The Poison Arrow Frog
The strawberry poison-arrow frog produces toxins powerful enough to keep most animals from eating it. Its brilliant colors warn of its deadly nature and stop predators from striking.
The strawberry poison-arrow frog is a devoted parent, making sure its young live to an age when they can enjoy the benefits of a deadly reputation. A living jewel in the forest gloom, the strawberry poison-arrow frog is a deadly mouthful for any animal rash enough to make a meal of it.
The strawberry poison-arrow frog lives in the permanently wet leaf litter on the floor of Central American rainforests. Shaded from the sun by the forest canopy, the frog can hop about in the clammy atmosphere. This warm, humid environment keeps the frog’s muscles and organs working efficiently and provides a constant supply of insect prey. Much of the rain that falls is trapped high in the leaf canopy, forming small pools in the cuplike leaf junction of bromeliads. The frog uses these pools as secure nurseries for its tadpoles, which can’t survive for long out of water.
An adult poison-arrow frog stalks through decaying leaves on the forest floor looking for prey. The tiny hunter has a taste for ants but will sample any small insects, spiders, or similar animals it may come across. Although equipped with an arsenal of deadly toxins, the poison-arrow frog does not use its poisons for hunting: instead, it resorts to a typical frog hunting technique. Waiting patiently, it watches for any sign of movement. If an insect stays still, it’s safe, but as soon as it moves, the frog reacts, flicking out its long, sticky tongue. The tadpoles of most frogs feed on plants, but a poison-arrow tadpole is nourished exclusively on large yolked, unfertilized eggs of its mother. Because there are only a few young, these extra eggs are not needed and supply a valuable source of food.
For most animals, eating a poison-arrow frog means instant death. The fluid oozing from the frog's skin includes some of the strongest of all natural toxins. The skin of the aptly named Phyllobates terribilis contains enough poison to kill several adult humans. So, the frog is brightly colored to warn that it is dangerous.
Unlike many frogs, the poison-arrow frog lays very few eggs but makes sure they survive. Large eggs are laid on a wet leaf where the male fertilizes them and keeps them moist until they hatch. The tadpoles then wiggle onto the mother’s back, where they are held secure by sticky mucus as she moves in search of suitable nursery pools. The tadpoles are safe here, but there’s no food. The mother places one tadpole in each pool and lays an extra egg for each to eat. She returns several times to feed them until the tadpoles develop into tiny frogs.
Poison-arrow frogs are exploited locally for their useful toxins but not in significant number. The strawberry poison-arrow frog is safer than some because most larger forest areas in its native Costa Riva are protected. The area of forest in the country is actually being increased by restoration schemes.