Poison dart frogs are members of the Dendrobatidae family which include some of the world’s most poisonous species. Only three have the toxin that is deadly for humans, one of these is the golden poison dart frog (Phyllobates terribilis).
With poison 20 times more toxic than the other species, it is also the most lethal. Its skin has enough poison to kill 10 grown men or 20,000 mice in less than an hour.
The skin of the golden poison frog is soaked in batrachotoxins, one of the most toxic natural substances known. It is an extremely potent poison which weakens the heart and affects the normal activity of the nervous system causing heart failure. Once the golden dart frog is touched, the alkaloid poison penetrates the skin pores and cause intense body pain, severe fever, seizure and paralysis.
Despite their toxin, these amphibians are part of the diet of the non-poisonous Amazon ground snake. Although not completely immune, the snake is resistant to the frog’s poison.
For centuries the indigenous Emberá people of Columbia used poison dart frogs for hunting by rubbing the tip of their blowgun darts with the poisonous secretions from their skin, hence their common name.
The golden poison dart frog is called by many as the most poisonous animal; some also refer to them as the most poisonous vertebrate.
Although scientists are not sure what makes these frogs extremely poisonous, they suggested that it is probably due to the frog’s diet which include arthropods and insects. One of these insects is a small beetle from the Melyridae family which may probably be the most poisonous animal. At least one species of these beetles have been found to produce the same toxin found in P. terribilis and also on three poisonous birds whose diets also include the said insects. Added to that is the fact that poison dart frogs raised in captivity do not contain the detectable amounts of the toxin which means that dendrobatids do not produce the alkaloids in their bodies but rather get them from their diets.
Since scientific field work is restricted in Colombia, scientists cannot continue on their research for the dietary origin of the toxin on the frogs.
As a result of habitat loss, these beautiful animals and other dendrobatids are on the brink of extinction.