Jewel in the Jungle – Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs

I picked my way through the soupy jungle air, flinching at the tinnitus whine of mosquitos. A guide from the Salt Creek indigenous community squelched a couple of steps ahead of me. We had just spent time watching the murderous eyes of a Caiman glide across the surface of a forest lake. The guide turned to me and said “Now I want try to find a red frog to show you” I responded with “oh, ok, great!” We had encountered so much incredible wildlife on the trail that I already felt blessed, but what I really wanted to say was “YES! YES! That is what I want to see, in fact it is the reason I’m here! This isn’t just a red frog! It is a Strawberry Poison Dart Frog!”

The mangrove highway to Salt Creek on Bastimentos

I remember seeing Strawberry poison dart frogs in a shop in London, maybe 35 years ago. I wanted to buy a pair so badly, but I also knew that we couldn’t hope to afford them, and even if we could mum wasn’t going to trust a 10 year old with a poison dart frog. The memory of this encounter had stuck with me though, and I was excited to be in the rainforest where they live, on the emerald Panamanian island of Bastimentos.

I had heard the trill of a frog deep in the undergrowth earlier in the hike. The sound came again and the guide confirmed that the distant sound was a red frog. Our challenge was not insignificant; the jungle is vast and at 17 to 22 mm (0.69–0.87 in) in length the diminutive frog would be a vibrant needle in a prodigious haystack.

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The rainforest path was strewn with fallen red berries from the overhanging trees. For the first few meters of the trail I had felt my heart skip every time I saw a berry. But the berries weren’t frogs. We stood listening to the trilling coming from the dense undergrowth and took a few steps towards it. Suddenly I saw a red berry jump. Then it jumped again, and again. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not only was I looking at a Strawberry poison dart frog, but I had spotted it myself. I pulled out my iPhone and took a snap, to prove to myself that I’d seen it. I slipped the phone in my pocket and fixed the macro lens to my camera.

An iPhone snap taken just to prove to myself that I had seen a Red Frog

 

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Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

By this time the frog was working its way up a tree trunk. It stopped to rest on a leaf before continuing its journey upwards. I clicked just a few shots, not wanting to stress the frog, as macro takes a little longer to set and focus. I knew I had a couple of decent shots and was delighted to have made this encounter. The guide spoke with me about the colour variations of this species and we also discussed the frogs unique skin. Consuming the Strawberry poison dart may well be fatal, however they are not as toxic as many of their cousins. There are no records of humans dying as a result of contact with this species, but there are certainly records of frogs dying after contact with humans. Their skin is especially susceptible to hands that have traces of mosquito repellent.

The conservation status of the Strawberry poison dart frog is currently listed as Least Concern. This is encouraging as we have seen population fluctuation due to habitat destruction and collection for the pet trade. The establishment of Central American breeding farms for the pet trade and a move by garden and land owners to encourage frog habitats has resulted in a stabilization over recent years.

Any article about this fascinating frog must mention its unusual breeding habits. The frog breeds throughout the year, laying about 5 eggs at a time in damp leaf litter. The parents return to the eggs each day. The male keeps them moist by peeing on them until they hatch. When they hatch the female carries the tadpoles, one at a time, on her back into the trees, where she deposits them into the pool of water in the heart of bromeliad plants. One tadpole per plant.

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Bromeliad plants growing high in the rainforest

These plant pools contain algae and insects as a food source, but the female returns to each plant daily and deposits a few infertile eggs into the pool as a source of protein for the tadpoles. She does this for around 50 days, until fully developed mini frogs leave their tree-top pools and strike out into the jungle.

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The permanent pools in the bromeliad
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A red morph Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

A little further down the trail we found another Red Frog. This time a slightly different colour morph, that was almost completely red, except for socks, gloves and a white underbelly. The frog carried on its way up a tree trunk, giving me a chance to fire off a couple more shots before he climbed out of reach. I love how the macro lens picks up the detail of the textured skin.

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I wish I could have spent a whole day in that jungle, watching and photographing Red Frogs. The chance to see a poison dart frog in the wild seemed so remote to me as a child. I had now seen my second species in the space of a week. I’d like to say that my thirst has been quenched, but in truth I have spent way too much time studying poison frog distribution maps since I returned home.

Now, where can I see the Blue poison dart frog…

 

 Join the conversation below. Have you encountered poison dart frogs? Where did you see them?  Maybe you have encountered a species that you have wanted to see since childhood?👇👇👇

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68 Comments

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  1. How incredible! The way the female Red Frog takes care of her young is quite remarkable.

    Also, this is a deceptively beautiful frog. Without knowing how toxic they are, one might be tempted to catch and hold them.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Hi Josh, thanks for the comment! I agree, it is an unusual devotion to duty when we consider the size of the frog and the need to visit several different plants, that are situated high up in tall trees, for 50 days. That is real work!
      As you know, anytime you pick up anything in a tropical rainforest you are at risk of being stung, bitten or poisoned. That includes the plants!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Haha yep, it was drilled into me in the jungle to never touch anything! Over time one learns which plants are less dangerous than others to grab hold of, however. But that can only be learned by spending time in the jungle with an experienced guide.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You are such a great story teller David! I love this beautiful frog. I’ve only seen a poison dart from on two occasions – on in Costa Rica in 2007 and one in Peru in 2013 – both were the green stripped variety. I would love to see and photography a strawberry one some day – they are beautiful!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you so much, Kerri! I really appreciate that encouraging feedback. I also saw the Green & Black species in Panama (see previous post). I think all the poison dart frogs are wonders of the natural world, beautiful, deadly and with secrets contained within their skin that may hold many benefits to humans. I hope you get a chance to photograph a few more species.

      Like

  3. Amazing shots and I enjoyed reading about this fulfilling experience. Not quite as niche but I felt similarly about seeing my first polar bears in the wild last year, and I can also recall finding it extremely difficult to contain my inner child at the time.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for the kind words. Very encouraging! 🙏😊 I’m thrilled that you got to see a polar bear. That is certainly something that I hope to do and I anticipate having similar problems in containing my inner child if I ever see one! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What an encounter! Great images too, David!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. You really know how to draw a reader into your story. Wonderful descriptions of the scene and what is happening with you and the guide. I like the detailed information about the frogs, and your explanation about your history with them. Great photos, too!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Right from the beginning I’m with you in the jungle, reminded of my own time in the Amazon and our guide pointing out two different poison dart frogs. Fabulous photos! You really brought the experience to life.
    Alison

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Wonderul! What color! And love the name, “Strawberry poison dart frog” – has a bit of an oxymoron feel to it (though there certainly could be poisonous strawberries I’m not aware of”) Thank you for such up close shots and always for the education. Appreciate your enthusiasm and sharing, David – thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. David, you always write so wonderfully, telling your experience in such a way I really enjoy reading the world through your eyes. Beautiful photographs as always. Can’t wait to read the next experience you write down for us 😊

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Glad you survived the encounter!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I never thought of frogs as beautiful but these pictures are stunning and they really are! Thank you for sharing! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  11. David, I’m not into frogs but spent a lot of time in Panama as a kid and am preparing to go back via sailboat. Great story, love human exploration. We write about sailing, travel with kids and adventure travel-

    http://www.LiveFree2SailFast.com

    Liked by 3 people

  12. My new favorite blog! Your pictures are incredible. Sounds like such an adventure. I’m envious! Where I live, the only kind of frog you ever see are big behemoth-like bull frogs. The reds are beautiful!

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Hi, I really enjoyed your photographs and your script. You made me feel as if I was there. Excellent article, thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. These pictures are awesome! I’m curious as to what your now-adult thoughts are in regards to keeping frogs like these as pets.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you so much! I really appreciate the kind comment. That is a great question! I might answer it in two ways. Firstly, I would be totally against keeping wild caught specimens as pets. As we get older we understand a little more about the world and our impact on it and I now shudder at the thought of them being caught for the pet trade. There is a large captive breeding program for the pet trade. This program has no doubt released the pressure on wild caught specimens which has to be good. Maybe one day we will be thankful for this captive program for re-populating the wild. That said, I am no longer a pet owner. What are your views on the matter?

      Like

  15. What a beautiful page and wonderful story and the excitement, I heard the little boy come through your story. What a beautiful frog. I also love the blue, yellow and I think is another color other than red frogs.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. What stunning images and a great adventure.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. Incredible story.
    What a mother won’t do for her babies.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Very tiny frog….almost like a drop of blood on a leaf.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Hate using this word but it definitely applies here–AMAZING photos of the strawberry poison dart frog. HOW COOL!

    Liked by 5 people

  20. Cool little frog. As soon as I saw that vibrant color, I knew it was dangerous.

    Liked by 4 people

  21. Gorgeous images, and fascinating information, especially about parenting. I don’t know that peeing on the kids warrants kudos for Dad, however necessary, but I am hugely impressed with Mom’s devoted parenting. May these beautiful little jewels long survive humanity. Thanks for providing a window into their lives.

    Liked by 4 people

  22. Amazing to learn about the impeccable ways of mother nature.

    Beautiful shot of the frog that shows the textured skin and the leg stretched out front.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. These pictures are amazing! The frog has a beautiful color. I love your blog. You do a great job keeping your readers engaged!

    Liked by 4 people

  24. HI David,
    Than you so much for your post, It was a welcome break from my uni work on blogging about education. I am a particular fan of the tree frogs in the Amazon and I managed to capture a great shot of one coming out from a small piece of bamboo in Cambodia( not sure of type, but tiny weee feela). After looking at your page and all the different tecnocoular beautys out there I am deeply in ore of your talent to finding and taking such beautiful shots.

    Liked by 4 people

  25. Hi David
    Thank you so much for making my wish come true!I have wanted to see a red poison dart frog for years

    Liked by 3 people

  26. Good article. Well done

    Liked by 3 people

  27. That is one bad looking frog! Great shots!

    Liked by 2 people

  28. David! Wow – I learn something new everyday! What a delight to run across this post. The world is so special with its creatures and colors. Always thought the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog could kill a human by just touching them, but you’ve debunked this to be the opposite, specifically with hands covered in mosquito repellant. The more we understand how we put these precious living things in danger and how to avoid that, the better chance we have at preserving the beauty and life of our planet. Thanks for sharing and educating the masses! ✌️

    Liked by 3 people

  29. I’ve trekked couple of trails , but I’m hearing red berry frog for the first time 🐸😀 I would wish to encounter one soon

    Liked by 4 people

  30. visual and writing magnificent 😮 The red frog looks very cool.😂Thank you 😀

    Liked by 4 people

  31. It’s very difficult to develop relationship with wildlife.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Are you having any photograph of that Caiman?
    If yes, I would love to see it

    Liked by 3 people

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