunt ants and termites by day amidst the thick brush. Because their prey is so small, they spend a great deal of time foraging, increasing their vulnerability to predation. Their bright colors offer them protection as they forage, warning away predators such as snakes.

At the zoo:Pinhead crickets and wingless fruit flies.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

One of the most remarkable behavioral characteristics of poison dart frogs is their care of offspring. The male frog entices the female to an appropriate spot to deposit her eggs. The eggs are laid on leaves, where the high humidity provides the necessary environment for developing eggs. In some species, the male frog tends to the eggs and newly hatched tadpoles. In others (such as with the Dendrobates granuliferus and Dendrobates pumilio) it is the female who takes on this responsibility. When the tadpoles hatch, they maneuver themselves onto the parent's back, where they ride through the forest understory. In some species, this is as far as parental responsibility is carried. For example, the species Dendrobates colostethus, which has no toxins and very dull colors, is made very vulnerable to predation by the hitchhiking tadpoles. They simply carry the hatched tadpoles to the nearest suitable water and abandon them.

With other species of poison dart frogs, however, this is not the case. After picking up the hatched tadpoles, the attending parent climbs high up into the forest canopy, where they deposit the tadpoles into a variety of plants including the bromeliad, whose numerous cup-like leaves provide multiple, water-filled sanctuaries where young can develop. One tadpole is placed in each pocket of water.

The parent also makes sure to distribute tadpoles among many plants. In this way, the entire mass of tadpoles will not be lost should it be attacked by the giant damselflies, which lay eggs in the bromeliads and whose young feed on developing tadpoles. Tadpoles also face danger from their own kind. If a parent approaches a plant that is already occupied by a tadpole, the youngster makes itself know by aiming its head at the center of the plant, holding itself rigid, and rapidly vibrating its tail. If the parent does not heed this warning and deposits its tadpole into this already occupied pool of water, the original, larger tadpole will eat the younger tadpole. In some species of poison dart frogs, parental responsibility does not end here. In the species Dendrobates granuliferus and Dendrobates pumilio, the female returns to each tadpole and deposits nutrient rich, protein-filled eggs into their private aquariums as food for the developing tadpoles.

What's in a Name?

Poison dart frogs get their name from the poisons secreted through their skin. The Colombian Choco Indians use the poison of the species Phyllobates bicolor to tip their hunting darts. The poison affects the nervous system and muscles, causing paralysis and eventual respiratory failure. It is potent enough to immobilize an animal as large as a monkey. Some species of poison dart frogs have poisons that are more toxic than others, but a few have no toxins at all.

Location at the Zoo

Woodland Park Zoo's poison dart frogs are located in the Tropical Rain Forest. As visitors enter the exhibit, they are immersed in a garden of tropical rain forest plants such as fan palms, bananas, cocoa, figs and hanging liana vines.

Four different species of poison dart frogs live in their lush enclosure; green-and-black poison dart frog (Dendrobates auratus), bicolored poison dart frog (Phyllobates bicolor), orange-and-black poison dart frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) and two subspecies of (Dendrobates tinctorius), one large yellow-and-black, the other powder blue with black markings. Look for the poison dart frogs hopping and crawling around a puddle of water and lounging on moss covered logs and branches. They are hard to see, so look close and see how many you can find.

Conservation Connection

Poison dart frogs, as all amphibians, play an important role in nature's web of life. Wild habitat needed by these amphibians, however, is quickly disappearing. In addition to habitat destruction, the pet trade is lowering numbers of certain amphibian and reptile populations to the point where they may become extinct in the wild. Each of us needs to take action to protect wild habitats so frogs and all animals can continue to perform the vital roles they play in maintaining the delicate balance of nature.

Humans need frogs and other amphibians

Here are only a few of the benefits they provide: Amphibians help keep animal populations in balance. Amphibians consume many animals that humans consider as pests, including destructive species of insects. This helps to control disease and damage to crops. The poison of the poison dart frog and other amphibians may provide effective medicines to fight certain human diseases.

How You Can Help!

The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Please do not buy products made from wild animal parts. Contact your elected representatives and express your views about conservation of endangered species and wild habitats.

To find out about ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo contact us at webkeeper@zoo.org. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.

Reptiles and Amphibians as Pets

We do not recommend reptiles and amphibians as pets for most people as they require very specialized diets and environments. We also receive hundreds of requests each year to take former pet iguanas, boas and other reptiles but we cannot accept these due to space, health and unknown backgrounds. If you need to find a reptile or amphibian a new home, we suggest you contact a local herpetological group in your area. In the Puget Sound region, contact the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society as a resource.

Sources and Suggested Reading

Duellman and Trueb. 1986. Biology of Amphibians. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MY. 670 p.

For the Kids!

Clarke, Dr. Barry. 1993. Amphibians. Eyewitness Books, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, NY 64 p.

Grossman, Patricia. 1991. Very First Things to Know About Frogs. Workman Publishing, New York, NY and The American Museum of National History. 32 p.

Poison Dart Frog Taxonomy

Phylum: Chordata
Class:Amphibia
Order:Anura
Family:Ranidae
Genus:Rana
Species:R. pretiosav

Poison Dart Frog Fascinating Facts

  • The toxins produced by the genus Dendrobates are similar to chemicals produced by the human adrenal glands, and may prove to have medicinal value in small doses!
  • Male poison dart frogs make insect-like buzzing and chirping noises to attract females. Sometimes they make these vocalizations at slightly elevated heights to allow the sound to travel greater distances!
  • Poison dart frogs are solitary, territorial animals. Territorial disputes can lead to aggressive behavior including belly-to-belly grasps and a sporadic buzzing call!
 
 
 
 

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