Are Poison Dart Frogs Dangerous?

Given their seemingly self-explanatory name, one would assume that poison dart frogs are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. But is this true?

Jul 29, 2023By Abigail van der Hoeven
are poison dart frogs dangerous

Poison dart frogs vary in size and color, but all have one thing in common at least. They are poisonous. Poison dart frogs secrete noxious chemicals from small glands that cover their skin. They do not have teeth or fangs and do not bite. Their poison is transferred via touch or ingestion. They do not attack like venomous snakes or spiders might since their toxins are passively transferred. So where do these frogs live, and how dangerous are they really to humans?

Where do Poison Dart Frogs Live?

red blue frog

Poison dart frog species live in the deep tropical forests of Central and South America. Most species prefer living near the rainforest floor, close to rivers, streams, ponds, or other water sources. A few species will live nearly exclusively in the treetops, only coming down to breed and lay eggs.

What do Poison Dart Frogs Look Like?

blue black frog

Most species of poison dart frog are small, not getting to be much bigger than one inch long. Poison frogs come in a huge variety of very bright colors. While some frogs would use camouflage to hide from predators, the poison dart frog uses its bright skin to warn other creatures that it is poisonous and to stay away. Poison dart frogs can be red, yellow, orange, green, purple, pink, blue, copper, silver, gold, white, and black.

How Dangerous Are Poison Dart Frogs?

green frog red eyes

Not all the species that would get lumped into the poison dart frog term are toxic species. And even of those that are toxic, even fewer are fatal to humans. Dart frogs are most poisonous when they are consumed, and only a few are dangerous when touched. However, one of the most poisonous animals on earth is a poison frog, so it would always be better to be safe than sorry.

The toxin of most poison frogs attacks the nervous system and can result in swelling, nausea, paralysis, convulsions, muscle contractions, salivating, and possibly death if touched or swallowed. They are full of bitter alkaloids that encourage any creature that would try to eat them to spit them out immediately. There are no effective treatments or antidotes for poison frog toxin.

One of the most potent ways poison frog toxin is used is via blowdart. This is where the poison dart frogs get their name. Some indigenous people in Colombia will dip darts in the poisonous frog secretions for hunting. Because the poison can be injected directly into the bloodstream via a dart, anything shot with a blowdart could die in a matter of minutes.

Poison Dart Frogs in Captivity

blue yellow black frog

Did you know that poison dart frogs kept in captivity are not poisonous at all? This is because it is hypothesized that poison dart frogs get their toxicity from their diet. In the wild, poison dart frogs eat insects like tiny beetles, centipedes, termites, and formicine ants, which are or can be toxic. In captivity, dart frogs are fed fruit flies, crickets, bean beetles, and other harmless insects. This means that poison dart frogs in zoos can be handled safely and without worry, since they have had no exposure to toxins in their diet.

What is the Most Poisonous Frog?

orange frog

The most poisonous frog is the Golden Poison Frog. This bright yellow frog is found in a tiny area of rainforest in Colombia. It is a bit bigger than most poison dart frogs, measuring about 2.2 inches long. The golden poison frog is one of the most poisonous animals on the planet. The poison of the skin of just one frog is enough to kill 10 adult humans. Even touching this frog isn’t safe, much less consuming it. While this frog is plentiful in its little corner of the jungle, it is still considered an endangered species. This is because the threat to rainforests and the loss of habitat could rapidly cause the extinction of this species.


yellow black frog

Poison dart frogs are spectacular frogs. With so many colors and species, they bring something special and beautiful to their natural habitats. The modified toxins of some poison dart frogs may soon provide medical benefits to humans too. These medicines may treat pain, heart, and circulatory conditions. However, these frogs need to be protected and preserved too. Their natural habitats are diminishing, and with them, the population of all creatures that depend on the rainforests and jungles of Central and South America.

If you ever find yourself in the tropical frosts of these countries and see these bright frogs, remember their colors are a warning. Look, do not touch. You can also go and appreciate these stunning species in many zoos and aquariums where they can be observed a bit more safely. They are nature’s living confetti and worth all our admiration and attempts at preservation.

Abigail van der Hoeven
By Abigail van der Hoeven

Abigail grew up with many pets, from a sweet Golden Retriever to raising her school of tadpoles. She has three years of experience writing for the animal and pet niche. She has a lifetime of hands-on experience with all animals, including dogs, cats, birds, fish, rabbits, frogs, and more. She has three adorable guinea pigs: Guinevere, Tater Tot, and the most recent addition - baby Duncan! Abigail enjoys being outside, writing fiction, or kicking it back with a good tv comedy.