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Endangered poison dart frogs reproduce at Butterfly Sanctuary

  • AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Endangered poison dart frogs reproduce at Butterfly Sanctuary.
    AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Endangered poison dart frogs reproduce at Butterfly Sanctuary.
Published July 14. 2012 09:01AM

The staff at the Bear Mountain Butterfly Sanctuary is about to become the proud godparents of up to two dozen offspring on the endangered species list. The happy couple-or threesome … oops, it seems an explanation is in order.

One year ago, the Butterfly Sanctuary in Penn Forest Township opened a terrarium featuring an exhibit of poison dart frogs. They populated the exhibit with three species - one species the Phantasmal tricolor poison dart frog, the red-striped possessor of one of the world's most deadly toxins, ultimately produced the clutch of eggs.

When the two Phantasmal tricolor poison dart frogs arrived at the Sanctuary last year, they were juveniles, and too young to identify whether they were male or female. In the poison dart frog kingdom, males attract females by calling with a cricket-like chirping sound.

"This spring they started calling," said Mari Gruber, owner of Butterfly Sanctuary. "We heard both chirping. They were looking for girlfriends. After calling for three months, they gave up because no one answered their call."

Realizing that both Phantasmals were male, the Sanctuary contacted herpetologist Tim Heath and asked for an additional Phantasmal, a female. When the female was introduced into the terrarium, she was immediately pursued by the males and hid for two days.

"When a female of the species is introduced to a location where males are already present, the first intention of the males is to mate. There's no flowers, no dinner, no movie," quipped Gruber. "The instinct for the survival of the species is to mate as quickly as they can."

"I saw her come out and I caught them mating," Gruber said. "The male frog climbed onto the back of the female, like they were playing leapfrog. They sat there for hours. It wasn't very interesting."

Unlike mammals, frog eggs are fertilized outside the female's body. When the male leapfrogs onto the back of the female, to hold on he squeezes the female's abdomen, causing the female to lay her eggs, which are fertilized by the suitably positioned male frog.

Shortly afterwards, Gruber observed the clutch of up to two dozen eggs being guarded by the two males. They took turns - one watching the clutch while the other went to the pond for water, which he carried in his mouth back to the clutch and sprayed over the eggs to keep them moist. This is unusual behavior as most frog species deposit their eggs directly into water.

At five days, miniature tadpoles were observed inside some of the eggs-not all the eggs are fertile. The Sanctuary expects the tadpoles to emerge from the eggs after two weeks, and then a curious process is expected to take place.

The male moves towards the clutch and the emerging tadpoles hitch a ride on its back to the terrarium's pond, where they are deposited to begin the first stage of their metamorphosis into a frog. The male, no longer responsible for child care duties, is ready to renew the mating ritual.

The Phantasmal tricolor poison dart frog is listed as endangered. Its natural habitat is the Ecuadorian rainforest. There, native hunters rub the tips of their blowpipe darts and arrows on the backs of these frogs. The skin of these frogs concentrate poisons from the toxic ants that they eat in the wild. Ironically, its poison, which is 200 times as potent as morphine, shows promise as a painkiller, muscle relaxant, and heart stimulant.

For information, see, phone: 570-325-4848, or e-mail:

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