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First Completely Monogamous Amphibian Identified – the Mimic Poison Frog

R. ventrimaculataGenetic research has revealed that a fairly well-studied frog has been hiding an astonishing secret – pairs form lifelong pair bonds and remain faithful to one another.  Equally surprising is the fact that pool size alone (and not morality!) seems responsible for the fidelity shown by Mimic Poison Frog (Ranitomeya imitator) couples.  These findings, to be published in an upcoming issue of The American Naturalist, illustrate the second “first” for this species (please see below).

Teamwork in Raising the Young

Inhabiting wet forests in the foothills of the Peruvian Andes, male and female Mimic Poison Frogs must cooperate very closely if their young are to survive.  Males transport up to 6 tadpoles to individual pools at the bases of bromeliads (like all Dendrobatids, their eggs are deposited on land) and call to their mates when feeding time arrives.  The female then visits the pool and deposits an unfertilized egg, which is consumed by the tadpole.

The Effect of Pool Size

Interestingly, a close relative, the Variable Poison Frog (R. variabilis), does not exhibit mate fidelity despite dwelling in the same habitat and having a seemingly similar lifestyle (and appearance – Mimic Poison Frogs imitate the warning colors of this species).

However, the Variable Poison Frog deposits its tadpoles in large, nutrient-rich pools, where they mature without additional food from the female.  Without the unfertilized eggs supplied by the female, Mimic Poison Frog tadpoles would perish in the tiny pools that they inhabit…it seems that the strong bonds exhibited by the parents are essential to the tadpoles’ survival.

Another First – Imitating 3 Species

Monogamy is not the only surprise that this tiny frog has in store for us.  It is also the only amphibian known to exhibit “mimetic radiation”.  In all other amphibians that mimic the warning colors of other species, only 1 species is copied.  However, different populations of Mimic Poison Frogs imitate the warning colors of 3 distinct Poison Frog species.

With the array of complicated breeding strategies exhibited by frogs of the family Dendrobatidae, it’s save to assume that there are more interesting discoveries on the way…please write in with your own observations and theories.

Further Reading

You can learn more about this frog and its relatives on the website of the American Museum of Natural History.



R. ventrimaculata image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Thomas Ruedas

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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