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Top fun facts about Poison Dart Frogs

  • Friday 28th April 2023


Poisonous Dart frogs may be small but they can be deadly. The bright colours on their body act as a warning to any potential predators to think twice before trying to eat them. 

1. What are poison dart frogs?

The poison dart frog is a species of frog which can be found in varying habitats including the tropical forests of Costa Rica all the way to Brazil. These frogs are members of the Dendrobatidae family and have unique colouring ranging from green to blue, to yellow to gold. These designs are advantageous to the frog as they help to keep potential predators at bay – this is called aposematic colouration.

There are more than 100 species of poison dart frog however climate change and habitat loss are threatening their survival. Certain species in the Dendrobatidae family are brighter coloured than others. This is because the beautiful bright colours that these frogs exhibit are correlated to their levels of toxicity. Some species are extremely bright and colourful, whereas others have a cryptic colouration, resulting in little to no toxicity found. 

The diets that these creatures eat attributes to their wonderfully bright colouration and levels of toxicity. Diets consisting of higher levels of termites, ants and mites result in greater toxicity - whereas those with a more cryptic colouration typically eat a greater range of different animals. 

2. Physical characteristics of poisonous dart frogs

There are different types of poison dart frogs, each with a different colouring:

Golden Poison Dart Frog

These beautifully coloured frogs can be found in tropical rain forests in Colombia. These frogs are unique to other poison dart frog as their upper jaw has a bony plate which looks teeth-like.  They have four long, slim legs and unlike some other aquatic animals – their four toes are not webbed. They have toe tips which are tiny discs on their toes, with the middle toe being the longest and the other toes being of equal length.

Adult golden poison dart frogs have a brighter colouration compared to their young. They have dorsolateral stripes on dark bodies until they reach maturity. Their colouring changes to one singular bright colour by the time they reach maturity. These colours can range from a vibrant yellow to orange or sometimes white.

On average, their body can reach lengths of up to 47mm, however some females can exceed this, reaching 50 to 55mm - they are also typically larger than males. 

Blue Poison Dart Frog

Blue poison dart frogs have a magnificent bright blue colour, ranging from royal blue on their limbs to a darker blue hue on their stomach. They do not have webbing between their toes and this impacts their swimming ability. As a result, they are not often found in water.

Similar to the originality found in human fingerprints, each blue poison dart frog has their own unique pattern of spots. Their skin is typically smooth in texture, however this texture can change on certain parts of their body - for example their thighs. They have a more granular texture. 

Similar to the golden poison dart frog, the females are typically slightly larger in appearance, they are also usually plumper than the males. However, males have larger toe-tips than the females and in males these toe-tips are heart shaped, however they are rounder in the females. 

Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

More slender in appearance in comparison to other poison dart frogs, the strawberry poison dart frog's beautiful skin and colour has bilateral symmetry. Despite the fact that the colour variations of this species have the greatest diversity compared to the rest of the dart frog family - the patterns on their skin are symmetrical. 

Usually, they are bright red in appearance, with blue legs, but this colouration can vary greatly. 

These frogs are rather small in appearance, measuring between 17 to 24 mm in length at adulthood. Overall, their body is quite compact and they have large, dark eyes on either side of their head. 

Green and Black poison dart frog

These beautiful frogs also lack webbing between their toes - their adhesive pads on the tips of their toes aid them when climbing and hanging.

They are typically small and have a bright green colouration with black spots. However, these colours can morph in various locations, resulting in the colourations and patterns not being the same as their typical colouration. These colours can range from brown to bronze to black as a background colour, with pattern colours ranging from bright green to bluish-white. 

In order to help them catch food, they have sticky tongues which help them eat a variety of prey including spiders and small insects. 

3. Poison dart frog behaviour 

Male green and black poison dart frogs are typically polygynous in their breeding season. Whereas, it is not uncommon for the females to compete for their mates and as a result they can even destroy the eggs of other females if they consider them a threat. 

The blue poison dart frog is more active during the day - they remain close to water sources and are extremely territorial - defending their territory from frogs of the same species and other species. They can display aggressive behaviour in order to defend their territory and this can include wrestling. This typically occurs between the same gender but during mating season males and females may wrestle one another. 

As previously mentioned, their brightly coloured skin and the toxins they product act as the perfect defence from predators. In the unfortunate circumstance that their toxin does not kill their predator - predators are likely to remember the unappealing taste of these creatures, making it less likely that they will target them again in future. 

What do poison dart frogs eat?

These animals typically feed on small insects such as ants and termites which can be found on the forest floor.

Where do poison dart frogs live?

Poison dart frogs can typically be found in trees close to the ground, or on leaves littered on the jungle floor. They live in wet, tropical rainforests in South and Central America.

How do poison dart frogs communicate?

They often croak and squeak, using their calls to attract potential mates during breeding season. They are able to produce different sounds and each species has their own unique call. Their vocalisations also help them to communicate when marking territory or communicating distress.

4. Fun facts about poison dart frogs

 Lifecycle of the poison dart frog 

As with most living organisms, the life cycle of the poison dart frog begins with the female laying her eggs in a moist area. This area would typically be in low vegetation or in leaf litter. The males fertilise these egg and they then hatch into tadpoles. 

After a period of time - usually around two months, these tadpoles emerge from the water as young frogs - with a tail. As they grow into adulthood these tails get smaller and they will undergo various changes depending on their species. These changes could include changes to their colouring or size.  They will then eventually go onto mate and reproduce, continuing the cycle.

In the wild, the average lifespan of these beautiful animals is roughly 5-8 years however those who are living in captivity may live as long as 20 years old. 

The most toxic poison dart frog

Although all the species of poison dart frog have differing levels of toxicity - the golden poison dart frog is the most toxic. The toxin in their poison is so strong that it can instantaneously stop a human heart. With an average of one milligram of poison per poison dart frog - these amphibians have enough toxin in their system to kill up to 20 people. 

Poisonous vs Venomous 

Poison dart frogs secrete poison from their skin to defend them from potential predators. If this toxin is ingested it can cause death or serious illness in humans. However, there is a difference between poisonous and venomous animals. Venomous animals have toxins in their skin and saliva - which can harm you if they bite or sting you. Poisonous animals on the other hand, have toxins in their body that will make you sick - but only if you eat them. 

Poison dart frogs are actually both poisonous and venomous! This is because they have two different types of toxins in their bodies - one toxin which makes them poisonous to animals who may eat them and one that is venomous to anything which may make contact with their skin. 

For humans, these toxins are not harmful unless we eat them. 

Illegal trade

The bright colouring of these creatures has unfortunately began to spur on illegal trade - these animals are becoming popular exotic pets internationally. This illegal trade has caused some species of poison dart frogs to the brink of extinction. 

Are captive poison dart frogs poisonous? 

Not all poison dart frogs are able to release their toxin. This is because the chemicals that aid the toxicity levels of these animals are mainly found in their diet - with the most poisonous frogs being found in the wild and not in captivity. Those found in captivity for example at London SEA LIFE Aquarium have lost their potency due to their diet. 


5. Threats and conservation efforts for poison dart frogs 

Threats to poison dart frogs

Habitat loss - unfortunately many rainforests where these animals live are being cleared. Deforestation destroys their habitat as their terrain becomes drier and hotter effecting their food source. As a result, groups of poison dart frogs can become trapped and isolated in restricted areas where large amounts of rain forest have been destroyed, making them more vulnerable to extinction

Pollution - the growth and reproductive cycles of these animals are also impacted by pollution due to local farming producing chemicals that negatively impact them. These farmers often use pesticides which kill insects, killing the prey that the poison dart frogs rely on and it can also contaminate their water sources. 

Conservation efforts for poison dart frogs

We have explored how habitat loss is a major threat to the poison dart frog, to combat this we want to support conservation efforts of their natural habitat. There are many organisations who work to protect rainforests and encourage sustainable practices that one can donate to. 

Education is also beneficial when looking to preserve these endangered animals. The more people know about these animals, the higher the chances the demand of illegal trade will decrease. Education can also enable everyone to make a conscious effort to reduce their own impact on the environment. 

Certain countries have also passed laws to protect the poison dart frog, for example, Columbia. It is illegal to collect poison dart frog species from the wild in Columbia and other neighbouring areas for practices such as international pet trade. 

There are also captive-breeding programmes which exist to help repopulate the species. 

6. Where can I see poison dart frogs?

These beautiful creatures are typically found in the rainforests of South and Central America. However, you can also see these animals at different conservation sites. For example, here at London SEA LIFE Aquarium. 

Here you will be able to experience what life is like beneath the tropical treetops in our rainforest zone. We have a series of different displays including the poison dart frog, the Cuban crocodile and a wonderful series of different big fish including the red trailed catfish to name a few. 

If you would like to find out more about our rain forest zone, click here.

At SEA LIFE London Aquarium we are committed to the ocean, we have spoken a lot about the importance of conservation for these wonderful creatures. Join us in our mission at the SEA LIFE Trust and take a look at some of our global conservation and animal welfare with our charity - you can also see how you can help here

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7. Are there other kinds of poisonous frog?

There are a number of other different poisonous frog, below we have listed some brief information about a few:

Golfodulcean Poison Frog

These wonderful animals are part of the Phyllobates family and are the fourth most toxic member. They are found in Costa Rica and due to habitat loss, are endangered. Unlike the poison dart frog, scientists are not 100% sure how these frogs acquired their toxicity, but it is believed that the toxic comes from an outside source and is not made internally by the frog itself. 

Harlequin Poison Frog

These frogs are typically found in the Western region of Colombia and have a variety of different colour morphs ranging from orange to yellow to white. These frogs also have a unique toxin called a histrionicotoxin, which is only found in this type of frog. 

Granular Poison Frog

These beautiful frogs can be found in Costa Rica and Panama. This frog is relatively small in comparison to other frogs, however they have enough poison to kill 10 people. Their breeding occurs in the rainy season and once the eggs are laid, the males help to keep them moist with their urine.