Poison dart frog

family of amphibians

Poison dart frog is the common name of a group of frogs in the family Dendrobatidae. They are native to Central and South America.

Poison dart frogs
Dendrobates azureus (top) and Dendrobates leucomelas
Scientific classification

Cope, 1865
Subfamilies and genera
Distribution of Dendrobatidae (in black)
The Phantasmal poison frog

Unlike many frogs, these are active during the day. They often have brightly-coloured bodies, which act as warning colouration. All dendrobatids are at least somewhat toxic. In the wild, frogs of different species and in different places may have very different levels of toxicity. Many species are critically endangered.

Poison dart frogs are poisonous because they eat ants and other small insects that have toxins in their bodies. If an animal eats the frog, it will become very sick.



Many poison dart frogs secrete alkaloid toxins through their skin. Alkaloids in the skin glands of poison frogs serve as a chemical defense against predation. They are able to be active alongside potential predators during the day. About 28 structural classes of alkaloids are known in poison frogs.[1][2][3]

The most toxic of poison dart frog species is Phyllobates terribilis. As mentioned above, dart frogs do not make their own poisons, but keep (sequester) the chemicals from arthropod prey, such as ants, centipedes and mites. This is the diet-toxicity hypothesis.[4][5] Because of this, captive-bred animals do not have significant levels of toxins: they are reared on diets that do not have the alkaloids used by wild populations. Nonetheless, the captive-bred frogs can store up alkaloids if they get an alkaloid-containing diet.[6]

Most wild species are not lethal to their predators, but rather taste foul enough that frogs are released immediately. Despite the toxins used by some poison dart frogs, some predators can withstand them. One is the snake Leimadophis epinephelus, which has developed immunity to the poison.[7]



Dart frogs are the focus of many studies. Their scientific names may sometimes change.[8] Family Dendrobatidae was revised in 2006 and now has 12 genera, with about 170 species.[9][10]

Color morphs


Some poison dart frog species include a number of color morphs that evolved as recently as 6,000 years ago.[11]

Predation does influence the evolution of polymorphism, for example, in O. granulifera.[12] Sexual selection has contributed to differentiation among the Bocas del Toro populations of Oophaga pumilio.[13][14][15]


  1. "AmphibiaWeb – Dendrobatidae". AmphibiaWeb. Retrieved 2008-10-10.
  2. Heying, H. (2003). "Dendrobatidae". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 2008-09-18.
  3. Cannatella, David (1995). "Dendrobatidae. Poison-arrow frogs, Dart-poison frogs, Poison-dart frogs". The Tree of Life Project. Archived from the original on 2008-12-05. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  4. Darst C. et al 2005. Evolution of dietary specialization and chemical defense in poison frogs (Dendrobatidate): a comparative analysis. The American Natural 165: 56–69.
  5. Daly J.W.; et al. (1994). "First occurrence of tetrodotoxin in a Dendrobatid Frog (Colostethus-Inguinalis), with further reports for the Bufonid Genus Atelopus". Toxicon. 32 (3): 279–285. doi:10.1016/0041-0101(94)90081-7. PMID 8016850.
  6. Saporito R. et al 2007 (2007). "Oribatid mites as a major dietary source for alkaloids in poison frogs". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 104 (21): 8885–8890. Bibcode:2007PNAS..104.8885S. doi:10.1073/pnas.0702851104. PMC 1885597. PMID 17502597.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. C.W. Myers, J.W. Daly, and B. Malkin (1978). "A dangerously toxic new frog (Phyllobates) used by the Emberá Indians of western Colombia, with discussion of blowgun fabrication and dart poisoning". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 161 (2): 307–365 + color pls. 1–2.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. Grant T. et al 2006 (2006). "Phylogenetic systematics of dart-poison frogs and their relatives (Amphibia: Athesphatanura: Dendrobatidae)" (PDF). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 299 (299). American Museum of Natural History: 1–262. doi:10.1206/0003-0090(2006)299[1:PSODFA]2.0.CO;2. ISSN 0003-0090. S2CID 82263880. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-02-26. Retrieved 2013-01-18.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  9. "Amphibian Species of the World". The American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 2008-10-10.
  10. F. Harvey Pough ... (2004). Herpetology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall. pp. 92. ISBN 0-13-100849-8.
  11. Summers, K.; Symula, R.; Clough, M.; Cronin, T. (1999). "Visual mate choice in poison frogs". Proceedings. Biological Sciences. 266 (1434): 2141–5. doi:10.1098/rspb.1999.0900. PMC 1690338. PMID 10649631.
  12. Wang, I. J. (2011). "Inversely related aposematic traits: reduced conspicuousness evolves with increased toxicity in a polymorphic poison-dart frog". Evolution. 65 (6): 1637–1649. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01257.x. PMID 21644954. S2CID 23855070.
  13. Maan, Martine E.; Cummings, Molly E. (2008). "female preferences for aposematic signal components in a polymorphic poison frog". Evolution. 62 (9): 2234–2345. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2008.00454.x. PMID 18616568. S2CID 34114372.
  14. Reynolds, R. Graham; Fitzpatrick, Benjamin M. (2007). "Assortative mating in poison-dart frogs based on an ecologically important trait". Evolution. 61 (9): 2253–2259. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2007.00174.x. PMID 17767594. S2CID 673233.
  15. Tazzyman, Samuel J.; Iwasa, Yoh (2010). "Sexual selection can increase the effect of random genetic drift—a quantitative genetic model of polymorphism in Oophaga pumilio, the strawberry poison-dart frog". Evolution. 64 (6): 1719–1728. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00923.x. PMID 20015236. S2CID 37757687.
  • Grant, Taran. "Poison dart frog." World Book Advanced. World Book, 2013.Web. 10 Jan. 2013.

Other websites


Dyeing Poison Frog. ARKive, n.d. Web. 17 Jan. 2013. <http://www.arkive.org/ Archived 2016-04-26 at Archive.today>.