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 โ€œNow I want try to find a red frog to show youโ€ I responded with โ€œoh, ok, great!โ€ We had encountered so much incredible wildlife on the trail that I already felt blessed, but what I really wanted to say was โ€œYES! YES! That is what I want to see, in fact it is the reason Iโ€™m here! This isnโ€™t just a red frog! It is a Strawberry Poison Dart Frog!โ€

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 couldnโ€™t hope to afford them, and even if we could mum wasnโ€™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 22ย mm (0.69โ€“0.87ย 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 werenโ€™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 couldnโ€™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 Iโ€™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…

 

ย Join the conversation below. Have you encountered poison dart frogs? Where did you see them?ย  Maybe you have encountered a species that you have wanted to see since childhood?๐Ÿ‘‡๐Ÿ‘‡๐Ÿ‘‡

Connect others with wildlife by sharing this post on social media and,ย If you enjoyed this post, please follow Incidental Naturalist.

Categories: Central AmericaTags: , , , , , , , , , ,

David

I am a wildlife blogger and world traveler, using images & stories to inspire wild connections.

111 Comments

    • 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 5 people

  1. 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 7 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.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for the kind words. Very encouraging! ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ˜Š Iโ€™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! ๐Ÿ˜Š

      Liked by 4 people

  2. 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 6 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?

      Liked by 2 people

  3. 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 5 people

    • Thank you for the fantastic comment and kind words, Cate! ๐Ÿ™ I say thanks, but youโ€™ve kind of spoiled the magic of dadโ€™s devoted parenting for me… ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ

      Like

  4. Liz

    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 5 people

    • Oh wow, Liz this is a lovely comment. Thank you so much! ๐Ÿ™ Congrats on capturing a frog photo in the jungle. Getting clear photos in a dark rainforest of a moving animal is really quite difficult. I have to delete more than I keep. ๐Ÿ˜

      Liked by 3 people

  5. 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! โœŒ๏ธ

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Yes, I just encountered one in a French novella I just read! Well, it was the Phyllobates terribilis or the Golden Poison Frog.

    I just wrote a review of it yesterday, which I’ll link below in case you or any of your readers are interested in a short black comedy novella by the French author Antoine Laurain, which has just been translated into English.

    Smoking Kills by Antoine Laurain – featuring a poison frog!

    Liked by 1 person

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