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Tag Archives: Poison Arrow Frogs

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Dart Poison Frog Care and Natural History – An Overview

Dendrobates auratusHello, Frank Indiviglio here. Poison Frogs (also known as Dart or Arrow Poison Frogs) exhibit an amazing array of colors and patterns – some so spectacular as to appear unreal. What’s more, they are active by day, exhibit complex social behaviors, and care for their tadpoles in “mammal-like” fashion…and are not at all shy about doing so. Small wonder they are among the most desirable of all amphibian pets! Once considered delicate captives, Poison Frogs are now regularly bred in captivity and may live to age 15 or beyond.

The following information can be applied to most available species, including Blue, Green and Black, Strawberry, Golden, and Phantasmal Poison Frogs. However, details vary; please write in for information concerning individual species.

Natural History

These 0.75 – 2 inch-long beauties are native to Central and South America. Identification by physical appearance alone is difficult, as some species exhibit a great many color variations. Their taxonomy is in flux, with various authorities recognizing between 180 and 300+ species. Read More »

The Natural History and Captive Care of the Green and Black Poison Frog

Black and green PA FrogHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  I’ve always favored the boldly-marked Green and Black Poison (or “Dart”) Frog, Dendrobates auratus, over most of its relatives.  This was a turn of good fortune for me, as this gorgeous creature is one of the largest and easiest of the poison frogs to maintain.  It is also not at all shy – while working in Costa Rica, I was surprised at how easy wild ones were to observe – and makes a wonderful exhibit animal.  Green and Black Poison Frogs have become almost common in the trade, yet many remain unaware of some surprising aspects of their lives in the wild. 

Little-Known Facts

First a few notes that have surprised me over the years.

Hobbyists accustomed to seeing these frogs in terrariums may be surprised to learn that wild specimens sometimes venture into forest canopies over 100 feet above ground…quite a climb for a minute frog!  Read More »

First Completely Monogamous Amphibian Identified – the Mimic Poison Frog

R. ventrimaculataHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Genetic 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). Read More »

Poison Frog Skin Toxins and Their Use in Hunting and Warfare

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Central and South American frogs of the family Dendrobatidae secrete virulent skin toxins (histrionicotoxins, batrachotoxins and others) when disturbed.  Many people believe that the toxins of many species of Poison Frogs, known also as “Poison Arrow Frogs” and “Dart Poison Frogs”, were once used to coat darts and arrows used in hunting and warfare.  Actually, this is not the case – but the actual facts are no less interesting. 

Origin of Frog Toxins

Poison Frog toxins are derived from the diet, being concentrated and synthesized from chemicals within the ants and millipedes (and possibly other invertebrates) upon which the frogs feed.  Wild-caught frogs gradually lose their protective toxins after a time in captivity… captive-born Poison Frogs do not develop toxic skin secretions unless they are fed the appropriate types of invertebrates.

Some years ago, I was fortunate enough to be at the National Aquarium in Boston when the origin of Poison Frog toxins was being investigated.  In one experiment, Green and Black Poison Frogs (Dendrobates auratus) that had lost their skin toxicity were liberated in the aquarium’s huge rainforest exhibit.  When recaptured some time later, the frogs had regained their potent skin toxins.  Studies showed that the source of these toxins were invertebrates that had been transported to the exhibit in soil and on tropical plants.

Toxin Use in Hunting

The use of frog toxins on hunting darts was first reported in the literature in 1823, by British naval captain C. Cochrane.  He reported that certain forest-dwelling people collected Golden Poison Frogs (Phyllobates terribilis) and confined and fed the frogs until toxins were needed.  The frogs were pierced with a stick in order to induce the secretion of the toxins, which appeared as white froth on the skin. 

Up to 50 darts could be treated with the secretions from a single frog, and the darts were reported to retain their potency for at least 1 year.  A jaguar shot with a poison-coated dart was said to die within 4-5 minutes, and monkeys and smaller animals were killed instantly. 

Darts, and not arrows, were utilized for hunting…toxin use on arrows shot from bows has never been observed.

Toxins were used in this manner by the Mucushi, Chaco and, possibly, other groups of people.  

Toxins and Warfare

It comes as a surprise to many folks that frog toxins have never been documented as being used in wars or against human enemies.

Frog Species Utilized

Golden Poison FrogThe skin secretions of only 3 species of frog have been identified as being used as dart coatings.  These frogs are not, as often believed, the familiar Dendrobates species, but rather belong to the related genus Phyllobates.  Frogs belonging to this genus are less commonly seen in the pet trade than Dendrobates, although one, the Golden Poison Frog (P. terribilis), is fairly well-established in captivity.

Medicines from Frog Skin

The skin toxins of a great many frogs, related and unrelated to the Dendrobatids, are highly complex and are being studied with a view towards developing medications that may be useful in oncology and infectious disease research.  A compound derived from the secretions of the Phantasmal Poison Frog (Epipedobates tricolor) shows great promise as a pain medication…it is more effective than morphine, non-addictive and non-sedating.

Further Reading

You can read more about studies on the medicinal value of frog toxins here.

Please write in with your questions and comments. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

Golden Poison Frog image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Wilfried Berns

The Mantellas – Madagascar’s Answer to the Dendrobatids (Poison Frogs)

Mantella baroniHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Madagascar’s Mantellas or Golden Frogs (Family Mantellidae) are, in many ways, the ecological equivalents of Latin America’s Poison Frogs (Family Dendrobatidae), and illustrate nicely the concept of convergent evolution – unrelated animals from different parts of the world that have developed similar adaptations.  Although less commonly kept than the poison frogs, these tiny, brilliantly-colored gems are gaining in popularity.  Following is a brief overview of the group.

Range and Diversity

Mantellas are found only on Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa, and are unique enough to warrant their own family, Mantellidae.  Sixteen species have been described thus far, but that number will almost certainly increase as the group is studied more closely.  Nearly all are exceptionally colorful – more so than the better known Poison Frogs (Dendrobates spp.) in many cases.

Similarities to Poison Frogs

Both Mantellas and Poison Frogs are small, brightly-colored, diurnal (active by day), and usually make little attempt to conceal themselves.  All forage on land or in trees, are protected by virulent skin toxins, exhibit complex breeding behaviors, and lay eggs in on land.

Mantella aurantiacaMantella reproductive strategies roughly follow those of the Poison Frogs.  Males call during the day from exposed sites on land – light markings on the vocal sacs may serve as a visual stimulus to females.  They wrestle for dominance, with the loser being flipped onto his back but otherwise unharmed. Ten to thirty eggs, which are fertilized externally, are deposited in nests below leaf litter.

Tadpole development has been little studied; those which have been researched hatch in 2-7 days and wriggle or are washed by rain to temporary pools and brooks.  They feed upon algae and decaying plants and animals, and transform into frogs in 6-8 weeks.  Sexual maturity is attained in 12-14 months.

Mantellas in the Terrarium

Mantellas may be kept in much the same manner as most poison frogs but, being even smaller, they are a bit harder to feed.  A source of springtails, fruit flies and pinhead crickets is a must. 

Despite their diminutive statures, Mantellas are efficient predators with quite large appetites – a 1.8 inch long Bronze Mantella (Mantella betsilio) was observed to consume 53 ants in just 30 minutes!

I’ll cover the care of individual species in the future.  Until then, please write in with your questions and comments. 

Thanks,

Frank Indiviglio

Further Reading

A review of the status of the various mantellas and the CITES proposal for their protection is posted here.

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