Poison Dart Frogs

“Are those frogs real? I thought they were plastic!” We hear it all the time from visitors. Yes, they are real, and now on display in the Discovery Room at the Yale Peabody Museum.

Four species of dart frogs are currently displayed in a mini-habitat that mimics a rainforest environment complete with orchids, bromeliads and other tropical plants. A timed misting system provides the needed humidity.

Blue poison dart frog
Use the controls below to listen
to the blue poison dart frog
(Dendrobates azureus).

Photograph by George Grall.
© National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

All the frogs were captive bred at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Frogs and toads are disappearing around the world in record numbers. Scientists are still trying to piece together exactly why. The Peabody frogs are from the National Aquarium’s captive breeding program for threatened species.


The species represented include the blue poison frog Dendrobates azureus (at right), a rare species found only in Suriname; the dyeing poison frog Dendrobates tinctorius, one of the largest species, found in Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil; the golden poison frog Phyllobates bicolor (below) from Colombia, the second most toxic frog worldwide; and the green and black poison frog Dendrobates auratus from Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Poison dart frogs are diurnal. Their bright colors are easily seen in daylight, a warning to would-be predators that the frogs taste bad. Some animals know by instinct not to eat any brightly colored creature. Others learn by experience that eating brightly colored animals such as dart frogs will make them sick. Where does the name “poison dart frog” come from? Two species of these frogs are used by Choco Indians of western Colombia to poison their blowpipe darts. The Indians shoot these darts at animals they use for food, such as reptiles, birds and mammals.

Golden poison dart frog

Use the controls below to listen
to the golden poison dart frog
(Phyllobates bicolor).

Photograph by George Grall.
© National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD. All rights reserved. Used with permission.


In the wild, some dart frog species are among the deadliest animals on earth. Their skin is toxic because of the ants and other insects they eat. These insects eat plants that contain poisonous alkaloids. The skin toxins from a wild golden poison frog can cause convulsions, paralysis and death if they enter the blood stream. The Peabody frogs, whose diets consist of lab-raised fruit flies and crickets, are not poisonous.

One of the arguments for rainforest preservation is that rainforests are vast storehouses of potentially beneficial compounds found in flora and fauna. Researchers from Abbott Labs in Chicago have developed ABT-594, a new painkiller. The compound is named “epibatidine” in honor of a frog: an extract from the skin of the phantasmal poison frog Epipedrobates tricolor can block pain 200 times more effectively than morphine, and without addiction and other serious side effects.

This exhibit is made possible by Fleet Bank.

Frog sounds recorded by Eric Pflaging of Hillside Herps. Courtesy of J.B. Walsh (www.exoticfrogs.com). Used by permission.