Featured Creature: Poison Dart Frog

Photo from Pixabay

What creature the size of a paperclip is lethal enough to kill ten grown men?

The poison dart frog!

What makes the poison dart frog so powerful?

Poison dart frogs – so named because the Indigenous Emberá people of Colombia traditionally used the venom in blow darts – are some of the most toxic creatures on Earth. Some carry enough poison to kill ten grown men or to poison 20,000 mice. 

This potent toxicity originally comes from plant poisons that were ingested by the frogs’ insect prey. The effects of this diet, whose repercussions pass from plant to insect to frog to human hunters, shows just how interconnected these ecosystems are. Though it’s not established how the plant poison is processed into venom, when poison dart frogs are bred in captivity and fed a different diet, they do not develop the venom. 

Why are poison dart frogs so colorful?

The poison dart frog uses bright colors and patterns as a warning to predators – do not attack if you wish to live! Various species come in bright yellow, turquoise and black, or strawberry red, and these eye-catching visuals broadcast to predators that they’re venomous and dangerous. 

They use poison in self-defense, not in hunting, excreting venom into their skin when they’re threatened, so that a single touch would be enough to stop a human heart. This is such an effective tool that many species have evolved to mimic the bright colors and patterns of poison dart frogs in order to get some of that protection from predators by association. 

What are other characteristics of poison dart frogs?

They’re tiny! Grown adult frogs typically measure one to two inches, and can be held on a single fingertip (though you wouldn’t want to try this at home).

Photo from Pixabay

Like all frogs, they’re amphibious, which means they lay eggs that hatch tadpoles, and have permeable skin through which they can absorb water and oxygen. 

How are human activities impacting poison dart frogs?

Deforestation is one of the biggest threats to the poison dart frog. Poison dart frogs are spread across the rainforests of Central and South America. There are over one hundred species of them, and new ones continue to be found! However, habitat loss across these areas, especially in the Amazon, put them at risk of extinction.

Check out this brief look at the life of one golden dart frog:  

These bright creatures may be dangerous, but they are just as dazzling. They show that brilliant things can come in small packages.