Poison Arrow Frogs or Poison Dart Frogs is the common names of the ‘Dendrobatidae’ family of small, diurnal frogs. Poison Arrow Frogs are usually found in Central and South American rainforests, near water sources. Most Poison Arrow Frogs are the size of an adult humans thumbnail, about half an inch to one inches long. Poison Arrow Frogs are recognised by their beautiful bright colours, yellow, black, blue, orange, green and red.
There are about 220 species of Poison Arrow Frogs. Most species of Poison Arrow Frogs are not toxic to animals and humans. However, more than 100 toxins have been identified in the skin secretions of some Poison Arrow Frogs.
Poison Arrow Frogs usually live on the forest floor but when breeding they venture into the forest canopy. The female Poison Arrow Frog lays her eggs on the land, about 4 – 6 at a time. When newly hatched, the tadpoles climb on the mothers back and are held there safely by a sticky mucus. The sticky mucus also keeps them moist during their long journey to the forest canopy where they will be safe from predators. The tadpoles stay in rainforest pools or in leaf crevices which are flooded with water and feed upon unfertilised mosquito and insect eggs until they develop into frogs.
Although these type of frogs are only tiny, some are deadly poisonous. The secretion on the frogs skin is lethal and if a predator even licks the skin the result is certain death. The frogs skin contains 200 micrograms of this poison. As little as 2 micrograms of the poison can kill a human being. The bright colours of the frogs give warning to predators of their toxic lethal poison.
For many centuries, the frogs poison has been used by South American Indians for use in hunting. They use darts and blow pipes to kill their prey. These darts would be placed on the frogs back without harming it and the tips of the darts would be covered in the poison. Poison from one dart would instantly kill a hunted animal.
The Poison Arrow Frog lives on small insects such as ants, spiders, flies, mites and termites. Their average life span is about 4 – 6 years in the rainforest (in captivity they can survive between 10 – 12 years). Poison Arrow Frogs are very active during the day and very territorial. Male Poison Arrow Frogs can fight over territories where they can become very aggressive towards each other and indulge in a wrestling type combat when fighting.
Reproduction of the Poison Arrow Frog
The majority of members of this family of frogs that have been studied are characterized by unusual reproductive strategies for amphibians. In some species, eggs are laid on the forest floor by the female, often following elaborate courtship behaviours by the male. One parent (generally the male) guards the eggs until they hatch.
The newly hatched tadpoles wriggle onto the back of either the male or female parent, who transports them to water. In some species, tadpoles are carried to small pools of water isolated in tree holes or other phytotelmata (water filled cavities in the woody parts of trees, axils of bromeliads or fallen plant parts on the forest floor). In a few species, females return repeatedly to these tree holes to feed the tadpoles unfertilised nutritive ‘nurse’ eggs, which the tadpoles rely on as a major (or only) source of food. Parental behaviours of this highly complex sort are quite rare among amphibians.
Species of Poison Arrow Frogs
Below are just some of the species of Poison Arrow Frogs.
The African Big-eyed Tree Frog (Leptopelis vermiculatus) – found in the African rainforests, this is a medium to large frog ranging from 40 – 85 millimetres in length. The African Big-eyed Tree Frog has two very different colour phases – one green with black speckles and the other brown. Some specimens show a transition between both phases and change from the green phase to the brown phase as they mature. Their eyes are very big compared with body size and are golden with brown lines and flecks. It has large toe pads that are used for climbing.
The Bronzed-back Mantella (Mantellidae) – a small, terrestrial frog native the Madagascar rainforest. The Bronzed-back Mantella is named specifically because of its bronze stripe which lines its back and travels through to the tip of its nose covering the rim of its large eyes. The Bronzed-back Mantellas are small, reaching a size of 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) in length. They will only mate after rain and if enough food is available. Female Bronzed-back Mantella frogs lay eggs on moist land and the tadpoles are washed into water once they hatch.
The Clown Tree Frog (Dendropsophus sarayacuensis) – there is large variation among tree frog species and the Clown Tree Frog is just one of them. Many species are not actually arboreal (do not live in trees), but terrestrial or aquatic (live on the ground or in the water). Many arboreal frogs are green, while terrestrial and aquatic species are duller. Clown Tree Frogs mostly feed on insects, but some larger species can feed on small vertebrates. The species within the genus ‘Cyclorana’ are burrowing frogs, sometimes spending many years underground.
The Golden Leaf Folding Frog (Phyllomedusa sauvagii) – these frogs are very common in the African savanna. Golden Leaf Folding Frogs have the unusual habit of eating other frogs eggs and larvae by raiding frog nests. During mating Golden Leaf Folding Frogs climb up a leaf, laying eggs as they go. Both male and female stick to the edges of the leaf together, producing an incubation chamber for the developing eggs. After about five days the eggs have formed into tadpoles that wriggle their way out of the leaf nest into the pond below.
The Green Mantella (Mantella viridis) – the back and sides of this frog are yellow-green, whilst the under parts are black with blue spots. Their legs are green and the hind limbs may be banded, but there is no webbing between the toes. A light stripe runs along the upper lip. The Green Mantella is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List 2004. The Green Mantella is found in the Montagne des Francais in the northern Madagascar rainforest, as well as in the Massif of Antogombato, south of Diego, Madagascar.
The Green Mantella is found at elevations of 50 – 300 metres above sea level. It inhabits deciduous dry forest on a limestone landscape and is usually found around temporary streams. It is mostly active during the day and eats small insects and fallen fruits. They hatch into tadpoles during heavy rainfall, which washes them into small pools of water. The tadpoles grow to a size of 28 millimetres and undergo metamorphosis after 45 – 65 days to take the adult form.
The Strawberry Poison Frog (Dendrobates pumilio) – these frogs are about 1/2 – 3/4 inches long. Their bodies are pebbly red like a strawberries. Their legs are sometime blue and therefore sometimes called ‘Blue Jeans Dart Frog’.
Strawberry Poison Frogs are found in Central American rainforests, with a high concentration within the nation of Costa Rica.
After mating, the female will lay an average of three to five eggs on a leaf. The male will then ensure that the eggs are kept hydrated by transporting water in his posterior opening.
After about ten days, the eggs hatch and the female transports the tadpoles on her back to some water-retaining location. The female Strawberry Poison Frog will come to each tadpole every few days and deposit several unfertilized food eggs. In captivity, tadpoles have been raised on a variety of diets, ranging from algae to the eggs of other dart frogs, but with minimal success.
White Lipped Australian Poison Frog (Litoria infrafrenata) – also known as the Giant Tree Frog, is the worlds largest tree frog. This species is native to the rainforests of New Guinea and northern Australia. The White-lipped Tree Frog can reach a length of over 13 centimetres (5 inches). Female White-lipped Tree Frogs are larger than males and the males usually reach only 10 centimetres (4 inches). Its dorsal surface is usually bright green, although the colour changes depending on the temperature and background and can sometimes be brown.
The White-lipped Tree Frog has large toe pads, which helps it to climb. The toes are completely webbed and the hands partially webbed. It lives in rainforests, cultivated areas and around houses in coastal areas and is restricted to areas below 1200 metres in altitude. It has a loud, barking call, but when distressed makes a cat-like ‘mew’ sound.
Males call females during spring and summer after rain from vegetation around the breeding site, normally a still water body. Its diet is mainly insects and other arthropods. The White-lipped Tree Frog can live to over ten years in the wild. This species of frog is known for being moved around in fruit produce from northern Australia and ending up becoming a lost frog in southern areas.
The Yellow Banded Poison Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) – is a type of poison arrow frog found in the northern part of South American (Venezuela Columbia) rainforests. The Yellow Banded Poison Frogs primary habitat is the rainforest, on ground level vegetation and leaf litter of the forest floor.
The Yellow Banded Poison Frog is normally found in very humid conditions on trees or rocks. This is one of the more commonly-available and popular arrow frog pet species and specimens are available for breeding by hobbyists. It grows to about 1.25 inches and has a life span of 7 – 15 years. It feeds on small insects – fruit flies, termites and crickets.