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Phyllobates species

The Phyllobates group of species ranges from southern Costa Rica, through Panama and Columbia, and includes five species. Two smaller species, P. vittatus and P. lugubris, are residents of Costa Rica and Panama, and one smaller species, P. aurotaenia, and two larger, P. terribilis and P. bicolor, inhabit the wet coastal rainforest of Columbia. Of course this group of dart frogs' main claim to fame is the astounding toxicity of the three Columbian frogs. These are the only three frogs whose skin toxin is used to tip darts for hunting use, and in fact most other dart frog skin secretions are really not that poisonous when compared to any of these three, particularly a frog like P. terribilis.

The native people of this area of Columbia have used the poisons of these frogs to poison the tips of their darts for generations, although the tradition seems to be in danger of dying out. The blow guns they use are around ten feet long, and with them the native people can bring a monkey down from the top of a tree. Seconds after the dart impacts the monkey, it falls from the tree. The deadly batrachotoxin interferes with cellular function, and there is no known antidote. P. terribilis is so poisonous that it can be used merely by rubbing the dart on the back of the frog. The other two frogs are often impaled on a stick and roasted alive (one would assume they aren't alive for long!) to gather a more potent form of their poison.

Like all dart frogs, these frogs are safe to keep in captivity due to the fact that captive bred dart frogs do not produce poisons. Some component or several components of their diet in the wild provides them the required precursors to their toxins, and their captive diet is lacking in these components. I am often asked if I am sure they are not poisonous in captivity, and I can assure any one who is concerned that I am positive that captive bred frogs do not produce any poisons. Anyone who could figure out how to get captive bred frogs to produce poisons would be sitting on a gold mine, as there are many potential, and realized, pharmaceutical uses for these compounds, but one difficulty that researchers run into is that the frogs do not continue to produce the poisons for long after they are brought into the lab.

All of these frogs make good terrarium animals, and the bicolor and terribilis tend to be outstanding. They all share the ability to eat a considerably larger prey item than most other Dendrobatid frogs, which could be of interest if you are someone who really doesn't want to deal with fruit flies at all. The smaller species are somewhat shy, but the larger two are very bold. None of them are particularly territorial, and while the larger two make great centerpieces to you terrarium, a group of one of the smaller species might be a good choice as companions to a pair of tinctorius or azureus in a larger tank.


Listed below are the Poison Dart Frogs that are regularly available.