Nature Nugget – Poison Dart Frogs

In the warm, humid rainforests of tropical Central and South America lives a group of small, colorful frogs known as poison dart frogs. These frogs are some of the most poisonous creatures on earth. The origin of their name comes from the fact that the Choco Indians of the Pacific lowlands of Columbia use the frog’s poisonous skin secretions to dip their blowgun darts in. They hunt monkeys and other animals with these blowguns, the poison causing instant paralysis and a quick death.

The secretion of the most poisonous species, the golden poison dart frog, is a nerve poison called Batrachotoxin, which is a steroidal alkaloid. Its poison blocks neuromuscular transmission, resulting in muscle and respiratory paralysis and death. Only 136 micrograms of this alkaloid, which is equivalent to 2 or 3 grains of table salt, is enough to kill a 150 pound person. Other species produce poisons that are not as deadly. It is rumored that just touching one of the golden poison dart frogs will result in death. The truth of the matter is that the poison cannot penetrate the skin unless there is a cut or abrasion, which then will result in a quick death.

More than 100 toxins have been identified in the skin secretions of poison dart frogs. The source of the poison is the frogs’ diet. They feed on worms and small arthropods, especially ants, many of which feed on plants that contain these toxins. Captive specimens lose their toxicity because they are no longer able to feed on these toxic sources.

Poison dart frogs come in an assortment of bright colors and combinations of these colors such as reds, oranges, yellows, blues, and greens. Their bright coloration is a warning to would-be predators that they are poisonous. They are also diurnal so that their colors will show up and warn off predators. Poison dart frogs have a life span of 10 to 15 years and have few enemies. Only a few snakes and large spiders can cope with the noxious poisons of the adult frogs. The young (tadpoles) have more enemies, as they lack, because of a different diet, the poisons of the adults.

During the breeding season, poison dart frogs lay their eggs on wet leaves on the forest floor or in the canopy. Many species carry their hatched young on their backs to a source of water such as a puddle or stream, and some carry their young high into the canopy to deposit them in isolated pools in tree cavities, bromeliads, or other water holding plants. Only one tadpole is deposited per pool, as the young will cannibalize each other. If a parent frog carrying young approaches a plant with a tadpole already occupying it, the resident tadpole will warn the frog off by aiming its head at the center of the plant, holding itself rigid, and rapidly vibrating its tail. If the parent frog does not heed this warning and deposits a tadpole there, the larger resident tadpole will eat the younger tadpole. The strawberry poison dart frog is remarkable in that the females give parental care by periodically visiting the bromeliads where they deposited their young and laying nutritious unfertilized eggs called “nurse” eggs for the young to eat.

Just as deadly as the poison of the poison dart frogs is the sin we harbor in our lives. “The poison of sin is at work at the heart of society, and God calls for reformers to stand in defense of the law which he has established to govern the physical system.” Testimonies, vol. 6, 136.