The Phyllobates genus, commonly known as dart poison frogs, includes five species of anurans uniquely classified because of the batrachotoxin they possess: P. aurotaenia, P. bicolor, P. lugubris, P. terribilis, and P. vittatus. Around 3-5 million years ago, dart poison frogs crossed over the Panamanian bridge from Africa and then distributed into Central and South America (Widmer, Lötters, & Jungfer, 2000). They are well spaced through the forest on humid lowlands to prevent crowding, which results in male – male aggression (Grant et al., 2006). Adult males measure 45mm from snout to vent and females measure 47mm (Grant et al., 2006). In captivity, the frogs can live up to five years (Myers, Daly, & Malkin, 1978). Their long life span is due to their toxins warding off most predators, though their reproductive potential is low (Myers et al., 1978). After the females lay the eggs, the males fertilize them and carry the larvae on their backs to water, exhibiting male parental care (Summers, 2000). Females use coloration of the males as a visual cue for selecting mates because the brighter the colors, usually the more toxic the frog (Hagman & Forsman, 2003; Summers & Clough, 2001). The Phyllobates defense is batrachotoxin, a strong cardiotoxin (Alto, 2011). Recent experiments have concluded batrachotoxin is assembled from the alkaloids from frog’s diet of arthropods and insects (Alto, 2011). The serous skin secretions of batrachotoxin have a bitter, peppery taste that discourages predators from feeding on the frogs and they quickly learn to associate the bright coloration of the frogs with their toxins (Alto, 2011). The frogs are lethal to humans because of the high amounts of toxins they possess and because there is no effective antidote (Myers et al., 1978). One of the few predators of the Phyllobates is the snake Leimadophis epinephelus, which has an unusually high tolerance for a variety of anuran skin secretions that contain toxins (Myers et al., 1978). The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species lists P. vittatus and P. terribilis as endangered species because of the deforestation of the Costa Rican forests for agricultural land, the water pollution as a result of gold mining, illegal crops, pesticide spraying, the collection of the adult frogs for trade, and human settlement (Bolívar, 2004; Solís, 2004). P. bicolor and P. aurotaenia are near endangered levels because of habitat loss, but P. lugubris is the least threatened because it is more tolerant of changing habitat (Bolívar, 2004; Bolívar, 2004; Solís, 2004).
Alto, E. (2011). Effects of Dietary Specialization on Chemical Defense of Poison Dart Frogs. Eukaryon, 7, 84–86.
Bolívar W., T. Grant, S. Lötters, F. Castro. 2004. Phyllobates aurotaenia. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Bolívar W., S. Lötters. 2004. Phyllobates bicolor. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Bolívar W., S. Lötters. 2004. Phyllobates terribilis. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Grant, T., Frost, D., Caldwell, J. P., Gagliardo, R., Haddad, C. F. B., Kok, P. J. R., Means, D. B., et al. (2006). Phylogenetic systematics of dart-poison frogs and their relatives (Amphibia: Athesphatanura: Dendrobatidae). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 299, 311–363.
Hagman, M., & Forsman, A. (2003). Correlated Evolution of Conspicuous Coloration and Body Size in Poison Frogs (Dendrobatidae). Evolution, 57(12), 2904–2910.
Myers, C. W., Daly, J. W., & Malkin, B. (1978). A dangerously toxic new frog (Phyllobates) used by Emberá Indians of Western Colombia, with discussion of blowgun fabrication and dart poisoning. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 161, 311-363.
Solís F., R. Ibáñez, G. Chaves, J. Savage, C. Jaramillo, Q. Fuenmayor, B. Young, F. Bolaños. 2004. Phyllobates lugubris. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Solís F., R. Ibáñez, G. Chaves, J. Savage, C. Jaramillo, Q. Fuenmayor, B. Young, F. Bolaños. 2004. Phyllobates vittatus. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Summers, K. (2000). Mating and Aggressive Behaviour in Dendrobatid Frogs from Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica: A Comparative Study. Behaviour, 137, 7– 24.
Summers, K., & Clough, M. E. (2001). The evolution of coloration and toxicity in the poison frog family (Dendrobatidae). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 98(11), 6227–32.
Widmer, a, Lötters, S., & Jungfer, K. H. (2000). A molecular phylogenetic analysis of the neotropical dart-poison frog genus Phyllobates (Amphibia: Dendrobatidae). Die Naturwissenschaften, 87(12), 559–62.
Evolution and Systematics
Glands in the skin of poison-dart frogs protect from predators via a secreted neurotoxin called batrachotoxin.
"Yet another type of skin gland is the poison gland which is prevalent among amphibians, including the common toad…The most lethal frogs are a few Phyllobates species: named batrachotoxin, their poison is 250 times stronger than strychnine, and acts on the nervous system." (Foy and Oxford Scientific Films 1982:80)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Foy, Sally; Oxford Scientific Films. 1982. The Grand Design: Form and Colour in Animals. Lingfield, Surrey, U.K.: BLA Publishing Limited for J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, Aldine House, London. 238 p.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
|Specimen Records:||17||Public Records:||8|
|Specimens with Sequences:||19||Public Species:||5|
|Specimens with Barcodes:||15||Public BINs:||7|
|Species With Barcodes:||5|
Phyllobates is a genus of poison dart frogs native to Central and South America, from Nicaragua to Colombia. Phyllobates contains the most poisonous species of frog, the golden poison frog (Phyllobates terribilis). They are typical of the poison dart frogs, in that all species are colourful, and have varying degrees of toxicity. Only species of Phyllobates are used by natives of South American tribes as sources of poison for their hunting darts. The most toxic of the many poisonous alkaloids these frogs emit from their skins is batrachotoxin, but a wide number of other toxic compounds are secreted by these frogs.
Phyllobates (Ancient Greek for "leaf climber") used to contain many of the species which are now within the Ranitomeya genus. However, it now just contains those six members within the Phyllobates terribilis species group. These are:
P. lugubris species group
- Phyllobates aurotaenia (Boulenger, 1913)
- Phyllobates lugubris (Schmidt, 1857)
- Phyllobates vittatus (Cope, 1893)
P. bicolor species group
- Phyllobates bicolor (Duméril and Bibron, 1841)
- Phyllobates sp. aff. aurotaenia 
- Phyllobates terribilis (Myers, Daly, and Malkin, 1978)
All these different species within the genus exhibit a diversity in color. Some examples are, P. terribilis, with color morphs of "mint", "yellow", and "orange". P. vittatus, another example, is always black as a ground color, but can show yellow stripes, orange stripes, red stripes,(stripes of all colors can be seen in two forms, narrow- and wide-banded) and turquoise, green, or blue legs, etc. The bicolor dart frog (Phyllobates bicolor) can range from yellow to orange, from black legs to green legs, to almost a uniform color of any of the aforementioned color morphs. P. aurotaenia specimens are yellow-banded or orange. They are always smaller than P. vittatus, and beyond locality, this is the best way to differentiate between the two in the field or in the hobby.
|Wikispecies has information related to: Phyllobates|
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- Stefan Nilsson (2004), The Frog Prince-Royalty or Hallucination? Poisons of the Amphibian Skin, Bioscience Explained, http://www.bioscience-explained.org/EN2.1/pdf/grodprinseng.pdf
- Google Translate
- "Amphibian Species of the World - Phyllobates Duméril and Bibron, 1841". http://research.amnh.org/herpetology/amphibia/references.php?id=3438. Retrieved 2006-07-21.
- Cogger, H.G.; R.G. Zweifel, and D. Kirschner (2004). Encyclopedia of Reptiles & Amphibians Second Edition. Fog City Press. ISBN 1-877019-69-0.
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