Poison dart frog
Poison dart frogs
Various poison dart frog species













Subfamilies and genera

Poison dart frog (also dart-poison frog, poison frog, dart frog, Panamanian frog, or formerly poison-arrow frog) is the common name for the frogs in the family Dendrobatidae. Unlike most frogs, these species are active during the day and often exhibit brightly-colored bodies. Although all wild dendrobatids are at least somewhat toxic, levels of toxicity vary considerably from one species to the next and from one population to another. Many species are critically endangered. These amphibians are often called "dart frogs" due to indigenous Amerindians' use of their toxic secretions to poison the tips of blowdarts.[1] In fact, of over 175 species, only three have been documented as being used for this purpose (curare plants are more commonly used), and none come from the Dendrobates genus, which is most characterized by the brilliant color and complex patterns of its members.[2][3]


Poison dart frogs secrete lipophilic alkaloid toxins through their skin. Alkaloids in the skin glands of poison frogs serve as a chemical defense against predation, and they are therefore able to be active alongside potential predators during the day. About 28 structural classes of alkaloids are known in poison frogs. [2][15] It is argued that dart frogs do not synthesize their poisons, but sequester the chemicals from arthropod prey items, such as ants, centipedes and mites. This is known as the dietary hypothesis. [16] Because of this, captive-bred animals do not contain significant levels of toxins. Despite the toxins used by some poison dart frogs, there are some predators that have developed the ability to withstand them, including the Amazon ground snake (Liophis epinephelus).[17]

Chemicals extracted from the skin of Epipedobates tricolor may be shown to have medicinal value.[18] One such chemical is a painkiller 200 times as potent as morphine, called epibatidine, that has unfortunately demonstrated unacceptable gastrointestinal side effects in humans.[19] Secretions from dendrobatids are also showing promise as muscle relaxants, heart stimulants and appetite suppressants.[20]

Physical descriptionEdit

Most species of poison dart frogs are small, sometimes less than 1.5 centimeters (0.59 in) in adult length, although a few are up to 6 centimeters (2.4 in) in length. They weigh about 2 grams, depending on the size of the frog. Most poison dart fro gs are brightly colored, displaying aposematic patterns to warn potential predators. Their bright coloration is associated with their toxicity and levels of alkaloids. Frogs like the ones of Dendrobates and especially Phyllobates species have high levels of alkaloids, whereas the Colostethus species are cryptically colored and are non-toxic.[4] Unlike most other frogs, they are diurnal, rather than being primarily nocturnal.[5]

Poison dart frogs vary widely in colouration. Members of the Dendrobates genus of poison dart frogs are typically blue or green in colour; members of the genus Oophaga are mostly coloured brick-red or blue-grey, which makes them stand out from their rocky or river habitat. Not all poison dart frogs are aposematic, however. The lovely poison dart frog (Phyllobates lugubris) is notable for its dull brown back and pale yellow flanks. The reason for its cryptic coloration is that its alkaloid toxin is comparatively mild; humans have survived touching wild specimens of the lovely poison frog, perhaps hence its name.


Most species of poison dart frog live next to fast-flowing rivers; being small frogs their calls are fairly quiet. These frogs are unusual in that they communicate by a form of semaphore, waving at rivals and prospective mates. Since frogs usually communicate by croaking, this adaptation is thought to have evolved in the golden frog because of the noise of the fast-moving streams which formed their natural habitat.

Many species of poison dart frog are dedicated parents. The golden poison-arrow frog (Phyllobates terribilis) carry their newly hatched tadpoles into the canopy. The tadpoles stick to the mucus on the back of their parents. Once in the upper reaches of the rainforest trees the parents deposit their young in the pools of water that accumulate in epiphytic plants such as bromeliads. The tadpoles feed on invertebrates in their arboreal nursery and their mother will even supplement their diet by depositing eggs into the water. The azure poison frog (Dendrobates azureus) lay their eggs on the ground in small pools and stand guard over them, chasing away potential predators such as beetles or killing them and feeding them to their tadpoles. The blue-and-yellow poison dart frog (Dendrobates variabilis) lays its eggs in streams and rivers, carefully laying them in areas with few potential predators and guarding them closely.

BBC Poison Dart Frogs - Wild Caribbean01:27

BBC Poison Dart Frogs - Wild Caribbean

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