Strawberry poison dart frog

Strawberry poison dart frog

By Zoë Schreurs

In Costa Rica, you can’t ignore them: the Oophaga pumilio. Pumilio means dwarf, and although they are barely 3 cm tall, it is hard to miss the poisonous strawberry frogs. In English, they are called Strawberry Poison Dart frogs because indigenous peoples used to use their poison to makepoison darts. They are also affectionately called the “blue jeans frog,” because they often look like red frogs in jeans. Although they are by no means all the same colors. There are some that are completely red or blue, rather yellow, green or orange, or with black stripes or dots. In total, there are some 15 to 30 color variations.

Stolen poison

Those colors are there to scare off possible attackers, they signal: “Hey, I’m poisonous! You don’t want to eat me!”. Except for the females, who love it. Research shows that the females look for a male who have the same colors as their own parents. Females are much less attracted to poison dart frogs with different colors. Probably for survival reasons, because when the colors mix, their message to the predators  and  their chances of survival diminishes as well.

This message, by the way, is not a lie. The little frogs are quite poisonous. The toxins on their skin attack the heart and neurological system. The victims experience convulsions, paralysis and eventually death. Of course it is best to stay away from frogs, for everyone’s good, but you won’t die right away if one jumps on your feet. Their poison is especially effective if you eat the frogs, or if the poison gets into open wounds. Another poison frog, the golden arrow poison frog, is known to have enough venom to kill an adult human.

By the way, strawberry frogs don’t make all that poison themselves. The frogs eat ants, centipedes and mites among other things, and recycle their poison. Consequently, frogs kept as pets often lose their venom because they are not fed the proper diet. And speaking of diet, frogs do love a tasty snack, for example, they eat up to 14 times an hour!

Because of the venom, the frogs hardly have any natural enemies. So far, only the fire-bellied snake is known to be a threat. And humans of course, because of habitat loss for the frogs. Although humans are also fans of the frog, considering scientists are synthesizing their venom to market as a muscle relaxant, heart stimulant and painkiller!

Gummi bears

The frogs can be found in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama and spend their time among the leaves on the forest floor of tropical rainforests, although you may also occasionally see them climbing up lianas or trees. Unlike most amphibians, they are active during the day. Frogs are territorial and both males and females fight each other to defend their territory from intruders. Although fighting without claws or teeth is quite difficult. Doctor Yusan Yang, who studies frogs, compared it to a wrestling match between gummy bears. A wrestling match that can last as long as 20 minutes.Tthe frogs communicate about their territory, and their wild love plans through vibrations. For example, by tapping their middle toe.

Caring parents

In Strawberry poison dart frogs, there is an amazing amount of parental care. The mother lays 2 to 5 eggs on leaves or on the axillary buds of bromeliad plants. This is very few, compared to other frogs that lay hundreds of eggs! To compensate, they lay eggs several times during the rainy season (from May to November), with a maximum of once a week. During this period, the father waters the different puddles, with water from his cloaca. After 7 to 10 days, the eggs hatch and mom carries the tadpoles one by one on her back to a separate puddle high in the trees. Like water left in a leaf or between the roots of a plant. Just as well that mom gives them each their own puddle, because other species of poison dart frogs are known to exhibit cannibalistic tendencies as tadpoles. Fortunately, then, mom keeps them apart and lays unfertilized eggs with the tadpoles to serve as food. The mother makes her rounds daily to feed the little ones. She feeds only her offspring because even though other tadpoles beg for eggs, the strawberry frog can distinguish its own offspring by their unique vibrations. And so the parents take care of their offspring for at least a month before they go from tadpole to frog.

Incredible but true, strawberry frogs can live up to 15 years in captivity! In the wild, this is less clear.

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