Saving threatened habitats worldwide

World’s deadliest frog finally protected

27 January, 2012 - 09:50 -- World Land Trust
Golden Poison Frog (Phyllobates terribilis)

World Land Trust (WLT) celebrates the start of 2012 by helping create the first nature reserve to protect the Golden Poison Frog (Phyllobates terribilis), considered the most poisonous vertebrate on Earth

In one of the wettest tropical rainforests in the world, in westernmost Colombia, WLT has helped purchase 124 acres (50 hectares) of threatened Chocó forest, creating the Rana Terribilis Amphibian Reserve. Its creation was supported through generous donations from Puro, an organic Fairtrade coffee producer that has been a long-term WLT corporate supporter. The reserve is now owned and protected by our partners Fundación ProAves.

Living in the rich undergrowth of the reserve is a healthy population of Endangered Golden Poison Frog, one of the most extraordinary creatures on the planet. Just 55mm in size, but one of the largest poison dart frogs from the Dendrobatide family, this tiny vibrant creature carries a single milligram of toxin – a small but lethal dose. A single frog could hold enough poison to kill about 10 humans.

Golden Poison Frog

A healthy population of the Endangered Golden Poison Frog survive in the rich undergrowth of their new reserve – the first safe haven created for the protection of this incredible species, thanks to the World Land Trust (WLT) and our partners ProAves © ProAves

The frog’s skin is drenched in alkaloid poison (batrachotoxins) that prevent nerves from transmitting impulses, leaving the muscles in an inactive state of contraction – leading to heart failure. Death comes within minutes.

Importance to indigenous people

The species has long been recognised by indigenous cultures for its lethal poison and is strongly embedded within cultural traditions. The Choco Emberá Indians use the frog’s toxin as poison in their darts used to hunt food; by gently brushing the tips of arrows and darts on the frogs back, without harming it, the weapon can keep their deadly effect for over two years.

Yet the frog’s poison is entirely for self-defense and humans pose a much greater threat to the species with a weapon that their toxins cannot defend against – bulldozers. Habitat damage and destruction is the major threat to the species’ survival and improved security in the region has increased deforestation, illegal gold-mining (an estimated 100 bulldozers and excavators are destroying the area), illicit coca cultivation and logging.

Saving the species

Despite this frog’s infamous reputation and its importance to indigenous cultures, it is considered by many to be on the edge of extinction and until now the species was completely unprotected. Dependent on primary forest, the Golden Poison Frog occurs patchily across less than 150 miles2 (250 km2) of rainforest on the narrow Pacific coastal plain of the Chocó in western Cauca Department of Colombia.

Acclaimed journalist Simon Barnes, a WLT council member, wrote in The Times newspaper in September 2011: “Astonishing: we are on the edge of wiping out one of the most extraordinary and thrilling creatures on the planet. No matter how well a creature is protected by nature and by evolution, it is always vulnerable to humans.

“There’s nothing we can’t do when we put our minds to it. Still, at least we are now beginning to put our minds to saving the golden poison frog: we would all be much poorer without such a creature to give us nightmares.”

More information

Comments

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

This is another truly superb piece of bright news to lighten the gloom of 'destruction' as usual.
It is also impressively inspiring that a small frog can firstly, brew up spectacularly powerful alkaloid compounds all by itself, and secondly then spur us into investing money in it's long term welfare.

Future generations may well find this frog's chemical prowess worthy of the highest admiration - when they work out how it does it - and then thereby learn key synthesis lessons of immense utility.

This investment in it's habitat preservation might equally come to be regarded in the same way that we now hold, say, Vincent Van Gogh's artistic works in such high value - where in his lifetime, he was roundly spurned, ignored and couldn't even give his finished canvases away. That Dr Gachet portrait was used to close up a gap in a chicken coop for several years, yeah - just about until the time they heard that old Vincent had become popular in art circles, and then they whipped it out pretty damn quickly and cleaned off the chicken pooh!

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