Study Finds Conspicuousness of Poison Dart Frog's Color Pattern Corresponds to its Toxicity

Posted on January 5, 2012

Strawberry Poison Dart Frog from Isla Bastimentos

A new study shows that in the case of at least one dart frog species, the more conspicuous the color, the more poisonous the frog. Researchers Martine Maan (University of Groningen, the Netherlands) and Molly Cummings (University of Texas) studied strawberry poison dart frogs, which are native to Panama. These frogs come in more than a dozen different color patterns which vary from region to region.

Maan and Cummings tested the toxicity levels of 10 differently colored frog populations. Then using known properties of birds' visual systems, the researchers estimated how each color pattern would look to a bird. Birds are a major predator of frogs so it is important the frogs get the message across that they are poisonous. The researchers found that frogs with more conspicuous color patterns (as seen by birds) tended to be more toxic. Maan says the findings suggest that "birds can predict the toxicity of frogs by looking at their colors, possibly better than the frogs can themselves."

The article appears in the January 2012 issue of The American Naturalist.

Strawberry Poison Dart Frog Colorations

Photos: Martine Maan

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