This is a small brightly colored frog; with total body length size of 17-24 mm. The skin is relatively smooth, and the "usual" coloration includes a bright red back, some small black spots, black to dark blue hind legs, and a red belly, which occasionally is red and blue, and can vary toward tan and white in some Panamanian localities.
Unusual color variations occur on the small islands off the coast of Panama (in the Bocas del Toro archipelago), including these color combinations: blue above and below, without spots; green above and below with small spots; green above and white below, with small spots; red above and white below, with small spots; and olive green above and yellow below, with black flecks. In each population there is generally only a single color morph, but on the Island of Bastimentos there are different colors in one population. Males have a tan-grayish vocal pouch under the throat, visible when they call to defend their territory. When removed from their territory, they lose the vocal pouch coloration fairly rapidly (Summers et al. 1997).
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama
Oophaga pumilio is found in the rainforests of the Caribbean coast of Central America, from Nicaragua to Panama, between sea level and 960 m (Walls 1994).
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
More males call during the rainy season and female do not ovulate during the drier period. The male call is described as a low buzz or ticking note call, and is used to attract females and as a territorial advertisement call
(Walls 1994). There are 4 different calls (Zimmermann 1990). The call most heard is used for territorial defense in the morning, between 8 and 10 am. Males defend territories, approximately 3 m apart from other males (Walls 1994).
The female approaches the male to initiate breeding. It is the role of the male to tend to the terrestrial clutch of eggs (3-17 eggs), and to keep them moist by periodically emptying their bladders on the eggs (hydric brooding) until they hatch (after 5-15 days). Males may protect more than one clutch at a time. The female then carries the individual tadpoles (1-2) to separate, water filled leaf axils of bromeliads or other plants. If two tadpoles are brought to one bromeliad, only one will survive. The female lays unfertilized eggs in with the tadpoles to serve as a food source, and she is thus able to maintain as many as six tadpoles through metamorphosis (Duellman and Trueb 1986).
Metamorphosis is complete in 6-8 weeks.
Adults of this species primarily consume ants.
These frogs are brightly colored and toxic, and the bright coloration has multiple functions. First, it functions in defense: the coloration warns predators that these frogs are not palatable (aposematic coloration). Second, it functions in mate choice: female strawberry poison dart frogs have been shown to preferentially choose males based on brightness and color. Now a third role has been shown in a recent Evolution paper: male-male competition (Crothers et al. 2011). Brighter males defend their territory more strongly, preferentially approaching brighter intruders rather than dull-colored ones, initiating confrontation more quickly, and directing more calls to brighter rivals. This may be particularly relevant in highly polymorphic populations of O. pumilio such as those of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. In species where males provide some parental care (hydric brooding of the egg clutch, in the case of O. pumilio), sexually selected traits such as male color brightness are predicted to function as indicators of individual condition/quality.
Oophaga pumilio of Central America has undergone a dramatic radiation in color pattern across allopatric populations living on different Panamanian islands of the Bocas del Toro archipelago and the nearby mainland. Previous research had found that a number of the island populations showed biased mating preferences toward the color pattern of their own population, suggesting that sexual selection is driving divergence, reproductive isolation and ultimately speciation. In a transition zone between red and blue frogs, Yang et al (2016) carried out a key test of whether mating preferences are likely drivers of reproductive isolation and speciation by comparing preferences of a contact zone population where individuals encounter pure morphs (red and blue) and intermediates. As expected, they found that pure morphs from either side of the contact zone displayed a significant preference for their own color pattern morph (e.g., blue females preferred blue males). Yet, intriguingly, they found that frogs from the contact zone showed a strong preference for the red morph, even if they were blue. This contradicts a key prediction that sexual selection is driving reproductive isolation and speciation in this system, and opens up questions of what is preventing the blue morph from being swamped by genes for the red morph, which is the common mainland pattern of O. pumilio.
Tadpoles are obligately oophagous and must receive an egg meal within 3 days of being placed in a bromeliad water pool in order to survive. Males have been observed eating the eggs or carrying the tadpoles of unattended clutches to bromeliad water pools where they will die since the female will not be able to feed them (Duellman and Trueb 1986).
They metamorphose when they reach approximately 11 mm long (Walls 1994).
Trends and Threats
It is generally common throughout its range. Habitat loss and overcollection for the pet trade are problems for some populaions. Tourism (e.g., www.redfrogbeachclub.com) also affects some populations. It is found within several protected areas, including the Finca La Selva Biological Reserve (Costa Rica) and Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park (Bocas del Toro Archipelago, Panama), and may occur within other protected areas, particularly in Costa Rica. Export data from 1991-1996 showed that the majority of specimens (>95%) came from Nicaragua, which has established a CITES 2001 export quota of 3,450 specimens for O. pumilio (Solís et al. 2008).
What happens when diverging subpopulations of more brightly colored members come into contact with less colorful ones? If preference is driven by either sexual selection, or natural selection, or both, we expect to see the two populations merge. Segami Marzal et al. (2017) ask whether an increased risk of predation acting directly on female preferences could counter this tendency, enhancing the probability of population divergence in Oophaga pumilio where populations of aposematic (bright) and cryptic (dull) morphs come into contact in Bocas del Toro Archipelago, Panama. Using photos of the frogs, they trained chickens to peck at cryptic frogs for a reward. Their subsequent experiments showed that cryptic frog morphs were more likely to be discovered and pecked when they occurred near a brightly colored, aposematic morph. Thus, females of a cryptic morph might suffer a higher risk of attack when approaching a brightly colored male; this could directly select against female preferences for such males and hence reduce interbreeding between morphs, ultimately enhancing the probability of population divergence and speciation.
Relation to Humans
This frog can be found in gardens. The species is often smuggled for the pet trade.
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
Intentional mortality (over-harvesting, pet trade or collecting)
In 2011, the genus Dendrobates was subdivided into seven genera, including the new genus Oophaga by Brown et al (2011).
This species was featured as News of the Week on 18 March 2019:
Monogamy in vertebrate evolution appears multiple times in separate lineages but their underlying genetic underpinnings are only recently explored. Young et al. (2019) compared differential gene expression between the transcriptomes of monogamous and polygamous species in five sets of species pairs across vertebrates (mice, voles, birds, frogs and fish). The frog pair were poison frogs Ranitomeya imitator (monogamous) and Oophaga pumilio (polygamous). Tests for differential gene expression between each pair revealed that congruent sets of genes (orthologous or genes of the same evolutionary genealogy) showed concordant changes in expression between the monogamous and the polygamous lineages. The directions of changes in expression in these gene sets were also concordant, such that genes which decreased in expression in the monogamous lineage of one taxonomic pair were likely to decrease in expression in the other monogamous lineages as well (for all pairwise comparisons). However, the frog species were unique in that some genes displayed the opposite direction of change in expression relative to other monogamous lineages. The poison frogs are the only lineage here in which male parental care is ancestral so monogamy with biparental care in this lineage evolved from male care (rather than female care, as in the other taxa). Overall, their research yielded a novel set of 24 candidate genes likely to be involved in the evolution of monogamy, many of which are involved in neural development, synaptic activity and cognitive function. The study provides evidence for widely conserved sets of shared genes and molecular genetic pathways contributing to the evolution of monogamous mating systems across vast gulfs of evolutionary time and change in the vertebrate lineage (Written by Kyle Summers).
This species was featured as News of the Week on 11 November 2019:
Poison dart frogs (Dendrobates pumilio) in the Bocas del Toro region of Panama have island populations which differ in coloration from the mainland, and a new experimental study by Yang et al (2019) shows that imprinting can account for the diversity in coloration on these different islands. Ingenious and demanding experiments demonstrated that female frogs with parents of the same color tended to choose mates of that color and would even do so in the case of foster parents. Similar results were obtained with respect to male-male aggression. Behavior plays a very important role in the lives of these frogs. The new results help understand the spectacular geographic patterns of color diversification in this sinking landscape and its island frogs (Written by David B. Wake).
Crothers, L., Gering, E., and Cummings, M. (2011). ''Aposematic signal variation predicts male-male interactions in a polymorphic poison frog.'' Evolution, 65, 599-605.
Brown J.L., Twomey E., Amézquita A., De Souza M.B., Caldwell J.P., Lötters S., Von May R., Melo-Sampaio P.R., Mejía-Vargas D., Perez-Peña P., Pepper M., Poelman E.H., Sanchez-Rodriguez M., and Summers K. (2011). "A taxonomic revision of the Neotropical poison frog genus Ranitomeya (Amphibia: Dendrobatidae)." Zootaxa, 3083, 1-120. [link]
Donnelly, M. A. (1989). ''Reproductive phenology and age structure of Dendrobates pumilio in northeastern Costa Rica.'' Journal of Herpetology, 23, 362-367.
Donnelly, M. A. (1991). ''Feeding patterns of the Strawberry Poison Frog Dendrobates pumilio (Anura: Dendrobatidae).'' Copeia, 23, 723-730.
Duellman, W. E., and Trueb, L. (1986). Biology of Amphibians. McGraw-Hill, New York.
Graves, B. M. (1999). ''Diel activity patterns of the sympatric poison dart frogs, Dendrobates auratus and D. pumilio, in Costa Rica.'' Journal of Herpetology, 33(3), 375-381.
Liebermann, S. and Dock, C. F. (1982). ''Analysis of the leaf litter arthropod fauna of a lowland tropical evergreen forest site.'' Revista de Biología Tropical, 30, 27-34.
McVey, M. E., Robert, Z. G., Perry, D., and MacDougal, J. (1981). ''Territoriality and homing behavior in the poison-dart frog (Dendrobates pumilio).'' Copeia, 1981(1), 1-8.
Pröhl, G. (1995). Territorial- und Paarungsverhalten von Dendrobates pumilio. Diplomarbeit (Master's thesis). Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, Germany.
Savage, J. M. (2002). The Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica:a herpetofauna between two continents, between two seas. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, USA and London.
Segami Marzal JC, Rudh A, Rogell B, Ödeen A, Løvlie H, Rosher C, Qvarnström A (2017). ''Cryptic female Strawberry poison frogs experience elevated predation risk when associating with an aposematic partner.'' Ecology and Evolution, 7(2), 744-750.
Solís, F., Ibáñez, R., Jaramillo, C., Chaves, G., Savage, J., Köhler, G., and Cox, N. 2008. Oophaga pumilio. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 25 June 2011.
Summers, K., Bermingham, E., Weigt, L., McCafferty, S. and Dahlstrom, L. (1997). ''Phenotypic and genetic divergence in three species of dart-poison frogs with contrasting parental behaviour.'' Journal of Heredity, 88, 8-13.
Summers, K., Cronin, T. W., and Kennedy, T. (2003). ''Variation in spectral reflectance among populations of Dendrobates pumilio, the strawberry poison frog, in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, Panama.'' Journal of Biogeography, 30, 35-53.
Walls, J. G. (1994). Jewels of the Rainforest: Poison Frogs of the Family Dendrobatidae. J.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, New Jersey.
Yang, Y., Richards-Zawacki, C. L., Devar, A. and Dugas, M. B. (2016). ''Poison frog color morphs express assortative mate preferences in allopatry but not sympatry.'' Evolution, 70(12), 2778–2788.
Zimmermann, E. (1990). ''Behavioral signals and reproduction modes in the neotropical frog family Dendrobatidae.'' Biology and Physiology of Amphibians. W. Hanke, eds., Fischer, Stuttgart.
Originally submitted by: Franziska Sandmeier (first posted 2001-03-21)
Edited by: Kellie Whittaker, Brent Nguyen, Kyle Summers, Sierra Raby, Michelle S. Koo (2022-09-09)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2022 Oophaga pumilio: Strawberry Poison Frog <https://amphibiaweb.org/species/1641> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Nov 30, 2022.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2022. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 30 Nov 2022.
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