Atelopus varius

Geographic Range

Southern Central America (Costa Rica) south into northwestern South America (Capula, 1989; Staniszewski, 1995).


A.varius inhabits the moist environment of the rainforest floor, from lowlands up to the cloud forests. They often occur in the vicinity of streams, where they breed (Capula, 1989; Hayes et al., no date; Staniszewski, 1995).

Physical Description

Atelopus varius is a small (2.4-- 3.8 cm; 1-- 1.5 in) slim-bodied, pointy-snouted toad of highly variable coloration. Dorsal color is usually black or brown overlaid with a mosaic of spots and streaks that can be almost any combination of orange, red, yellow, blue, or green. Sometimes the lighter colors predominate. The belly is marbled with white, yellow, orange, and/or red. The toes are pointed, without discs (Staniszewski, 1995; Hayes et al., undated).



A.varius reproduces mostly along streams and other sources of moving water. During amplexus, the female deposit 30-- 75 eggs in long strings in shallow water, as the male fertilizes them. The eggs hatch in about 36 hours. Tadpoles have a flattened body and an abdominal sucker which keeps them from being swept away in the current (Capula, 1989; Staniszewski, 1995).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)


  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    10 years


Males lack vocal sacs, and attract females by visual displays which can include leg and head twitching, stamping the ground, and hopping in place (Staniszewski, 1995).

Food Habits

A.varius eats small insects such as flies and gnats (Capula, 1989).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Harlequin toads are popular in the commercial pet trade, despite being very difficult to maintain successfully (Staniszewski, 1995).

They are undoubtedly important insect predators of the forest floor.

Conservation Status

A.varius has begun to disappear from places in Costa Rica where it was common only a few years ago, and is considered an endangered species. Its main habitat is rainforest and these forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate; in addition, these little toads may be vulnerable to mysterious fungal infections which seem to be affecting frogs in many parts of the world (Capula, 1989; Staniszewsli, 1995; USGS, 1999). One subspecies, A. v. zeteki, is listed on Appendix I of the CITES Treaty, and is considered endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Levell, 1997).

Other Comments

A.varius has poisonous glandular skin secretions which are toxic or repellent to potential predators. This toad's bright colors undoubtedly serve as a warning of its toxicity (Capula, 1989; Staniszewski, 1995).

This anuran is sometimes called the Harlequin Frog, but its relationship within the true toad family (Bufonidae) seems well-accepted (Staniszewski, 1995).


Heather Kundinger (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


Capula, M. 1989. Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of the World. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Hayes, M., J. Pounds, W. Timmerman. undated (Herp. Circ. No. 17). An Annotated List and Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Monteverde, Costa Rica. Tyler, Texas: Soc. for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.

Levell, J. 1997. A Field Guide to Reptiles and the Law. Lanesboro, Minnesota: Serpent's Tale.

Staniszewski, M. 1995. Amphibians in Captivity. Neptune, New Jersey: T.F.H. Publ., Inc..

U.S. Geological Survey, 1999. USGS Issues Wildlife Health Alert: Chytrid Fungus Infection Associated With Deaths of Threatened Boreal Toads in Colorado. Froglog: Newsletter of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force, Dec. 1999: No. 36: 1-2.