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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).
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Bolívar W., S. Lötters. 2004. Phyllobates terribilis. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
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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.
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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.