Golden poison dart frog
Phyllobates Terribilis 01
Physical description
Binomial namePhyllobates terribilis
HabitatTropical rainforest
Lifespan8-15+ years
Average Size6.3 cm (2.4 in)
Average weight12 grams
Conservational Status
IUCN status3.1
Scientific classification
SpeciesP. terribilis
Distribution of speciesSouthwestern Colombia

The golden poison dart frog, Phyllobates terribilis, is a species of poison dart frog endemic to Colombia. It is the largest species of poison dart frog, growing as large as Bufo fowleri and is also the most toxic animal known, bar none. The optimal habitat of P. terribilis is the rainforest with high rain rates (5 m or more), temperature of at least 26 °C, and relative humidity of 80–90%.

Poison Edit

The golden poison Frog's skin is densely coated in alkaloid poison, one of a number of poisons common to dart frogs (batrachotoxins) which prevents nerves from transmitting impulses, leaving the muscles in an inactive state of contraction. This can lead to heart failure or fibrillation. Alkaloid batrachotoxins can be stored by frogs for years after the frog is deprived of a food-based source, and such toxins do not readily deteriorate, even when transferred to another surface. Chickens and dogs have died from contact with a paper towel on which a frog had walked.

Batrachotoxin is absorbed through the pores of the skin, where it makes its way into the nervous system and begins to shut the nerves down. This causes immediate severe pain, fever, and repeated electrical jolts in the fingers and toes. After forty-five seconds to one minute, siezures occur, quickly followed by paralysis and death. There is no known antidote for batrachotoxin, and it may cause death in humans in under five minutes.

The average dose carried will vary between locations, and consequent local diet, but the average wild P. terribilis is generally estimated to contain about one milligram of poison, enough to kill about 10,000 mice. This estimate will vary in turn, but most agree that this dose is enough to kill between 10 and 20 humans, which correlates to up to two African bull elephants. This is roughly 15,000 humans per gram.

This extraordinarily lethal poison is very rare. Batrachotoxin is only found in three poisonous frogs from Colombia (genus Phyllobates) and three poisonous birds from Papua New Guinea: Pitohui dichrous, Pitohui kirhocephalus and Ifrita kowaldi. Other related toxins are histrionicotoxin and Pumiliotoxin, which are found in frog species from the genera Dendrobates, Oophaga, and Ranitomeya.

Phyllobates Terribilis 02

Captive specimen.

The golden poison frog, like most other poisonous frogs, stores its poison in skin glands. P. terribilis poison kills whatever comes into direct contact with its skin, except for a snake, Liophis epinephelus. This snake is resistant to the frog's poison, but is not completely immune.

The poisonous frogs are perhaps the only creatures to be immune to this poison. Batrachotoxin attacks the sodium channels of the cells, but the frog has special sodium channels that the poison cannot harm.

Since easily purchasable foods such as fruit flies and extra-small crickets are not rich in the alkaloids required to produce batrachotoxins, captive frogs do not produce toxins and they eventually lose their toxicity in captivity. In fact, many hobbyists and herpetologists have reported that most dart frogs will not consume ants at all in captivity, though ants constitute the larger portion of their diet in the wild. This is likely due to the unavailability of the natural prey species of ants to captive frog keepers. Though all poison frogs lose their toxicity when deprived of certain foods, and captive-bred Golden Poison Frogs are born harmless, a wild-caught poison frog can retain alkaloids for years. It is not clear which prey species supplies the potent alkaloid that gives golden poison frogs their exceptionally high levels of toxicity, or whether the frogs modify another available toxin to produce a more efficient variant, as do some of the frog's cousins from the genus Dendrobates.
Proud terribilis

Captive female specimen.

Thus, the high toxicity of P. terribilis appears to be due to the consumption of small insects or other arthropods, and one of these may truly be the most poisonous creature on Earth. Scientists have suggested that the crucial insect may be a small beetle from the family Melyridae. At least one species of these beetles produces the same toxin found in P. terribilis. The beetle family Melyridae is cosmopolitan. Its relatives in Colombian rainforests could be the source of the batrachotoxins found in the highly toxic Phyllobates frogs of that region.

Description Edit

Phyllobates terribilis is the largest species of poison dart frog, with Dendrobates tinctorius, Ameerega trivittata, and the closely related Phyllobates bicolor being other examples of very large dendrobatids. The size variation between morphs and sexes is noticeable, but the largest specimens are females of the "La Brea" color morph, which can reach 6.3 centimetres (2.4 inches) long.

Unlike the black-legged poison dart frog, adult golden poison dart frogs are always solidly coloured, with no black on their bodies. Newly metamorphosed froglets are black peppered with dark yellowish green. As they grow, the black mimimizes, and vanishes entirely by about twelve months of age. The frog has tiny adhesive disks in its toes which aid climbing of plants. It also has a bone plate in the lower jaw, which gives the frog the appearance of having teeth, a distinctive feature not observed in the other species of the Phyllobates genus.

P. terribilis comes in three morphs:


Giant lime terribilis

P. terribilis "Yellow".

The yellow morph of Phyllobates terribilis is the reason it has the common name golden poison dart frog. Yellow terribilis are found in Quebrada Guangui, Colombia. These frogs can be pale yellow to a deep, golden yellow color. A frog sold under the name "Gold terribilis" was once believed to be a deeper yellow terribilis. However, genetic tests have proven these frogs to be a uniform colored morph of Phyllobates bicolor.


While not as common as the other two morphs, orange terribilis exist in Colombia as well. They tend to be a metallic orange or yellow-orange color, with varying intensity

Mint greenEdit

This morph exists in the La Brea area of Colombia and is the most common form seen in captivity. The name mint green is actually rather misleading as the frogs of this morph can be metallic green, pale green, or white. Females of this morph are believed to be the largest dendrobatids on Earth.

Habitat Edit

Orange Terribilis

Captive female specimen in an artificial canopy.

The optimal habitat of P. terribilis is rainforest with high rain rates (5 m or more), altitude between 100–200 m, temperature of at least 26 °C, and relative humidity of 80–90%. Unlike some other poison dart frogs, golden poison dart frogs require a relatively constant high humidity.

Phyllobates terribilis is more arboreal than many poison dart frogs. It typically lives on plants up to 2.5 metres (8 feet) from the ground, though it will descend to the leaf litter to feed on occasion. Altough they are at home on plants, terribilis are also comfortable on the ground and will move about in search of food. Unlike many other poison dart frogs, terribilis do not require bromeliads to reproduce.

Diet Edit

Cuddling Terribilis

Two P. terribilis "Mint" on a branch.

The main natural sources of food of P. terribilis are the ants in the genera Brachymyrmex and Paratrechina, but many kinds of insects and other small invertebrates can be devoured, specifically termites and beetles, which can easily be found on the rainforest floor. This frog is considered the most voracious of the dendrobatids.

In captivity, the frog is fed with Drosophila fruit flies, cochineals and crickets (Gryllidae), the larvae of various inse vbccts, and other small live invertebrate foods. An adult frog can eat food items much larger in relation to its size than most other dendrobatids. Tadpoles will feed on algae, mosquito larvae, and other edible material that may be present in their nursery. Unlike other Phyllobates spp., terribilis tadpoles are somewhat versatile feeders. l

Use by humans Edit

Poison dart frog

Collecting poison from a wild specimen.

P. terribilis is a very important frog to the local indigenous cultures, such as the Choco Emberá people in Colombia's rainforest. The frog is the main source of the poison in the darts used by the natives to hunt their food.

The Emberá people have an efficient strategy of using the terribilis that they capture. The frogs are caught and pinned with a bamboo stal. Then, a blowdart is gently wiped across the frog's back, which can then be used for up to two years. Some tribes keep groups of captured frogs in woven baskets until all of them have been used. This strategy is risky, however, and several Emberá have supposedly died from accidentally touching the golden poison frogs

Behaviour Edit

Terribilis group

A trio of golden poison frogs.

P. terribilis is considered to be one of the most intelligent anurans. Like all poison dart frogs, captive terribilis can recognize human caregivers after exposure of a few weeks. Terribilis are also extremely successful tongue hunters, using their long, adhesive tongues to catch food, and almost never miss a strike. This success at tongue-hunting implies better brainpower and resolution on eyesight than some other frogs. Golden poison frogs are curious, bold, and seemingly aware of the fact that they are next to invulnerable, making no attempt to conceal themselves and actually flaunting their beautiful colors to intimidate potential predators.

Golden poison frogs are social animals. Wild specimens typically live in groups of four to seven (average six); captive frogs can be kept in groups of 10 or even 15, although groups that rise past that number are extremely susceptible to aggression and disease. Like all poison dart frogs, terribilis are rarely aggressive towards members of their own species; however occasional minor squabbles may occur between members of the group. Being immune to their poison, golden poison frogs interact constantly with each other. They communicate not only with their calls, but also with gestures. Push-up movements are a sign of dominance, while lowered heads seem to signal submission.

thumb|300px|right|Captive male specimen calling. Like all members of the genera Phyllobates, Dendrobates, and Ranitomeya, family groups of golden poison dart frogs gather together in large breeding gatherings once or twice per year. While peaceful towards other terribilis at other times, the male frogs can be formidibly aggressive while competing for a breeding space. Females will remain fairly calm throughout this ordeal. Courtship for the golden poison frog is similar to that of the green and black poison dart frog. Its call consists of a rapid series of high-pitched squeaks. Golden poison frogs are notable for being extremely tactile during courtship, each partner stroking their mate's head, back, flanks, and clocal areas before mating.

Terribilis are dedicated parents. The golden poison frogs lay their eggs on the ground, hidden beneath the leaf litter. Once the tadpoles emerge from their eggs, they stick themselves to the mucus on the backs of their parents. The adult frogs carry their young into the canopy, depositing them in the pools of water that accumulate in the centre of water-filled tree hollows. The tadpoles feed on algae and mosquito larvae in the bromeliad, and their mother will even supplement their diet by laying infertile eggs into the water for the tadpoles to eat. Unlike with Oophaga pumilio, however, terribilis tadpoles can thrive on other foods and do not require their mother to feed them eggs. Once the tadpoles develop into froglets, their parents lead them to the group in which one parent, usually the female, lived. The young are accepted by all members of the group, but remain in close proximity to their parents until sexual maturity.

In captivity Edit

2 Terribilis

Two captive specimens.

Like the other poison dart frogs, Phyllobates terribilis is harmless when raised away from its natural food source. They are a popular rainforest vivarium subject and are somewhat easier to feed than some dart frogs. Larger species of fruit flies, small crickets, waxworms, small mealworms, termites, and phoenix worms can be used if supplemented with calcium and other minerals. The temperature should be in the low to mid 20s (°C). They are sensitive to high heat and suffer from a condition called "wasting syndrome" if overheated for too long. They require high humidity as they come from one of the world's most humid rainforests. P. terribilis is not as territorial as most dart frogs and can successfully be kept in groups. However, they require a slightly larger enclosure due to their adult size, similar to the enclosure size used for Dendrobates tinctorius. Occasional disputes may occur, but injuries are rare, and deaths have not been reported as the result of such conflicts.

Photo Gallery Edit

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