Kokoe Poison Frog

Phyllobates aurotaenia

''Phyllobates aurotaenia'' is a member of the frog family Dendrobatidae, which are found in the tropical environments of Central and South America. First described by zoologist George Albert Boulenger in 1913, ''P. aurotaenia'' is known for being one of the most poisonous frogs in the world. It is the smallest of the poison dart frogs in the Phyllobates genus and is endemic to the Pacific coast of Colombia.

Wild specimens store batrachotoxin in glands in their skin, which can be fatal to humans in doses as small as 100 µg. The unique lethality of their poison is a trait often exploited by certain Native American peoples of Colombia for hunting.
The members of this species are characterized by: black dorsums, sometimes covered by orange suffusions; green, yellow, orange, or brownish gold dorsolateral stripes; and black abdomens with blue or green dots. The name ''Phyllobates aurotaenia'' is currently applied to two forms: a smaller, large-stripe form and a larger, small-stripe form. These forms are separated by a ravine yet retain the ability to interbreed.
The number and range of ''P. aurotaenia'' is declining, primarily due to loss of habitat, and is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN.
Kokoe Poision Frog - back view II, Utria National Park, Colombia  Choco,Chocó,Colombia,Colombia Choco & Pacific region,Fall,Geotagged,Kokoe Poison Frog,Phyllobates aurotaenia,South America,Utria National Natural Park,Utría National Natural Park,World

Habitat

''P. aurotaenia'' is found in the wet forests of the Choco region of Colombia, west of the Andes, in the Atrato and San Juan drainages. It lives on the ground of humid lowland and submontane forests, typically between altitudes of 60 and 520 meters, and is found in primary and secondary forest but not in degraded areas.

As a vivarium subject, this frog is an active animal that will make use of vertical space. Kokoe dart frogs are highly social frogs that require high humidity, cool temperatures, and larger prey items than many dart frogs.
Kokoe Poision Frog, Utria National Park, Colombia On this day where the universe conspired against us (people not showing up to appointments, fog problems, incompetent local staff) we very much needed a lucky break. This single find turned the day around. We came to the northwest of Colombia for birds, the cloud forest, but also for rare poison frogs. This is one of the key target species.

This is possibly the male of the species, as it is known to carry tadpoles to still waters as soon as they hatch. Besides this frog being beautiful and having a small range, it's also incredibly tiny and very, very poisonous. Which is no direct reason for concern, they release poison only under heavy stress and it would affect you only by directly touching them. The behavior of the frog is obviously to flee, not to attack.

To highlight the incompetence of the local ranger: "this is a very common frog, totally harmless". 

This find was also our first meeting with the process of finding poison dart frogs. Our ignorant assumption was that we'd just travel to the right area, and they'd be easy to find due to their vibrant colors. Simple.

We couldn't be more wrong. Poison frogs are well hidden under piles of dead leafs. You find them by their mating call, which you wouldn't recognize as they sound like a bird, amidst a jungle full of other bird sounds. Here's the mating call for this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6lcC03NzdI

The call, if you know how to listen for it, points you in a search direction, a radius of a few meters from where you heard the call. Next, using flashlights and picking up leaf by leaf, you try to find the exact location. The frog is aware of you and will stop calling. The whole process of finding a single frog like this can easily take an hour, if you find it at all. 

They're also a LOT smaller than we expected. Having found one and having it in sight, looking at my camera for some settings, I would easily lose it again when looking back into the scene. An idea of its size:

https://www.jungledragon.com/image/57745/kokoe_poision_frog_-_size_reference_utria_national_park_colombia.html

Here's a closeup of the tadpoles on its back:

https://www.jungledragon.com/image/57743/kokoe_poision_frog_-_tadpoles_closeup_utria_national_park_colombia.html

A 2nd individual found nearby:

https://www.jungledragon.com/image/57746/kokoe_poision_frog_-macro_utria_national_park_colombia.html
https://www.jungledragon.com/image/57748/kokoe_poision_frog_-_top_view_utria_national_park_colombia.html Choco,Chocó,Colombia,Colombia Choco & Pacific region,Fall,Geotagged,Phyllobates aurotaenia,South America,Utria National Natural Park,Utría National Natural Park,World

Defense

''P. aurotaenia'' is one of the most lethal species of the poison dart frogs, which is attributed to their storage and release of batrachotoxin from cutaneous granular glands scattered throughout the frogs’ bodies. This extremely potent toxin is a steroidal alkaloid which, in mammals, acts by irreversibly binding to and permanently opening sodium ion channels within nerve and muscle cells. This prevents repolarization of the cell membrane and halts further signaling, resulting in paralysis and often death as any affected muscle becomes locked in the contracted state. In order to avoid self-intoxication the frogs have developed modified sodium channels to prevent the binding of batrachotoxin.

Although wild frogs are extremely deadly, frogs raised in captivity are generally non-toxic. It has therefore been proposed that the frogs do not synthesize batrachotoxin themselves, but it is instead obtained from their environment. Evidence suggests that the frogs accumulate this toxin through their diet of various beetles , millipedes, and flies as well as the unique composition of leaf litter on the forest floor.

References:

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Status: Least concern
EX EW CR EN VU NT LC
Taxonomy
KingdomAnimalia
DivisionChordata
ClassAmphibia
OrderAnura
FamilyDendrobatidae
GenusPhyllobates
SpeciesP. aurotaenia
Photographed in
Colombia