The strawberry poison dart frog: a story of fascinating looks and deadly touches

Red strawberry poison dart frog, Costa rica

We’re all familiar with frogs as amphibians known for their gracious jumping abilities, bulging eyes, and croaking sounds. They exist all over the world, and with more than 6,000 different species, they are among the most diverse animals out there. But few frogs are as fascinating as the elusive strawberry poison dart frog (aka the arrow frog).

Strawberry poison dart frogs are commonly found in the humid lowlands of eastern Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and northwestern Panama. They belong to the more than 220 species of dart frogs in the poisonous family of Dendrobatidae.

While these frogs are well-known for being tiny, growing to the size of an adult human's thumbnail, they are even more famous for their fascinating exteriors.

From rich blue with no spots to olive green or yellow with dark spots, the color spectrum of these creatures is truly spectacular. Their coloration can vary between approximately 15 to 30 color morphs, all unique, alluring, and sparkling. But the extravagant colors are not just for show: they are a sign to predators that there is poison on the skin.

The dart frog’s extensive variety in coloration is a blended result of visibility, toxicity, and resistance needs.

The strawberry poison dart frog, or Oophaga pumilio, is not the most poisonous of the big Dendrobatidae family, but it is the most poisonous of its genus.

The diet of the strawberry poison dart frog is composed of mites, formicine ants, millipedes, and beetles. The frogs extract toxic alkaloids from their prey and store it in the glands of their skin.

This touch of toxicity will severely disrupt a predators‘ cardiac functioning, eventually causing convulsions, paralysis, and death. South American indigenous people have used this frog’s poison for hunting darts for centuries.

A strawberry poison dart frog lays eggs on the forest floor with one parent (usually the male) guarding the eggs until they hatch. The female frog then carries the babies on her back, holding them with sticky mucus, to small pools.

Despite their toxicity, the strawberry poison dart frog’s captivating colors have made it a rather popular pet. In the 1990s, they were smuggled into both the United States and Europe in large numbers. Luckily, due to their wide distribution across rainforests, tolerance for habitat modification, and large population, these frogs are still a thriving species today.

Did you know?

  • The most dangerous dart frog is the golden poison frog. One milligram of its poison is enough to kill between 10 and 20 people or 10,000 mice.

  • Strawberry poison dart frogs prefer mates that look like their parents.

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