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Aquarium of the Pacific - Online Learning Center - Species Print Sheet

Conservation Status:  CITES App. II

Climate Change:  Vulnerable

Land & Aquatic SpeciesBlue Poison Dart Frog

Dendrobates tinctorius azureus Amphibians

Blue Poison Dart Frog | Aquarium of Pacific/Andrew Reitsma
Blue Poison Dart Frog - popup
Aquarium of Pacific/Andrew Reitsma

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At the Aquarium

Our Blue Poison Dart Frogs were bred behind the scenes. To maintain genetic diversity some individuals came from another Association of Zoos and Aquariums facility. Our animal care specialists keep the humidity and temperature of their habitat as close as possible to that of the rainforest habitat in which these frogs are naturally found.

Geographic Distribution

Native: Republic of Surinam
Primarily from the south-central area of Surinam, a region known as the Sipaliwini Savannah. This area is surrounded by rainforests and its tributaries are part of the Amazon basin. A small fragment of the savannah also extends into northern Brazil.

Habitat

Adult frogs and froglets inhabit small, isolated, dark, and humid patches in rainforests or near streams, where they are found attached to moss-covered rocks, in crevices, or under floating plants. The forest daytime temperatures are 72 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 27 degrees Celsius) dropping to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) at night. Although they have been observed in trees at heights up to 16.4 feet (5 meters), the Blue Poison Dart Frog is usually a ground dweller.

Physical Characteristics

The ‘azureus’ form of Dendrobates tinctorius is a medium-sized frog. It is characterized by its hunchbacked posture, which is more pronounced in females than in males, and by its coloration. Its legs are commonly an azure-blue color, the belly darker blue, and the back sky-blue. An irregular pattern of various sized black and dark blue spots cover the background coloration, with the majority of spotting located on the frog’s back and head. Occasionally there is a dark blue or black mid-belly stripe on its ventral surface. The skin of this species is mostly smooth; however, some areas of the rear ventral surface and thighs have a granular texture. Each foot has four toes, each of which has a wide, flattened tip and well developed adhesive pads used to help the frog grip slippery surfaces. Females have circular toe-tips, while those of males are heart-shaped.

Size

Length snout to vent: 1.1 to 1.8 inches (3 to 4.5 centimeters)
Weigh: about 11 ounces (3 grams)
Females are slightly larger than males in both length and weight.

Diet

Like most poison dart frogs, this species uses its vision and tongue to capture prey. Once prey is seen, it darts out a sticky tongue to zap unsuspecting prey. It eats a variety of small insects including ants, fruit flies, termites, young crickets, and tiny beetles. It is uncertain whether ants or beetles are the source of the chemical substances from which poison dart frogs derive the “poison” stored in their skin. At the Aquarium ’azureus’ are fed a diet that includes crickets, wingless fruit flies, meal worms, and earthworms. None of these foods contain the chemicals that cause them to develop toxins.

Reproduction

‘Azureus’ reaches sexual maturity at ten to twelve months of age. This morph usually breeds once a year during the rainy season. Males position themselves on a leaf or rock and quietly call to attract a female. Females follow these calls to find the male. If more than one female responds, the females fight over the male. The victorious female begins the courtship ritual by gently stroking the selected male’s snout and back with her front legs. The courtship may include wrestling and chasing. If courtship is successful, the male leads the female to a secluded, moist, and mossy area he has chosen that is near a water source and underneath logs or rocks to mate and lay eggs. The male climbs onto the female’s back and grasps her with his front legs. He externally fertilizes the clutch of five to six gelatinous eggs she lays. Although the female may help, the male is most commonly the primary caretaker of the eggs. He checks on them periodically, excreting urine on them to keep them moist. After a ten- to eighteen-day incubation, the tadpoles hatch. At hatching they have poorly developed gills, a toothless mouth, and a tail. The tadpoles wriggle onto their father’s back to be carried to an individual nest in a small pool of rainwater in a tree trunk or a cup-like structure in a bromeliad plant. The tadpoles now begin to metamorphose into froglets. Their gills are grown over by skin, eventually disappearing to be replaced by lungs. Teeth and rear legs develop. The head becomes more pronounced and the body elongates. Front legs develop and the tail becomes a stub. At ten to twelve weeks old, with metamorphosis complete, a young frog or froglet leaves the water for a land habitat.

Behavior

‘Azureus’ is active during the day, moving constantly in short leaps, but always remaining close to a water source. Aggressive, bold, and very territorial, especially the males, both sexes defend their territories from frogs of the same or other species. Aggressive behavior may include chasing, vocalizing, and wrestling. Wrestling usually takes place between two females or two males, but may occur between a male and a female, usually in the breeding season.

Adaptation

The bright blue coloration of this poison dart frog serves as a warning to predators not to eat it. Another important adaptation are the toxins within its skin that are derived from some food items in its diet.

Conservation

In 2014 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species listed Dendrobates tinctorius as Least Concern; however, the studies that led to this listing did not specifically include the “azureus” morph. Restricted as the Blue Poison Dart Frog is to some small pockets of rainforests on the Sipaliwini Savannah, its habitat is threatened by deforestation, an industry that continues to be significant. There is also a demand for these colorful frogs in the international pet trade. Because of these pressures, “azureus” is believed to be one of the most threatened of all poison dart frogs in Central and South America. Captive breeding programs in the United States and Europe are meeting some of the pet trade demand for this frog. The Blue Poison Dart Frog is believed to be rare in Surinam, The Surinam government protects this poison dart frog by requiring visitors who go to Surinam’s Four Gebroeders Mountains to have permission. They are asked the reason for the visit and on returning, may be checked to prevent poaching. The morph, D.ti.‘azureus’, is not listed by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. CITES is an international agreement among governments. The United States is a CITES Partner. Climate change: Many scientists believe that over time global climate change and rainforest degradation together could lead to increased temperatures and changing rain patterns in the Amazon basin. As a result of these changes, the region’s forests, water availability, and ultimately the animals and plants that currently inhabit the rainforests would be affected. Research done by Brazil’s National Space Research Institute shows that a warmer and drier environment for the region could convert 30 to 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest into a type of dry savanna, a habitat for very different biodiversity than that found in today’s Amazon basin rainforests.