Poison dart frogs are one of the most poisonous species on Earth. They are also among the most brilliant and beautifully colored animals on the planet.
Poison dart frogs are native to the tropical jungles of South and Central America, and a few species inhabit the Hawaiian Islands. The brightly colored bodies of poison dart frogs warn potential predators that eating them can be deadly. The vibrant colors of different species of poison dart frogs include gold, yellow, copper, red, blue, green and black.
There are around 200 different poison dart frog species inhabiting jungles across Central and South America. Poison dart frogs vary in colors, size and the toxin levels that they excrete from their skins depending on their species and habitat.
Poison dart frogs, also called poison arrow frogs, get their name from the fact that indigenous peoples have used poison dart frog toxins on the tips of arrows and blow-darts.
Poison dart frogs live on the ground under leaves, logs and rocks, or in foliage just above the ground. They inhabit moist and humid forests that have low levels of pollution.
Poison dart frogs are carnivorous; they feed purely on meat. They use their long, sticky tongues to catch invertebrates, especially certain ants, termites and beetles that may build up poisons in the frogs.
Poison dart frogs are diurnal (active during the day), unlike most tropical frogs which are nocturnal (active at night).
Poison dart frogs communicate with a wide variety of sounds to attract mates, declare territories and express distress. Most male poison dart frogs have vocal sacs that work as resonating chambers. Different species of poison dart frogs have different languages.
Poison dart frogs breed throughout the year, as long as there is sufficient rainfall. They engage in elaborate courtship rituals. The male poison dart frog leads a female to a specially chosen site to lay the eggs. Often several sites are visited before one is chosen. Courtship can last several hours and involves a mating dance of mutual stroking and cleaning of the leaves. The female poison dart frog then deposits her eggs into dark, moist leaf litter. Males fertilize the eggs. Both males and females guard the eggs and watch to make sure they don’t dry out.
Many poison dart frogs are devoted parents. They carry both eggs and babies on their backs. Some poison dart frogs carry eggs from the ground to the safety of the tree canopy. The eggs stick to mucus on the mother’s back while she transports them to a water-pool in a flower high up in the trees. The mother poison dart frog continuously lays unfertilized eggs in the water for her newborn babies to eat. Male poison dart frogs can be exceptional parents, attending to the babies, sometimes exclusively, and also performing transportation duties. Baby poison dart frogs, called tadpoles, eat a variety of foods from algae and detritus, to dead insects and insect larvae. After several months, tadpoles go through metamorphosis and transform into frogs.
Since poison dart frogs are toxic, they have few natural predators in the wild. Many animals become extremely sick just from licking a poison dart frog. One species of snake is immune to the poison of the poison dart frog.
Poison dart frogs can live over 10 years in the wild.
THREATS TO POISON DART FROGS
Many poison dart frog species are facing a rapid decline in populations Some species of poison dart frog have been classified as endangered due to loss of habitat, pollution, pesticides, the pet trade and disease. Being sensitive to pollution endangers poison dart frogs. Chemicals used in animal agriculture are retarding the growth of poison dart frogs and disrupting their reproductive cycles.
Poison dart frogs are alarmingly threatened by the illicit pet trade. Though protected by law, they are smuggled illegally then condemned to an unnatural life in a small aquarium for human amusement. 90 percent of exported poison dart frogs die in transport. The pet trade is also responsible for the spread of a fungus that has decimated poison dart frogs – the greatest disease-caused loss of biodiversity, both plant and animal, in recorded history.