We wanted to start the article as ‘Poison Frogs are’ but sadly it started as ‘Poison Frogs were’. A poorly known population of these species makes them considered as extinct.

Poison frogs were renowned as the rainforest’s treasures, and they appear in every color palette imaginable: red and white, green and purple, yellow and silver, turquoise and orange, yellow and black, rose and silver, and many more. 

While most other frog species hide in the open, the poison dart frog used its brilliantly colored armor to alert attackers, implying that it is unsafe for consumption. The frog’s epidermis emited a toxin that can render adversaries unconscious or possibly kill them. 

Appearance

Focus Photo of a Golden Poison Frog
Focus Photo of a Golden Poison Frog | Image Credit – Pexels

Poison frogs typically have a few salient characteristics, irrespective of the sorts of toxicity in their epidermis or distinctive coloration. They have robust, tiny rear legs for springing and grasping. 

On the tips of their front and back feet, they have tough skin patches. They are also, for the most part, relatively tiny. Most expand from head to tail to be 0.75 to 1.5 inches (1.9 to 3.8 cm) in length. 

The Brazilian poison frog and the blue-bellied poison frog were two of the tiniest poison frogs on the planet.

Geographical Coverage and Habitat

Strawberry Poison-Dart Frog, Costa Rica
Strawberry Poison-Dart Frog, Costa Rica | Image Credit – Jelle de Gier

Splendid poison frogs are from the Dendrobatidae family. They can be found throughout Central America’s central and southern regions, especially Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. 

They can also be found in northern and central South America, as well as Bolivia and southern Brazil. 

The green and black poison frog, sometimes known as the green poison frog, seems to be the single poison frog to have crossed the Pacific Ocean from its ancestral home Central and South America to Hawaii.

A few years back, you could spot poison dart frogs throughout Central and South America’s tropical rainforests. 

Poison dart frogs are energized during the daylight, unlike most other amphibians. The majority of species are terrestrial; however, a few are arboreal.

Food Habits

Frog eats bugs and termites
Frog eats bugs and termites | Image Credit – Fateme Farokhi

Poison frogs eat minute invertebrates that they collect around the forest canopy, such as termites and bugs. These splendid creatures use their slick, extensible tongues to catch their food. 

According to scientists, poison frogs get their venom from a particular insect that they devour regularly, and these beetles get their toxin from their botanical diet. 

As a consequence, poison frogs raised in captivity and fed a diet of the grasshopper and other non-venomous bugs are not toxic.

Tadpoles are usually omnivorous, eating everything from microalgae and debris to bug pupae and dead beetles. 

Like the tri-colored poison frog, some varieties are carnivorous, consuming only insect larvae and certain other tadpoles. 

Mothers of some poison frog varieties lay individual tadpoles in pools in bromeliads, then regularly revisit each tadpole’s location to drop unfertilized eggs for the tadpoles to devour.

Communication

In the wet woodland, poison frogs can be overheard singing or calling one another. Most frog species possess well-functioning vocal apparatus that can produce a wide range of sounds to call out mates, announce territories, or communicate discomfort. 

Auditory creation is perhaps the most prevalent means of information exchange in creatures that leap or fly because olfactory transmission is challenging. 

Frogs employ their laryngeal appendages to make sounds, and most males have acoustic membranes that serve as rebounding organs. Hence, frog species can be distinguished by their sounds.

Toxicity

Perhaps one of the most deadly creatures on the planet is from the Dendrobatids family. The poison in the two-inch-long golden poison frog is more than enough to slay ten mature men.

For ages, Colombia’s native Emberá tribe have employed its potent venom to coat the blowgun darts when hunting animals, earning the genus’ their common name.

The poison dart frogs’ toxicity mechanism is very obscure and widely disputed. However, it is deduced that they probably ingest plant toxins delivered by their food, such as termites, beetles, and bugs. 

The medical field has been looking into the possibility of using poison dart frog toxin for medicinal purposes. 

They have already created a synthetic version of one molecule that has shown to be effective as a pain reliever.

Reproduction and Parenting Behavior

Poison frogs typically copulate during the monsoon season, which lasts from November to April. 

However, it may last slightly shorter or longer in different locations. Males make the most calls from the early morning, which eventually fade away as the day progresses. 

They usually begin contacting again late in the afternoon if the day is gloomy and wet. When it is pouring, some varieties, such as Stephen’s rocket frog, will call their mate at any hour of the day.  

Some varieties can be heard calling from the leaf-covered earth, some from a tree trunk crack, and others from vegetation developing inside the massive trees.

In most amphibian species, most parents depart after the eggs have been laid. However, in poison frogs, either the male or female remains with the eggs until they emerge into tadpoles. On rare occasions, both parents stay with the eggs.

Some animals have odd parenting behaviors, such as bearing eggs and hatchlings on their rear ends. 

While most amphibians tend to show such behavior, male poison dart frogs are incredibly particular about caring for the babies.

Threats

Threats to Splendid poison frog
Threats to Splendid poison frog | Image Credit – David Clode

To their benefit, poison dart frogs have only one predator in the wild due to their toxicity: the Leimadophis Epinephelus, a snake variety that has acquired tolerance to their toxin. 

Indigenous tribes have increasingly recognized the organism for its devastating toxin, and it is deeply rooted in cultures and traditions. The Choco Emberá Indians employ the frog’s toxin as poison in their hunting projectiles. 

They lightly rub the tips of arrows and darts against the frog’s skin without injuring it. And, the most extraordinary part is that the weapon can maintain its lethal impact for nearly two years.

When talking about threats, the degradation of the environment is far more harmful to the breed. 

Because of the destruction of their rainforest environment, several poison dart frog species are declining in abundance, and some have even been listed as extinct.

The frog’s poison is actually for self-defense, and humanity represents a far greater danger to the population by employing a force that its toxins cannot counter: bulldozers. 

Enhanced security in the territory has boosted deforestation, unfair gold mining (an estimated 100 bulldozers and excavations units are ruining the environment), illegal coca production, and lumbering, which are all severe threats to the species’ existence.

Medical uses

poison frogs creates a unique toxin
Poison frogs creates a unique toxin | Image Credit – Marvin Nauendorff

Every variety of poison frogs creates a unique toxin conjured up of several alkaloids and other compounds. 

Researchers have determined that several of the alkaloids found in frog poisons may be therapeutic for persons suffering from certain cardiac and circulation disorders. 

A potential painkiller has been devised using chemicals secreted by the phantasmal poison frog Epipedrobates tricolor. 

Epibatidine, titled after the frog, is 200 times more efficient than morphine, and it comes without adverse side effects!

The manufacture of this medical pain reliever from the “basic” bioactive molecules is a complicated chemical procedure. Its effectiveness is reduced throughout this method, reducing its efficacy for the benefit of humans. 

Additionally, the fluids of poison frogs could be used to generate muscle relaxants and cardiovascular stimulants.

What is an imitating Poison Frog?

The imitating poison frog is by far the most bizarre species in terms of looks. This little frog tends to take on a completely different appearance based on its surroundings. 

With its black-spotted yellow body, black-spotted blue limbs, and blue abdomen, the imitating frog appears like Zimmermann’s poison frog if it dwells closer to Zimmermann’s poison frog. 

And, the imitating poison frog has a similar pattern as the Amazon or Amazonian poison frog, which is orange or yellow with long black bands or patches if it is a friend with one!

Likewise, when the imitating frog occupies territory with the red-headed poison frog, also referred to as the crowned poison frog, it possesses the red-headed poison frog’s half-orange or -red, half-black body. 

The one and only frog or amphibian documented to imitate or duplicate the look of some other frog in the surroundings is the imitating frog. 

The imitating frog and all three species it mimics are incredibly toxic, although they are not related in any way.

Why did they go extinct?

Yellow Poison-Banded Dart Frog
Yellow Poison-Banded Dart Frog | Image Credit – Nora S

The conservation forecast for this one-of-a-kind creature is bleak. The species was initially thought to be ubiquitous and plentiful. 

However, the species are currently fragmented into only five subpopulations, covering only 5000 square kilometers.

The decline in the number of these amphibians in the ecosystem is due to the disintegration of rainforest habitat by wildfires and human activities. 

Anthropogenic activities such as forestry, urban and suburban sprawl, and the development and application of rail lines have all had a massive influence on population demographics. 

In addition, some people have been capturing and trafficking the splendid poison frogs as pets. 

Due to its striking appearance, the blue poison frog has become a prized pet in the United States. 

Countless have been sneaked into pet stores around the globe, resulting in a rapid reduction in their natural environment.

Illness is another serious concern to these tiny frogs. The chytrid fungus is one of these disorders. 

It develops on adult frogs’ epidermis and effectively smothers them by preventing them from absorbing water and oxygen via their pores.

To Wrap Up

The splendid poison frog was once prolific in the rainforests, but its current estimated population status is unknown. 

Some of its sub-groups have been classed as “Extinct” since it has not been spotted in a long time. 

Although the species is yet to be spotted in confinement, it has been proven to be completely extinct in the wild.

Despite the fact that nature reserves have been designated across the species’ entire spectrum, there is still more to be accomplished in terms of conservation and restoration. 

Population figures, geography, habitat, and life cycle, require more research to ensure that we do not push the remaining ones to oblivion. 

(Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!