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Are Poison Dart Frogs Really Poisonous?
Dart Frogs are Poisonous
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.