Hoppin' Happenings: Poison Dart Frogs!

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 dart frogs!

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

Beautiful blues


A crab for the cuttlefish

A beautiful broadclub cuttlefish is currently stalking our cuttlefish exhibit. It is fed an assortment of seafoods, including live crabs now and then. Recently a staff member had their phone recording video during afternoon snack. Take a look at this cool behind-the-scenes video!

[Check out our Behind-the-Scenes Tours if you want another perspective on our exhibits—like this one.] 

While it takes about a half-hour to eat a fish, it may take the cuttlefish more than an hour to devour the crab because of its crusty exoskeleton. The aquarist usually find only the carapace and a few legs after the meal.

The way cuttlefish capture their prey is pretty fascinating to watch, too, but it happens so fast! We actually have some spectacular slow-motion footage that shows exactly how a cuttlefish (a common cuttlefish, in this case) nabs its meal. Watch how this cunning cephalopod captures its food with two retractable tentacles, then pulling it into the grasp of eight waiting suction cupped arms.

This footage was taken by photographer Keith Ellenbogen at 500 frames per second, about 17 times slower than it occurs to the naked eye. A typical video camera records at about 30 frames per second.

The broadclub cuttlefish noshing on its crab snack

With your new appreciation for cuttlefish, look for these invertebrates in their Level 1 exhibit here at the Aquarium. Whether they're changing color or hunting, they never cease to amaze! And if you're interested in behind-the-scenes perspectives like in the video on this post, check out our Behind-the-Scenes Tours!