Poison dart frogs: Facts about the beautiful but deadly amphibians

The poison dart frogs, small amphibians with brightly colored eyes, live in tropical rainforest floors throughout Central and South America. According to San Francisco Zoo, they are part of the Dendrobatidae family, with more than 175 species. The Poison dart Frogs are small, measuring only 1 to 2 inches (2.5- to 5 centimeters). They are also diurnal, which means they are active during the day, unlike other amphibians, according to the Rainforest Alliance.
The poison dart frogs were named after the chemicals they secrete from skin. These toxins have been traditionally used to tip hunting weapons. According to the American Museum of Natural History, for hundreds of years, Ember and Noanam Indigenous People in western Colombia used the skin of golden poison frogs, Phyllobates terribilis, to tip blowgun darts.

Taxonomy Kingdom of Poison Frogs: Animalia: Chordata Class: Amphibia Familie: Dendrobatidae

They come in a variety of vibrant colors and are often called the "jewels" of the rainforest. Predators should avoid frogs because of their bright colors. Apematism is a survival strategy. Some poison dart frog species also use their colors and patterns to camouflage. According to research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2018, dyeing dart fowls (Dendrobates.tinctorius), their bright-yellow or black patterns blend in with the natural habitat, when viewed from afar.

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One reason for the wide range of colors among poison dart species of frog is that their ancestors separated them around 10,000 years ago. This was when Panama was flooded and the frogs were scattered to different areas. According to Smithsonian Institute, each frog population developed its own colorization.

How dangerous are poison darts frogs

The toxicity of poison dart frogs differs from one species to the next. The genus Phyllobates is home to the most poisonous species of poison dart frogs. According to the Encyclopedia of Toxicology, these frogs produce a deadly toxin called batrachotoxin. According to National Geographic, the golden dart frog is one of the most dangerous animals on Earth.

A golden poison frog (Phyllobates terribilis). Getty Images Image Credit

Batrachotoxin, a powerful steroidal acid that can interfere with the nervous system of the body, is known as a "batrachotoxin". The brain transmits instructions to different parts of your body through sodium channels. Batrachotoxins block these channels and cause severe and possibly fatal conditions such as paralysis, extreme pain, and even cardiac death.

However, there is one animal that can resist the poisonous power of golden dart-frogs: firebellied snakes (Liophis.epinephelus). According to Animal Diversity Web, these snakes are the only natural predators of dart-frogs. They are immune to frogs' toxins.

Poison dart Frogs also have ways to avoid being poisoned. According to a study published in Journal of General Physiology, poison dart frogs possess "toxin sponge" molecules which prevent batrachotoxin binding to cells on their bodies. This gives them immunity from poison.

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What are poison dart frogs' favorite foods?

Tadpoles are the stage that precedes adulthood. Their diet includes algae, dead insects, and sometimes other tadpoles. According to the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, adult poison dart frogs can be omnivores but they prefer insects like termites, ants and beetles.

The poison dart frogs get their toxicity from their diet. It is not known what insects give poison dart frogs their toxic powers. However, a study published by the journal PNAS suggested that melyrid beetles (genus Choresine), could be responsible.

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These beetles have high levels of batrachotoxin. They were found in pitohui birds' bellies, which secrete the same poison as poison darts frogs. The study researchers speculated that the batrachotoxins in the toxic Phyllobates frogs could have been sourced from relatives of the Melyridae family.

Wild poison dart Frogs are unable to develop toxins if they are kept in captivity. However, frogs raised in captivity do not get the majority of the toxic effects. According to the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, this is because of the differences between a wild diet and a captive one.

What is the life span of a poison dart snake frog?

The male chooses a spot on the forest floor to mat, and it happens throughout the year. The female deposits unfertilized eggs onto leaf-litter and then releases his sperm onto them to fertilize them. According to the Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, although frogs can have a variety of sizes, some species can produce up to 40 eggs per clutch.

Sky-blue poison Frog (Hyloxalus Azureiventris), carrying tadpoles. Getty Images image credit

Their unborn offspring are kept safe by their parent frogs for 10-18 days. They also water them occasionally with their urine. The eggs hatch into tadpoles which are then attached to their mother's back and carried to a swimming pool. According to Smithsonian, the pool is used as a nursery until the tadpoles undergo metamorphisis and become adult Frogs.

According to a study published in Symbiosis, bromeliads also get tadpoles as a part of their leaf structure. Researchers believe that plants absorb nitrogen from the feces of tadpoles, which acts as fertilizer.

According to Smithsonian, adult poison dart frogs can vary in size depending on the species. They can be between 0.75 to 1.5 inches (20 to 40 mils) long. According to the Peoria Zoo, Illinois, females are generally larger than males. Males can be distinguished from females by having larger front toe pads in certain species of blue poison dart fowls (Dendrobates.azureus).

There are differences in the age at which amphibians reach sexual maturity. According to Toronto Zoo, blue poison darts frogs can mature in two years. For example, strawberries poison darts frogs (Oophaga Pumilio) reach sexual maturity after ten months. According to National Geographic, a poison dart snake can live between three and fifteen years.