Phyllobates aurotaenia
family: Dendrobatidae
subfamily: Dendrobatinae

© 2007 Dr. Peter Janzen (1 of 4)

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Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN (Red List) Status Near Threatened (NT)
See IUCN account.
CITES Appendix II
Other International Status None
National Status None
Regional Status None


Phyllobates aurotaenia adults reach a maximum snout-vent length of 32 mm in males and 35 mm in females. The skin is slightly granular on the dorsum and smooth on the ventrum and limbs. The first finger is longer than the second, with all finger discs being narrow to moderately expanded. Toes are webless. Both maxillary and premaxillary teeth are present. Testes are unpigmented (Silverstone 1976).

This species has a black ground color, with two thin golden, orange, or green dorsolateral stripes extending from the base of the thigh and meeting at the snout (Silverstone 1976; Myers et al. 1978). The dorsal surfaces of the limbs are covered in gold, orange, blue, or green dots, and the ventral surface is black with blue or green dots (Silverstone 1976). Dotting is relatively sparse on the venter and more concentrated on the limbs (Silverstone 1976). The stripes are green or light yellow, and the ventral dots are always blue on individuals from Serranía de Baudó (Silverstone 1976). On individuals from the upper San Juan drainage, the stripes are yellow, light or dark yellow-orange, or light brownish gold (Silverstone 1976). There is a second form; some individuals, from above the Playa de Oro on the upper Rio San Juan, are larger and have broader dorsolateral stripes that are sometimes blended together by an orangish dorsal suffusion into one yellow-orange or red-orange stripe (Silverstone 1976; Myers et al. 1978).

Phyllobates aurotaenia juveniles are black with golden dorsolateral stripes, like P. terribilis juveniles. However, young P. aurotaenia have blue or green ventral spotting, which is not present in P. terribilis (Myers et al. 1978).

Tadpoles of all Phyllobates species, including P. aurotaenia, have an emarginate, "normal" oral disc (meaning the oral disc is not umbelliform). The larval vent tube is dextral (Grant et al. 2006).

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Colombia

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Phyllobates aurotaenia is found in the Chocó region of Colombia in the Atrato and San Juan drainages (Silverstone 1976). It lives in low-elevation inland rainforest at an altitude of 60 to 520 meters, west of the Cordillera Occidental (Silverstone 1976; Myers et al. 1978).

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Phyllobates are usually diurnal species due to the advantage of greater visibility of their color markings, which warn predators that they possess skin toxins (Silverstone 1976). This species secretes skin batrachotoxins when under stress (Silverstone 1976; Myers et al. 1978). However, this species is secretive and can be hard to find even in areas where there are dense populations (Myers et al. 1978).

Calls are usually made from a concealed location under fallen leaves or logs, but occasionally while sitting on fallen leaves (Silverstone 1976). The call has been described as a "loud, bird-like, whirring twitter, consisting of rapidly repeating notes" (Silverstone 1976), with a duration of 4-11 seconds (Silverstone 1976). This call is repeated after intervals lasting from several seconds up to 45 seconds (Silverstone 1976). The dominant frequency is higher than 2000 Hz (Myers et al. 1978).

Trends and Threats
This species does not occur in any protected areas and is rapidly losing its habitat.

Relation to Humans
Phyllobates aurotaenia is one of only three species of frogs (P. aurotaenia, P. bicolor, P. terribilis) known to be used for poisoning darts (Myers et al. 1978). Various Chocó tribes in western Colombia have used these frogs to poison darts for dart-guns. The frogs primarily secrete the steroidal alkaloids batrachotoxin, homobatrachotoxin, and batrachotoxinin A, which cause depolarization of nerves and muscles, cardiac arrhythmias, and cardiac failure if taken internally and skin numbness when encountered externally. To extract the poison, the Chocó impale P. aurotaenia and P. bicolor lengthwise on sticks, and may also heat the spitted frogs to increase the amount of skin secretions; darts are then rubbed against the skin of the impaled frog. This is in contrast to the treatment of P. terribilis which has much higher levels of skin toxins; for this species, darts are simply rubbed across the back of the live frog (Myers et al. 1978).

Per frog, the larger P. terribilis have about 27x the amount of batrachotoxin-homobatrachotoxin as the smaller P. aurotaenia. When normalized for skin weight, P. terribilis has about nine times the amount of batrachotoxin-homobatrachotoxin in the same amount of skin (100 mg) as P. aurotaenia. For batrachotoxinin A, P. terribilis has 4x the amount of toxin per frog as the smaller P. aurotaenia, or 1.3x as much toxin by equivalent skin weight. The third species of frog used for poisoning darts, P. bicolor, seems to be roughly equivalent in toxicity to P. aurotaenia (Myers et al. 1978).

The Chocó name for P. aurotaenia, kökoé, is pronounced "kohng-KWAY" (Silverstone 1976).

Possible reasons for amphibian decline

General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities
Intensified agriculture or grazing
Habitat fragmentation
Local pesticides, fertilizers, and pollutants
Long-distance pesticides, toxins, and pollutants
Intentional mortality (over-harvesting, pet trade or collecting)

There are two forms of Phyllobates aurotaenia, a narrow-striped, slightly smaller form, and a broad-striped, slightly larger form, which do not always occur in the same place (Silverstone 1976). In the western Atrato drainage, the broad-striped form is absent and the narrow-striped form occurs up to at least 500 m (Silverstone 1976). In the Playa de Oro, it is not clear whether the narrow-striped form occurs at lower elevation than the broad-striped form; the two forms may simply be separated by a deep ravine (Quebrada Bochoramá) and not by elevation (Silverstone 1976).

Myers et al. (1978) speculates that there may be a cline between P. aurotaenia and P. bicolor, or hybridization, in the upper San Juan drainage. The largest specimens, which have the broad, fused dorsal stripes, come from above Playa de Oro on the upper Rio San Juan; these individuals more closely resemble P. bicolor in both coloration and size (Silverstone 1976; Myers et al. 1978). Phyllobates bicolor has a uniformly colored orange (red-orange, orange, or yellow-orange) dorsum lacking stripes. Phyllobates bicolor is also slightly larger (38.2 mm average size) than the broad-striped form of P. aurotaenia (32.1 mm average size), which is in turn larger than the narrow-striped form (26.3 mm average size).

Silverstone (1976) comments that the narrow-striped form more closely resembles P. lugubris and P. vittatus, but is separated from them by a distributional gap in Panama.


Grant, T., Frost, D. R., Caldwell, J. P., Gagliardo, R., Haddad, C. F. B., Kok, P. J. R., Means, D. B., Noonan, B. P., Schargel, W. E., and Wheeler, W. C. (2006). ''Phylogenetic systematics of dart-poison frogs and their relatives (Amphibia: Athesphatanura: Dendrobatidae).'' Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, (299), 1-262.

Myers, C. W., Daly, J. W., and Malkin, B. (1978). ''A dangerously toxic new frog (Phyllobates) used by Emberá Indians of Western Colombia, with discussion of blowgun fabrication and dart poisoning.'' Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 161, 307-366.

Silverstone, P.A. (1976). ''A revision of the poison arrow frogs of the genus Phyllobates Bibron in Sagra (Family Dendrobatidae).'' Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Science Bulletin, 27, 1-53.

Written by Shelly Lyser (slyser AT, URAP
First submitted 2005-03-04
Edited by Kellie Whittaker (2008-02-02)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2008 Phyllobates aurotaenia: Kõkoé <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Oct 24, 2016.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2016. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 24 Oct 2016.

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