Cute and colourful they may be, but poison dart frogs deserve your respect. As well as being some of the most toxic animals in the world, these fascinating critters live a life as colourful as they are.
What Are Poison Dart Frogs?
Poison dart frogs are a group of amphibians that are characterised by their colourful bodies and toxicity, though not all the 170 species in the family are poisonous. Most are very small in size, with the largest, the golden dart frog, being just 5.5 centimetres.
Unlike many other amphibians, poison dart frogs are diurnal, meaning they’re most active in the daytime – just like us humans. This is quite rare for frogs, as most species are nocturnal.
Poison dart frogs are known to be among the most poisonous amphibians in the world, but they don’t use this as a means of attack. Instead, it acts as a deterrent, with their brightly-coloured bodies essentially telling would-be predators “I’m poisonous, don’t eat me.”
Where Are Poison Dart Frogs Found?
Poison dart frogs live in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, where the humid climate means they can live away from permanent bodies of water. They tend to remain close to the forest floor but have been known to climb trees up to a height of around 10 metres.
While the rainforest is their preferred habitat, poison dart frogs live in many types of tropical environments, including marshes, shrubland, swamps, savanna grasslands, and farmland. Indeed, in recent years, there’s been a marked increase in sightings outside forested areas, as their habitat continues to suffer at the hands of deforestation.
What Do Poison Dart Frogs Eat?
Poison dart frogs are carnivores and survive on a diet of small insects, including fruit flies, termites, ants, young crickets, and some smaller species of beetles. They’re excellent opportunistic hunters, relying on their long, sticky tongues to flash out and catch fast-moving prey in the blink of an eye.
An interesting theory some scientists have is that poison dart frogs became toxic because of their diet. Given that many insects in the rainforest are themselves poisonous, it’s argued that, through a long period of evolution, this has had an effect on the toxicity of these colourful amphibians.
And, since poison dart frogs have been brought into captivity, this is proven to be the case – with captive animals losing their toxicity due to a different diet of non-poisonous insects.
How Toxic Are Poison Dart Frogs?
Not all poison dart frogs are poisonous, but those that are poisonous tend to be highly toxic. The frogs carry poison on their skin as a means of deterring predators, so they aren’t safe to handle.
To put the toxicity of poison dart frogs into perspective, the most poisonous of the lot, the golden poison frog, is thought to have enough toxin in its skin to kill 20,000 mice or 20 fully-grown people. So, as you can tell, these guys aren’t messing around!
Another interesting thing to note about poison dart frogs is where they got their name. It comes from the practice of Native American tribesmen using the toxic secretions of the frogs to tip blow darts, which would then be used as a weapon or for hunting. This gives you an idea of the potency of their toxins, and the respect we humans have for it.