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Are Poison Dart Frogs Really Poisonous?

Updated on September 17, 2009

Dart Frogs are Poisonous

The Phylobates genus of dart frog is the only one that is actually poisonous. The genus contains five species of frogs, and only three of them are actually poisonous- the gold, gold and black, and the mint-green species that come from the lowlands of Columbia, near Panama. The Golden poison dart frog (Phyllobates terriblis), is considered the true poisonous dart frog, of the three. It is the species that puts the 'poison' in the dart frog.

The toxin that covers this frog is used by Columbian Indians of the Embera Choco region to coat their darts for hunting. The darts just need to be rubbed on the back of the P. terriblis one time, and will remain lethal for up to one year, if not longer.

Because hobbyists are always up for a challenge, the poison dart frog made its way into captivity. It started as a study to figure out what makes the frog so poisonous, and has since ended in a highly sought after pet frog.

What hobbyist found out was that in captivity, the frogs do not make the batrachotoxin that makes them deathly poisonous. And, without the toxin on their skin, they are one of the most sensitive and fragile frogs to keep as pets.

Because the frog does not make the deadly toxin in captivity, their skin is more prone to infection and parasites, but because they are brightly colored and not poisonous in captivity, many people like to keep them as pets. They just aren't the most ideal beginner pet frog because they are frail and prone to skin infections.

As to why the dart frogs don't create the toxin in captivity, it boiled down to housing, substrate, and diet differences. Diet is the most likely cause as to why they are not poisonous in captivity.

In the wild, the poison dart frogs eat a diet of ants, beetles, and other insects that feed on alkaloid- rich plants. The ants and beetles have developed a defense to the alkaloids developed by the plants in order to avoid predation; when the frogs eat the insects, they pass on the toxic benefits.

The toxin helps the frog avoid being eaten by predators, mostly birds, but there is actually one bird species who has developed an immunity to the toxin. The bird actually, not only had developed an immunity to the toxin, it also used the chemicals for its own defenses in order to reduce the risk of predation by larger predators.

To answer the question:

YES poison dart frogs are poisonous if they are wild caught and wild amphibians. In the wild, NO they are not poisonous.

Pictures of Poison Dart Frogs

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    • LiamBean profile image

      LiamBean 8 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

      *slaps forehead* duh!

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      Liam, the ants are poisonous from the food that they eat.

    • LiamBean profile image

      LiamBean 8 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

      I had heard that the poisonous ants gave them the toxins, but had not heard about the eating of insects that thrive on alkaloid plants. Great hub!

      Excellent photos too.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      fastfreta, in captivity, no pet frogs are generally not going to be deadly to humans. Some people do have reactions to the frog's skin, but generally it's not going to be deadly.

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      That's a lot of great information. Very informative.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 8 years ago from Southern California

      Very interesting read. Are the frogs deadly to humans? They are so beautifully colored, that they'd be tempting to be taken as pets even in the wild. When my children were young, they had various and sundry pets, including green tree frogs. I'm glad they never knew about this frog or they would have asked and we would have given them.

    • Chachafance profile image

      Charnita Fance 8 years ago from Eufaula, AL

      Wow I never knew that! Great info.