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The Dendrobates leucomelas snout-to-vent length ranges from 31 to 38 mm (Walls 1994). D. leucomelas is the largest species of its genus and females are usually bigger and thicker than males (Honolulu Zoo 2002). Adult frogs are black dorsally with three broad crossbands colored bright yellow, yellow-orange, or orange; black spots or blotches are often present in the crossbands as well as on the yellow or orange limbs. The belly is black and usually lacks color. All markings are variable, making each frog unique. Color pattern does not seem to be correlated with geography. D. leucomelas lacks an omosternum and the tarsal tubercle is absent or barely present (Walls 1994). Unique glandular adhesive pads are present on the toes and fingertips, helping D. leucomelas to climb and stay in stationary positions. D. leucomelas also lacks webbing on its feet. Although adult D. leucomelas have been illustrated extensively, no illustrations of this species' tadpoles exist (USGS 2002).
Dendrobates auratus is an established exotic dendrobatid in Hawaii and most closely resembles D. leucomelas (USGS 2002). However, D. auratus does not have three distinct crossbands (McKeown 1996). Due to the absence of the omosternum, D. leucomelas is considered a close relative to D. historionicus (also lacking the omosternum). But Myers and colleagues have removed D. leucomelas from the historionicus-group due to its differences in call (Walls 1994). It has also been placed in the tinctorius-group because of its similarities to others in that group with tadpole behavior, aspects of color pattern, and its resemblance to D. auratus and D. tinctorius. It has also been successfully bred with D. tinctorius and D. truncates (Walls 1994).