Fun Fact: Poison Dart Frogs Are No Longer Poisonous Once in Captivity

Posted by Stacey Venzel

Did you know a poison dart frog’s toxicity is linked to its natural insectivorous diet?

If you’re thinking of adding a poison dart frog to your amphibian collection but are worried about the possibility of toxic contamination, stress no more!

Research shows that poison dart frogs lose their toxicity when in captivity. Thriving on an insectivorous diet, scientists think the toxin build-up is related to the amphibian’s natural food source, one it doesn’t get in human care.

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The vibrant color of this species acts as a warning to predators–Stay away or I’ll poison you!

Many species use bright coloration as a predator-deterrent, like the Monarch butterfly, advertising their toxicity. But some animals evolved to merely mimic these rainbow patterns, fooling potential hunters into thinking they’re toxic!

The multi-hued amphibious skin covers all of the color wheel, ranging from reds, blues, blacks, whites, yellows, greens, oranges, and everything in-between. Over 100 species of these bright and toxic frogs exist, but not all of them are available as pets, especially those that are endangered.

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Native to South and Central America and some Hawaiian islands, the diet of a poison dart frog is relative to its natural habitat. In the wild, they feed on spiders, beetles, ants, and termites. To avoid termite and other insect infestations, and simply based on availability, the frogs are most often fed crickets, mealworms, and fruit flies in captivity.

While beetles are believed to be the culprit, it is not known if these are the only creepy-crawlies to create the toxic levels inside a poison dart frog. Particularly, the Choresine beetle carries the same poison, batrachotoxinin, that is a key component in the dart frog’s toxicity. It is theorized that these bugs, in turn, get their toxin from a specific plant. The poison is secreted through the frog’s skin.

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Scientists deduced this after noting that the frogs lose their poison when in captivity. However, when fed a captive diet that includes arthropods harboring the dangerous chemicals, the poison was secreted. Even individuals who had lost their toxicity gained it back once fed the toxic bugs.

Also called poison arrow frogs, the toxin from these creatures was used by indigenous tribes to make fatal darts. Of the 100 species, only three are extremely toxic to humans. The poison works on the nervous and muscular systems resulting in cardiac arrest.

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When purchasing your next dart frog pet, be sure to find one that has been bred in captivity, not a wild-caught one.

This will protect you from initially being put in harm’s way as the wild-caught frogs might not have yet lost their toxicity. It will also protect the wild population!

Fun Fact: Poison Dart Frogs Are No Longer Poisonous Once in Captivity