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How Do Poison Dart Frogs Attack Their Prey?

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Often beautiful and brilliantly colored, poison frogs live throughout South America and parts of Central America. Several species have such toxic skin that native tribes would coat their darts with the frogs’ secretions to poison their enemies. Both their poisons and their vividly colored skins serve as defenses against predators, while the frogs rely on stealth when they hunt.


Poison frogs hunt during the daytime, using their keen vision to spot prey. Researchers have discovered that the eyes of one species, strawberry frogs, even have cones and rods that let them discern different colors, according to the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web. Their acute sight not only helps them find food, but also allows them to identify potential mates.


Like other frogs, poison frogs have long tongues fastened at the front of their mouths and covered with a sticky substance that helps them catch prey. When they spot a delicious-looking insect, the tongue darts out and snags the food. Then it rolls back into the frog’s mouth, where it remains coiled until the next prey wanders past.


In the wild, poison frogs eat a variety of invertebrates, including ants, beetles, centipedes, crickets, spiders and termites. Some species primarily dine on certain types of ants or beetles, while others have a more generalized diet. Zoos often feed their poison frogs crickets and fruit flies.


Poison frogs derive their name from the toxins they secrete in their skin. Most species actually aren’t dangerous to people, although a few, like the golden dart frog, are so toxic that just touching them can be fatal. Scientists have learned that the frogs absorb poison from their prey. Some bugs produce their own toxins, while others ingest poisons from some of the plants they eat. In either case, the frog assimilates the poison into its glands, rather than being adversely affected. In captivity, where they eat different insects than they'd encounter in the wild, many frogs either lose or never develop toxicity.