The Life Cycle of Poison Dart Frogs Explained

Published July 16, 2013

by Ken Howell, Curator of Upland Tropical Rain Forest

National Aquarium has had a long, successful history of breeding poison dart frogs. Here in the Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, we have 16 species of poison dart frogs. Over the last few decades, scientists have become very interested in the reproductive strategies of these species and how they care for their young.

blue poison dart froglet

Dart frogs are incredibly intriguing animals. In addition to possessing toxins and bright colorations/patterns, they also have a fairly complex life cycle!

For most species, females will choose a leaf lying on the rain forest floor to deposit a mass of eggs, which the male will then fertilize. Males are oftentimes in charge of guarding the eggs while they develop.

poison dart frogs developing

Here at the Aquarium, most of our tadpoles develop behind-the-scenes in their own simulated bromeliad cup.

Once the tadpoles have developed, one parent will carry each tadpole to their very own pool of water held in a plant, known as a phytotelma. In the wild, some dart frog species (including many of the species we have in our collection) choose the water-filled cups at the base of bromeliads to safely store young.

Many tadpoles are omnivorous and most species will feed on algae and/or other small animal life (including other tadpoles). During their time in the bromeliads, the tadpoles will progressively metamorphose into full-fledged froglets!

The transition takes approximately two months, and they typically reach adult size and maturity within a year.

The normal life span for these animals in zoos and aquariums is about 10-15 years. Here at the Aquarium, we’ve had frogs live to be at least 23 years old!

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Ken Howell

Curator of Upland Tropical Rain Forest

National Aquarium - Ken Howell

About Ken Howell

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