Cute and colourful they may be, but poison dart frogs deserve your respect. As well as being some of the most toxic animals in the world, these fascinating critters live a life as colourful as they are – making them the perfect focus for today’s fact-finding blog.
In this post, we’re showcasing the poison dart frog in all its weirdness and beauty, filling you in on everything from what they eat to just how toxic they really are.
Get to know poison dart frogs a little better with our quick fact file, which gives you the key things to know about these colourful critters.
Poison dart frogs are a group of amphibians that are characterised by their colourful bodies and toxicity, though not all the 170 species in the family are poisonous. Most are very small in size, with the largest, the golden dart frog, being just 5.5 centimetres.
Unlike many other amphibians, poison dart frogs are diurnal, meaning they’re most active in the daytime – just like us humans. This is quite rare for frogs, as most species are nocturnal.
Poison dart frogs are known to be among the most poisonous amphibians in the world, but they don’t use this as a means of attack. Instead, it acts as a deterrent, with their brightly-coloured bodies essentially telling would-be predators “I’m poisonous, don’t eat me.”
This means poison dart frogs fall into the category of aposematic animals, meaning they have a certain characteristic which deters potential predators. Other aposematic animals include skunks, with their formidable scent glands, and the cuttlefish, whose incredible colour-changing skin warns passing hunters that it’s among the most poisonous creatures in the ocean.
Unlike many other creatures of the rainforest, who rely on camouflage for both defence and hunting, poison dart frogs want to be seen – and preferably avoided. They come in a staggering variety of bright colours and patterns, making sure they stand out against the green canopy of their forest home.
Poison dart frogs live in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, where the humid climate means they can live away from permanent bodies of water. They tend to remain close to the forest floor but have been known to climb trees up to a height of around 10 metres.
While the rainforest is their preferred habitat, poison dart frogs live in many types of tropical environments, including marshes, shrubland, swamps, savanna grasslands, and farmland. Indeed, in recent years, there’s been a marked increase in sightings outside forested areas, as their habitat continues to suffer at the hands of deforestation.
Though severely impacted by habitat destruction, poison dart frogs remain endemic to the tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America. They’re found in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, French Guiana, Panama, Guyana and Nicaragua, and have also been introduced in Hawaii.
Poison dart frogs are carnivores and survive on a diet of small insects, including fruit flies, termites, ants, young crickets, and some smaller species of beetles. They’re excellent opportunistic hunters, relying on their long, sticky tongues to flash out and catch fast-moving prey in the blink of an eye.
An interesting theory some scientists have is that poison dart frogs became toxic because of their diet. Given that many insects in the rainforest are themselves poisonous, it’s argued that, through a long period of evolution, this has had an effect on the toxicity of these colourful amphibians.
And, since poison dart frogs have been brought into captivity, this is proven to be the case – with captive animals losing their toxicity due to a different diet of non-poisonous insects.
Not all poison dart frogs are poisonous, but those that are poisonous tend to be highly toxic. The frogs carry poison on their skin as a means of deterring predators, so they aren’t safe to handle.
To put the toxicity of poison dart frogs into perspective, the most poisonous of the lot, the golden poison frog, is thought to have enough toxin in its skin to kill 20,000 mice or 20 fully-grown people. So, as you can tell, these guys aren’t messing around!
Another interesting thing to note about poison dart frogs is where they got their name. It comes from the practice of Native American tribesmen using the toxic secretions of the frogs to tip blow darts, which would then be used as a weapon or for hunting. This gives you an idea of the potency of their toxins, and the respect we humans have for it.
Sadly, many poison dart frogs now appear on the endangered species list, as deforestation and human infrastructure projects continue to encroach on their natural habitat.
Over the past three decades, poison dart frogs have slipped further down the IUCN’s conservation chart, as deforestation continues to devastate precious habitats like the Amazon rainforest. The rapid human population growth in the countries where these frogs live has also exacerbated the problem, as towns and cities begin sprawling on to lands where these animals typically seek refuge from deforestation.
Habitat loss isn’t the only thing which threatens poison dart frog numbers. Chytridiomycosis, a bacterial disease found in amphibians, kills thousands of animals each year, and scientists believe it could have resulted in the extinction of some species.
While the origins of chytridiomycosis are unclear, studies suggest that climate change could be accelerating the disease’s spread. Rising temperatures make it easier for bacteria to incubate in tropical environments, putting species like poison dart frogs right in the firing line.
With their amazing displays of colour, poison dart frogs put on quite the show for such small animals. That’s why a visit to the Frog Zone at Blue Planet Aquarium is a must for a close (but not too close!) encounter with these wonderful creatures.
For a fun and educational way to see some of the world’s most beautiful amphibians and marine animals, start planning your trip to Blue Planet Aquarium today. For more information and tickets, visit the homepage.