Creepy Critters Dyeing Poison Arrow Frogs

Tiny...and Toxic

Despite their tiny size, dyeing poison arrow frogs leave predators knowing to look, but not touch. The flashy colors of the small South American amphibian warn of toxic skin, making them a hazardous mouthful for any animal looking to take a bite.

The frog’s toxicity originates in a steady diet of ants. Through unknown physiological means, formic acid from the ants is processed to produce the toxins that protect the species. Because the frogs at Regenstein Small Mammal–Reptile House enjoy a different diet than their wild cousins, they aren’t toxic, although they do display the same cautionary coloration.

Dyeing poison arrow frogs can be found widely throughout their range, which stretches from French Guinea to northern Brazil. Like amphibians across the globe, though, the species is susceptible to the ongoing amphibian crisis. Water pollution, habitat loss and the rapid spread of the deadly chytrid fungus mean that amphibian species are going extinct every day.

“These frogs—and amphibians everywhere—almost serve as indicators for environmental problems,” says Curator Diane Mulkerin. “If you have clean air and clean water, you should have healthy frogs. But things that stress the environment stress frogs first—their disappearance is a clear signal that something is wrong.”

The frogs at the zoo obviously enjoy clean conditions. And while pumpkins are a rare form of enrichment, animal care staff regularly alter the exhibit to engage the frogs.

“We put in new and unusual environmental furniture for enrichment,” says Mulkerin. “Branches, logs, rocks—things that have different smells or are out of the ordinary.”

A pumpkin certainly qualifies. It even gives the exhibit a little extra color…not that it needs it.


by James Seidler

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