The golden poison frog (Phyllobates terribilis) is the most lethal of the poison dart frogs and is considered the most poisonous animal on earth. The entire family of poison dart frogs gets their names from indigenous tribes in the South American rainforests that use the toxins secreted by these frogs to tip darts and arrows for hunting. It is estimated that the average poison dart frog contains enough poison to kill 10-20 humans and up to 10,000 mice. The frogs do not actually manufacture this toxin. Rather it is ingested by the frogs when they eat certain types of native insects and is secreted through their skin glands. Golden poison frogs do not use their toxin to hunt; it is only for defensive purposes.
Golden poison frogs are among the largest of the poison dart frogs, and can reach a length of over two inches as adults. Like all poison dart frogs, the golden poison frog is very brightly colored and is usually mint green, yellow or orange. The purpose of this bright coloring is to warn potential predators of the frog’s toxicity, as any animal (with the exception of one snake, Liophis epinephelus) that consumes it will die almost immediately.
The golden poison frog is diurnal, meaning it is active during the day. It hunts insects using its long tongue to strike and pull the prey to its mouth, a technique which demonstrates a high degree of intelligence. As these frogs have virtually no natural predators, they make no attempt to hide from larger animals, and seem to be aware that they are not threatened by predators. They are social animals, and live in groups of 4-7 individuals. Being as they are immune to their own poison, these frogs interact with each other frequently.
Breeding occurs once or twice per year in large groups and compete for breeding space. Once mated, the frogs lay their eggs on the ground beneath leaves. Once the eggs hatch, tadpoles emerge and stick themselves to the back of their parents, who in turn carry the young up into the forest canopy and leave them in a pool of water than has formed in the center of a bromeliad, such as a pineapple. The tadpoles develop in this tiny pool high above the forest floor by eating mosquito larvae, algae and infertile eggs their parents have left for them. Once they have developed, their parents will introduce them to the group of frogs their mother is from, with whom they will now live as well.
In contrast to their incredible toxicity in the wild, golden poison frogs raised in captivity are harmless. Being as their poison is supplied by eating insects that only exist in the South American rainforest, they never become poisonous when fed garden-variety flies and crickets from birth. Wild-born poison dart frogs that live in captivity also eventually lose their toxicity, but it may take several years for this to happen.
GOLDEN POISON FROG FACTS
- A wild poison dart frog contains enough toxin to kill two bull elephants.
University of Michigan Museum of Zoology