Poison dart frogs

Here’s where my journey into biology and photography started

I have always been fascinated by amphibians. I think it started when my grandfather gave me a jar with a small clutch of frog eggs. Watching them evolve into tadpoles and finally into small froglets triggered me to becoming a biologist. During my biology studies I started to breed poison dart frogs. It started small but soon I had several species and lots of terraria. After 15 years of breeding them I abandoned the hobby. The frogs still fascinate me, and I still enjoy them a lot while taking pictures of them or by studying their behaviour in the wild. Actually it were the frags that got me started with photography.

A strawberry dartfrog, Oophaga pumilio from the tropical rainforest of Bocas del Toro in Panama.

The jumping jewels of our swamps and forest

The vivid colors of poison dart frogs and tree frogs crawling in the canopy, that’s where my photographic journey started. As a child I was always searching for animals, and amphibians in particular really intrigued me. This love and interest in animals lead me to become a biologist and during my biology studies I started to breed poison dart frogs; the jewels of the South- and Central-American rain forests. For about 15 years I was breedings them but about ten years ago I stopped breeding them. Breeding poison dart frogs is relatively time consuming if you want to do it right. And I wanted to travel, which made it even more difficult. Actually it were these poison frogs that got me traveling to South- and Central-America where I wanted to explore and photograph them in their natural habitat. This is where my photographic journey started.

Poison dart frog Ranitomeya imitator from Jungle in Peru. Tropical exotic pet animal. Cute amphibian often kept as a tropical and exotic pet in a terrarium.
Poison dart frog, Ranitomeya imitator from Jungle in Peru.

Deadly poisonous

Poison arrow or poison dart frogs are small (15-60mm) colorful amphibians from the tropical rain forests of Latin America. There are over 300 different species and many have a wide variety of color morphs. As their name already states, these animals are poisonous and therefore have few natural enemies. Three of these frog species are extremely poisonous and their poison was used by indigenous people as venom for their blow darts. Of them the Golden poison frog or Phyllobates terribilis is the most poisonous. A single animal contains enough poison to kill about 10.000 mice or about 10 humans. Their poison is present in their skin and is used as a defense mechanism, not for killing prey. You can handle these frogs with your bare hands without any problem. As long as you don’t have any scratches and you wash your hands afterwards, you will be fine. The poison is a mixture of alkaloid toxins and can be lethal when entering your blood stream. Poison dart frogs obtain their poison through their diet, they eat poisonous animals such as ants. These prey animals on their turn get their poison from plants. All this is also the reason why captive bred animals are not toxic, their food (mainly springtails, fruit flies and crickets) lack these alkaloid toxins.

Poison dart frog, Oophaga histrionica buns eye, Colombia
Poison dart frog, Oophaga histrionica bulls eye, Colombia

Parental care

Poison dart frogs are not only colorful and beautiful but next to that their behavior is also very interesting. They are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day and not at night like most other amphibians. This increases their attractiveness as pets since these animals will show their full behaviour during the daytime, while most other amphibian species will hide untill the lights turn out. It is the breeding behaviour of dart frogs that makes them extra special and interesting. They lay their eggs on a dry smooth surface such as a leaf. The male guards the eggs untill they hatch and then the tadpoles crawl on the males back. In small species like most Ranitomeya the male takes a single tadpole to a small water reservoir (often only a few ml). These water reservoirs are often small water pockets collected by plants like Bromeliads and Heliconia. The tadpole will develop here eating algae, detritus and insect larvae. Other species like the Phylobate species can carry a whole load of up to 30 tadpoles to a bigger water recipient.

Parental care in poison arrow frogs where the male carries the tadpoles. Hyloxalus azureiventris tropical animal from Amazon rain forest

Some poison dart frogs take it a step further. Here the males are attracted by the movement of a tadpole already present. The males then will react by leading a female towards the tadpole. Now the couple will deposite and fertilize a few eggs on the edge of the water surface. The eggs can now be eaten by the tadpoles or can hatch and develop. The tadpoles of these species tend to be canibalistic and are called complementary egg feeders as they will also feed on other food sources.

blue poison dart frog, Dendrobates auratus from the tropical rain forest of Panama.

The next step in evolution are the obligatory egg-feeders like the strawberry poison dart frog. Here it is the female that guards the eggs and transports the tadpoles. Tadpoles are deposited seperately , each in its own small water pocket. The female remembers all the places where she deposited a tadpole and every other day or so she will visit the tadpole and lay an infertile egg with it. These infertile eggs are the only food source of these tadpoles.

Please visit my frog photography gallery.

Poison dart frog portrait of phyllobates terribilis OF the amazon rainforest in Colombia, very toxic and poisonous animal,big black amphibian eyes and bright yellow color
Phyllobates terribilis, the most poisonous poison dart frog. Natives of the Colombian rain forest use the poison of this species on their blow darts.


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  1. Very interesting read! As a frog lover myself I enjoyed learning more about Dirk’s experiences with breeding and photographing frogs. I am passionate about seeing animals from the rain forests being saved. Always love seeing Dirk’s outstanding photographs of frogs…his detailed photography is amazing! ???

  2. What a fascinating read! I had a box of information cards about wildlife when I was a kid. The Poison Dart Frog was always one of my favorites. Beautiful pics!

  3. This website is beyond amazing. Not only are the images amazing and diverse, but it was also very informative. I was in search of frogs to photograph so that I could transform the photographs to paintings or the images to ceramics. I would of never considered breeding, which I will pass on as I too enjoy traveling. Perhaps it is best I travel in search I finding these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. Thanks again.

  4. Interessante en leuke informatie, en werkelijk práchtige foto’s van de kikkers!!

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