Poison dart frog (also poison arrow frog, dart frog or poison frog) is the common name of the small frogs in the family Dendrobatidae which are native to Central and South America. The frogs are often called poison dart frogs due to indigenous peoples' use of their toxic excretions to poison the tips of arrows and blowdarts. In fact, of over 175 species of poison frog, only three have been documented as being used for this purpose, and none come from the Dendrobates genus, which is most characterized by the brilliant color and complex patterns of its member species. The most poisonous of the frogs used for poisoning darts is the two-inch-long Golden Poison Frog from the genus Phyllobates. Although all frogs within the family Dendrobatidae are at least somewhat toxic in the wild, levels of toxicity vary considerably from one species to the next, and from one population to another.

Most poison dart frogs have brightly colored skin which is used as a warning sign to predators. These frogs can be very small, ranging from one to 6 cm in length, depending on the age, sex, and species of the frog.

Yellow-banded poison dart frog Dendrobates leucomelas


They are mostly endemic to humid, tropical environments. These frogs are generally found in tropical rain forests, including in Hawaii, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, French Guyana, Peru, Panama, and Nicaragua. (The species found in Hawaii are non-native introduced frogs.) Poison dart frogs tend to live on or close to the ground, as well as in trees as much as 20 ft from the ground.


Poison dart frogs excrete alkaloid toxins through their skin. Most species are not lethal to their predators, but rather taste foul enough that frogs are released immediately. Dart frogs also do not synthesize their poisons. The alkaloids are sequestered from prey items, such as ants and mites. Because of this, captive bred animals do not contain significant levels of toxin. However, wild caught animals can maintain toxicity for some time, so appropriate care should be taken when handling such animals.

Wild specimen of Dendrobates reticulatus in Peru.

Immunity to Poison

Despite the potent poisons utilized by some poison dart frogs, there are some predators that have developed the ability to survive the toxins, including the amazon ground snake Liophis epinephelus.

Poison Frogs in Captivity

While there is little scientific study on the lifespan of poison dart frogs, estimates range from 3 to 15 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity. Most species reach maturity around 1.5 to 2.5 years of age.

The easiest way to determine the sex of a particular species of poison dart frog is by observation of behavior. Mature male frogs will usually make a mating call after eating or after a heavy misting of water. The sound varies from species to species, and ranges from a barely audible series of clicks to a loud, bird-like trill.

In juvenile frogs, the sex can sometimes be determined by the profile of the frog. The backs of males usually slope down with less of a break than females. Females are usually rounder and show a bigger break.

With adult frogs (or sub-adults), another way to sex some species of these frogs is by their toes. Females of some Dendrobates species have narrow toes all the way down, while the male's toes are wide at the ends. Mature males of some species also show a small section of grey skin on their neck. This is where the mating call is produced.

These frogs eat ants, termites, small beetles, house crickets, fruit flies, spring tails, wax worms, spiders and other small invertebrates. All species of poison dart frogs are tropical in origin. In captivity, most species thrive where the humidity is kept constant at 80-100% and where the temperature is around 72-80F (22-27C) during the day and no lower than 60-65F (16-18C) at night. Some species tolerate lower temperatures better than others.

Colostethus flotator in Costa Rica


Endangered blue poison dart frogs

Dyeing poison dart frog

A strawberry poison dart frog

Golden poison dart frogs