Dyeing poison frog

Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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Dyeing poison frogs live in the tropical forests of South America, where they face risks from logging and climate change.

Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

What is the dyeing poison frog?

One of the most recognizable frogs in the world, the dyeing poison frog is a species of poison frog. It’s known for its vibrantly colored skin—yellow on its back and blue on its legs—and its size. It can grow up to two inches long, making it one of the largest species of poison frogs.

True to the name, poison frogs are among the most toxic animals on Earth. The poison from certain species historically has been used on the tips of hunting darts and arrows, giving the group its other common name, “poison dart frogs.” There is no evidence, however, that the dyeing poison frog was used for this purpose.

This species gets its name from stories spread among Europeans who colonized South America. It was said that indigenous groups of the Guianas and Amazon would change the green feathers of parrots to red by rubbing them with the skin of a dyeing poison frog. However, this legend may be just that: It has never been proven true.

Habitat

Dyeing poison frogs find their homes under leaves in the dense foliage of tropical forests, primarily in the northeastern shoulder of South America, including French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname. As amphibians, they live in places of high humidity: the wetter, the better. Where there is water, they stick close by, usually under mossy rocks.

This part of South America is often divided into “forest islands”: Each plot of trees is separated from others by a dry savanna or high plateau. As a result, each forest’s population of dyeing poison frogs has evolved in isolation, and no two populations are exactly alike.

Behavior and reproduction

Most frogs are nocturnal, but not poison frogs. Poison dyeing frogs are very social, and during the day, they stay in pairs or groups. When they mate, poison frogs are especially active, even competitive. For hours at a time, they wrestle and chase each other, or caress each other with their chins and forearms.

Poison frogs are very involved in raising their offspring, which is unusual for amphibians. After the female lays eggs, the father guards them. As soon as they’re hatched, the tadpoles clamber onto their father’s back, and he swims them out to a preferred body of water. The family stays there for about a year, until the young frogs are fully mature. Then they spend their adult lives on land.

Though dyeing poison frogs stick close to the ground, they can use their sturdy limbs to climb up vines and trees. They may venture nearly seven feet off the ground.

Toxicity

Scientists are unsure of the source of poison frogs' toxicity, but it is possible they assimilate plant poisons carried by their prey, including ants, termites, and beetles. Poison frogs raised in captivity and isolated from insects from their native habitat never develop poison.

Threats to survival

Dyeing poison frogs are not endangered, but they do face risks. Habitat loss and fragmentation from logging is a threat, as is overcollection. They are often taken from the wild for the exotic pet trade. Climate change is also a potential threat, as frogs in general are highly sensitive to even slight changes in their environment.

Conservation

The dyeing poison frog and and other poison frog species live in protected areas, such as the Parc Amazonien in French Guiana. In addition, dyeing poison frogs breed easily in captivity; they are found in zoos all over the world.