Dyeing poison frog (Dendrobates tinctorius)

Dyeing poison frog on moss (blue morph)
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Dyeing poison frog fact file

Dyeing poison frog description

GenusDendrobates (1)

Often said to be the most alluring of all frog species, the dyeing poison frog (Dendrobates tinctorius) has bright colouration that is thought to function as a warning to predators that it is poisonous. The dyeing poison frog is often royal blue, fading into an attractive sky blue background, peppered with both large and small black spots. Its underside is similarly patterned, and may also sport a darker stripe down the centre (2) (4).

However, multiple colour morphs of the dyeing poison frog exist, and its colouration can also vary from blue or black with yellow stripes down the back, to yellow and black, or to a pattern of blue, yellow (or white) and black (4).

This species has large, black eyes and may have a hunched or an erect body posture. The female is plumper than the male, but the sexes may be more accurately distinguished by their toes. The dyeing poison frog has four toes on each foot, with enlarged suction cup tips to each toe. In the female these tips are round whereas in males they are heart-shaped (2).

The blue morph of the dyeing poison frog was formerly classified as a separated species, Dendrobates azureus, but genetic analysis has since shown this to be the same species as Dendrobates tinctorius (5), which exists as one species with several colour morphs or potentially several subspecies.

The dyeing poison frog is named from an old legend in which native people used the frog to change (dye) the plain green feathers of parrots into red feathers. After removing the original green feathers, a secretion from the frog’s skin was supposedly rubbed onto the parrot, after which the feathers were said to grow back red (2).

Also known as
azure blue poison dart frog, blue poison frog, dyeing poison arrow frog, dyeing poison dart frog, giant poison frog.
Dendrobates azureus.
Dendrobate À Tapirer.
Length: up to 6 cm (2)
3 g (2)

Dyeing poison frog biology

Famed for the alkaloid-based poison excreted from its skin, which can paralyse or kill potential predators such as snakes and large spiders, the dyeing poison frog’s bright colouration serves as a warning that it is toxic. Its toxicity is obtained from its diet, which consists mainly of ants, although it will also consume many other arthropod species (2). The dyeing poison frog loses it toxicity in captivity since its captive diet lacks these toxic compounds (2).

Moving amongst its habitat during the day with small leaps, the dyeing poison frog is an active species, as well as being bold, aggressive, and territorial. Male dyeing poison frogs initiate breeding between February and March, calling loudly to attract females. If one or more females move towards a male, fights may ensue, with the victorious female earning the right to stroke the male’s snout and back with her forelegs in courtship. The male then leads the female to an area that is moistened in preparation for egg-laying. The female continues to stroke the male, signalling that she is ready to deposit her eggs, and stimulating the male to release his sperm (2) (4).

Between two and six eggs are laid, and are kept moist by the male. The eggs hatch after 14 to 18 days and the tadpoles are carried to water pools within plants such as bromeliads on the backs of both the male and the female. For a further two to three months, the female repeatedly returns to each tadpole and lays an unfertilised egg for the tadpole to eat. Over time the tadpoles undergo metamorphosis and develop into the adult. The dyeing poison frog becomes sexually mature at around two years old, and can live for up to six years in the wild (2) (4).


Dyeing poison frog range

The dyeing poison frog is found in the lowland forests of the Guianas (French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname) and adjacent parts of Brazil (1).


Dyeing poison frog habitat

Found on the forest floor in primary rainforest (1), the dyeing poison frog prefers to stay under the cover of rocks and moss around streams, but is sometimes seen up to five metres high in trees (4).


Dyeing poison frog status

The dyeing poison frog is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Dyeing poison frog threats

Population numbers of the dyeing poison frog are now relatively stable. However, this species previously suffered due to over-collection for the pet trade, and although it breeds easily in captivity, illegal collection may still continue (1).

Habitat loss due to destruction of its rainforest habitat is also a potential threat to the dyeing poison frog (2).


Dyeing poison frog conservation

The dyeing poison frog occurs in some protected areas throughout its range. This species breeds easily in captivity and is found in zoos around the world (1), and scientists are also studying it for the potential medicinal uses of its toxins (2). Local people are also being educated to avoid collecting this frog, so helping to preserve its wild populations (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

Find out more about the dyeing poison frog:

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A major grouping of animals that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
A relatively rapid physical change from the larval to the adult form.
One of two or more distinct types of a given species, often distinct colour forms, which occur in the same population at the same time (that is, are not geographical or seasonal variations).
Primary rainforest
Rainforest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.


  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2010)
  2. Animal Diversity Web (May, 2005)
  3. CITES (May, 2005)
  4. AmphibiaWeb (June, 2010)
  5. Wollenberg, K.C., Veith, M., Noonan, B.P. and Lötters, S. (2006) Polymorphism versus species richness - systematics of large Dendrobates from the eastern Guiana Shield (Amphibia: Dendrobatidae). Copeia, 4: 623-629.

Image credit

Dyeing poison frog on moss (blue morph)  
Dyeing poison frog on moss (blue morph)

© Kevin Schafer / www.photoshot.com

NHPA/Photoshot Holdings Ltd
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United Kingdom
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