The Poison-Arrow Frog and the Bromeliad

You probably know about the life cycle of most frogs. They lay eggs in water. Little tadpoles hatch from the eggs. The tadpoles continue to live in the water until they develop into frogs. But the life cycle of the poison-arrow frog has a few unusual twists!

For one thing, this frog lays its eggs on land. The female deposits a few eggs in a cluster of jelly under a leaf or in a small burrow in the ground. After the male frog fertilizes them, he guards them until they hatch into tadpoles. Then the tiny tadpoles wiggle onto their mother's back, so that she can carry them to a water-filled bromeliad that she has chosen for their home. The journey may take several days if she climbs high into the forest canopy.

The poison-arrow frog drops the tadpoles into the rainwater in the bromeliad, each tadpole in a separate tiny pool that has collected between the leaves of the plant. The tadpoles feed on algae and mosquito larvae, but to be sure they have food, the female frog returns again and again to deposit a single unfertilized egg in the water for each tadpole. After 6 - 8 weeks, the tadpoles emerge as frogs and return to the forest floor.

Try This!

Blue jeans frog

"Blue jeans" poison dart frog

Photo credit: Sonya Prather

Draw a picture of a frog. Color it to look like a poison-arrow frog. Most of the frog is red. Its front legs and feet are blue from the "elbow" down. Its back legs are blue up to its "waist." Its eyes are deep brown.

Or catch a frog in the area where you live. Look at it closely, especially its marking and coloring. Then color your picture to look like the frog you caught. (Release your frog in the same place where you found it.)

Rainforest Journal

One day we set out with a favorite guide, Miguel, to find the poison-arrow frog. We traveled in a small motor boat through canals and rivers that penetrate the rainforest. Miguel, a young man who grew up in the small village of Parismina, knows the forest and its waterways the way we know our backyard.

One minute we were speeding over the water with our hair flying in our faces and the hot equator-sun burning our shoulders, and the next minute we had swerved across the wide river to land. We followed a narrow trail into the shadowy darkness of the forest.

At a particular spot in the forest, Miguel directed us to stop for a picnic.

While we unpacked sandwiches and drinks, he disappeared into the jungle. When he returned, like a magician, he produced several tiny red frogs "wearing blue jeans." These were the poison-arrow frogs. I took one in my hand to look at it more closely. But then I had to walk back to the river to wash my hands before finishing my lunch. The poison-arrow frog, so tiny it could easily sit on a penny, has a deadly poison in its skin. For ages, forest people have tipped their hunting arrows with the poison.

Later we walked farther into the forest, where we could easily spot the little red and blue frogs sitting on green leaves or climbing tree trunks. Their bright colors -- red, blue, yellow, or orange -- warn their enemies to leave them alone.

Reprinted from The Remarkable Rainforest by Toni Albert, © 1994 by Toni Albert. By permission of Trickle Creek Books. If you order this book directly from the publishers at 800-353-2791, mention the Rainforest Alliance.

Forest canopy - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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