Animals have different ways of protecting themselves in the
wild. Some are masters of camouflage, blending in with their surroundings until
they are practically invisible. There are some animals, however, that
advertise their presence with bright patterns or colors…just like our poison
I see you!
Located on the third floor of the Aquarium, our Poison Dart
Frog exhibit has four different species of brightly-colored amphibians. Seen hopping
around or sticking to the glass, the species
showcased are found throughout the rain forests and humid lowlands of South
America, including places like Brazil, French Guiana, Venezuela, and Colombia.
To make it seem like home, the exhibit has live plants, “rains” and has a
constantly running water feature to keep it nice and humid.
Home Sweet Exhibit
Among the green vegetation of the exhibit, it’s easy to
pick out the vibrant yellow, cobalt blue, lime green and deep black patterns
that these species wear so well. But why the bright colors? Animals that stand
out from their environment are often warning other animals that messing with
them will end in bad news! These brightly colored or patterned animals may be venomous (like
lionfish), have a foul odor (like skunks) or be poisonous to eat. As you might
guess by their common name, poison dart frogs have a toxin on their skin that
makes them non-palatable to other animals.
How many frogs do you see?
So where does that toxin come from? The frogs don’t create
their own toxin but rather gather it from the food that they eat. In the wild,
the frogs would eat various insects that have the toxin. The more insects they
eat, the more toxin the frogs bioaccumulate and transfer to their skin. And while the Aquarium’s frogs
continue to have the same bright colors as their wild counterparts, the frogs
here aren’t actually poisonous!
Instead of insects they would eat in the wild, we grow fruit
fries for the frogs to eat. Yup, the same fruit flies that bother the overripe
bananas you left on the kitchen counter. The flies have none of the toxin so
thus the frogs can’t accumulate it. And thank goodness! Different species have
different toxins of varying levels of potency, with many of the toxins causing
such symptoms as general pain, cramping, partial paralysis, heart complications
or even death!
Fruit flies for lunch
These toxins and symptoms may seem extreme, but important
research is being done to see how they work! Scientists have made synthetic
versions that show promise as painkillers, muscle relaxants and heart
stimulants. So there are lots to learn from these species! It’s important to
keep their environment healthy and preserve these animals for future
generations. In the meantime, spread the word about these amazing amphibians. March 20th is World Frog Day according to some calendars, so it's the perfect time to hop over to the Aquarium to see these petite purveyors of potent pigments