Central America and South America


Rain forest

Here I am—don’t eat me!

Poison frogs are known as the jewels of the rain forest and come in just about every color combination you can think of: red and black, yellow and green, orange and silver, blue and yellow, green and black, pink and silver. Their sparkling colors, however, are not for beauty but for warning: “Hey! Here I am, and I am poisonous, so don’t even think about eating me!”

Look, but don’t touch!

Poison frogs are tiny, terrestrial, diurnal frogs that live primarily in leaf litter on the forest floor, but some species live high in the forest canopy and may never come down. All are native to warm Central and South American rain forests near streams or ponds. The frogs’ poison is found in their skin, making them too toxic to touch.

While most species are considered toxic but not deadly, they are distasteful to a predator and can even be fatal. The poison can cause serious swelling, nausea, and muscular paralysis. If a predator survives the mistake of trying to eat one, it will remember tasting such a frog and will not try to eat anything similar in the future. In this way, an entire population of frogs of a particular color can benefit from the predator’s experience with only one of their kind. However, there is one snake, the Leimadophis epinephelus, that is immune to poison frog toxins and feeds on the little creatures.

Poison frogs can be confused with mantellas, which are also small and brightly colored but are less poisonous and are native to Madagascar.
The golden poison frog is considered to be the most poisonous animal in the world, producing enough nerve toxin at once to kill 10 humans.
The frogs' Latin family name, Dendrobatidae, means “one who walks in the trees.”
Dyeing poison frogs get their name from a legend about indigenous peoples using the frog to change a parrot’s feathers from green to red or yellow.

Although the San Diego Zoo began in 1916, we had no frogs at all until 1968. Today, the Zoo has a reptile, amphibian, and California native species area called Reptile Walk, which opened in July 2012. The new exhibits gives guests the opportunity to view tiny poison frogs as well as other wonderfully unique amphibians up close.

The Zoo currently has green and black poison frogs, dyeing poison frogs, splash back poison frogs, and black-legged poison frogs on exhibit in Reptile Walk. Hop on over to see them!

Hear from our herpetology experts in our Reptile and Amphibian blog.

Can you imagine are world without frogs? While some poison frog populations are considered stable, their populations aren’t large, and their habitats are rapidly shrinking. These fascinating and beautiful little frogs are threatened by loss of their rain forest habitat and by over-collection for the pet trade. The blue poison frog has become a very popular pet in the U.S., due to its dramatic coloring. Thousands have been smuggled into pet shops all over the world, causing a swift decline in the wild population.

Another major threat to these tiny frogs is disease. One of those diseases is called chytrid fungus. It grows on the skin of adult frogs and essentially suffocates them, because they’re unable to absorb water and oxygen through their skin. San Diego Zoo Global’s scientists have been working with other scientists to survey and document the impact of chytrid in Panama. So far, they have not found that poison frogs are greatly impacted by the fungus. However, it is spreading to new areas and at some point, the poison frogs may need rescuing, too.

Biologists consider frogs to be one of the major “canaries in the coal mine,” as frogs are extremely sensitive to small changes in their environment. Disappearing species are good indicators to researchers that climate change is having an effect on the Earth’s ecology.