Photo © Orias1978

As a species, we’re drawn toward ease. It’s survival—or, rather, it’s instinct. By extension, man is equally enamored by connotations, embolden representations of simplicity. Pearls fall down necks in strings of serenity; gold blinds in the morning sun small refractions of financial stability and situational affluency. SIlver delights in it’s less dramatic subtitles. But it’s an interesting paradigm when you remove the human experience from these notions. Natural selection, mimicry, camouflage, aposematic precursors overshadow and replace effortless thought. Hues of highlighter-like yellow are the highest iterations of that: a cautionary, gold-plated sign for the end of one being’s life.

I was around six- or seven-years-old when I encountered what appeared to be living, breathing, prancing gem stones from behind double-paned glass. My imagination seemingly grew limps and leaped from my mind. Fiction became tangible under two moss-covered logs and an uncountable amount of dew-swept leaves. I was enchanted; I was gestured toward one in particular—a Golden dart frog.

Endemic to the rainforests nestled alongside the Pacific coastline of Columbia, Golden poison dart frogs (Phyllobates terribilis) can be encountered in small, somewhat isolating pockets; Phyllobates terribilis is denoted as an “Endangered Species (EN)” by The IUCN Red List. And, ironically enough, females of the species attain the largest size—again, in both weight and SVL (Snout-to-Vent-Length)—of any species of dart frog. (I should add here, however, “dart frogs” are not found under an exclusive monotypic genus, but rather the inclusive Dendrobatidae family.)


Photo © Brian Gratwicke

Reflecting on those younger years of infatuation, it’s impossible to divorce myself from the kaleidoscope of kinetic neons—dancing, jumping, drinking—from the otherside of that glass. Pastels were the collective norm; nothing drab nor visually unexcitable could be found.

Golden dart frogs express a near-confusing amount of phenotypic diversity. If an onlooker didn’t know any better, ideas of subspeciation might be introduced onto the color palette. While void of intricate dorsal patterns—the one’s totted by other dart frogs—their monochromatic mint-greens, blossoming yellows, sun-dried oranges are welcome break from their surrounding greenery.

The researcher within me as well-satiated when I came across the academia around the toxicology veiling Phyllobates terribilis—more so, when discovering the notion of how captive rearing plays into the said discipline. Most of us (and by “us,” I’m referring to herpetology inclined individuals among us who found better company along creek beds than crowded, narrow grade-school cafeteria riddle with social squander) are aware the toxicity of dart frogs diminishes with captive rearing. Afterall, those in the hobby or staffed by zoological facilities would find it ungainly to funnel copious amounts of stinging arthropods into their enclosures. Not to mention it’s unsightly. But this ingestion and later synthesization of alkaloids is how a mere touch of their skin can render a grown man unconscious. Or worse dead. So no need to worry…right? Well, I wrote-in an ellipsis for a reason.

As it turns out, an answer to that alluded question solely based on the animal’s progeny, where and how it, he or she, came into the world. Phyllobates terribilis seems to retain those alkaloids far better than any other dart frog known to science. Simply put, the hypotheticals are as follow: Once a Golden dart frog has consumed a far amount of those alkaloids, they’re able to, metabolically speaking, cling to that amount with a vice-like grip. They’re infinitely toxic, containing five-times the amount batrachotoxin than any other dart frog—captive or wild-caught. Now, if the animal has since birth been reared in captivity, e.g. never having ingested or came in contact with said chemical cocktail, it’s as dangerous as a rogue humming bird. Which is to say non-lethal.


Photo © Ernst Moeksis

As with opulence or luxury, it’s ephemeral. And fleeting. Gold will dirty, pearls will inevitably crack or fall. Silver will tarnish. And, if we’re not mindful, not present with our surroundings, these enigmatic anurans will fade into the mist—forever. Chytrid is wreaking havoc on infected populations, deforestation forcing them into small and smaller communities. Extinction is on their leaf littered doorstep; time’s knocking. We’re behind the door—and in control of the knob, even at seven or eight.

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