Blue Poison Frog

Blue Poison Frog

[ Dendrobates azureus ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: 0.6 to 2.9 inches

1.05 ounces

WILD DIET: primarily ants, but also beetles, termites, and millipedes
ZOO DIET: fruit flies, springtails, and crickets
DISTRIBUTION: forests of southern Surinam in South America; populations are declining with the rapid loss of forest
HABITAT: moist areas around ponds and streams


Deadly Beauty

A colorful family tree
The brightly colored members of the family of poison frogs come in hues that would make an artist green with envy. Skins in brilliant reds, blues, yellows, and greens make these frogs among the most colorful of all animals. The pattern of coloration varies as well, from spots to stripes to splashes of color in great and small amounts. The blue poison frog is one of the most beautiful of them all. Blue poison frogs are found only in the rain forests of southern Surinam, a country in northern South America.

Alluring amphibians
Blue poison frogs are large compared to other members of the poison frog family. But large is a relative termin this case means an inch to just less than two inches long. All blue poison frogs are, well, blue, but these particular poison frogs have distinct color range. Depending on what part of their habitat you are in, they range from a light powder blue, to a medium sapphire, to the deepest cobaltand everything in between. Black spots on the head, and sometimes on the back, complement the blue to create a stunning appearance.

Habitat habits
Blue poison frogs are basically terrestrial, but they seek out moist environments near streams and ponds. They can be found on the undersides of leaves, in the crevices of bark, under mossanywhere it is wet enough. Like all amphibians, they have permeable, mucus-covered skin through which water escapes and enters, keeping them not too wet and not too dry. The mucus also helps frogs stick to leaves and climb branches. Along with broad pads on their toes, the mucus gives these frogs a tight seal on even the slickest surfaces.

Sitting ducks...or...frogs

The 200 or so species of poison frogs are found all over tropical South America and southern Central America. All are tiny, ranging from one-half to three inches long (1.5 to 7 centimeters). Many species are fairly drab in appearance, but nearly half are so brightly colored they cannot be missed. Why would such small and apparently harmless animals be so conspicuous in a forest full of predators? They would seem to be easy pickings for just about any hungry hunter. Actually, the bright colors of poison frogs are meant to draw attention. The poison frog’s color is a warning: "stay away, or else."

Color me deadly
Or else what? Possible death. Blue poison frogs and their colorful kin pack a poisonous punch at the merest touch. The poisons are of varying degrees of potency depending on the species. A predatory snake, cat, bird, or person only has to lick or brush up against the skin of a poison frog to receive a dose of toxic chemicals. If the toxins are absorbed into the bloodstreamand if the frog is a particularly virulent speciesthe attacker may die.

Pass the poison, please
Poison frogs do not make their own poison; they acquire it from the food they eat. Some ants and beetles have naturally occurring toxins in their bodies. When eaten and digested by a poison frog, the insect’s toxins are passed along and stored in special glands under the frog’s skin. The toxins are secreted through the skin, and take effect on an attacker if absorbed into the bloodstream. This is an especially valuable adaptation for such a bite-sized animal like a frog. More often than not, the predator rapidly moves away from a poison frog after a quick taste, leaving the amphibian unharmed. In the future, the predatorwiser for the experiencewill leave the frogs alone. Animals with color vision know that the brilliant colors of the poison frog mean trouble.

Blue poison frogs at Brookfield Zoo
Feathers and Scales is home to some beautiful blue poison frogs, along with many other fascinating species of reptiles, amphibians, and birds.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society