Dendrobates leucomelas

Geographic Range

Yellow banded poison dart frogs, Dendrobates leucomelas, are found in the Neotropical region, in northern South America. The range includes Venezuela, northern Brazil, Guyana and southeastern Colombia. (Staniszewski, 1995)


Yellow-banded poison dart frogs prefer humid or wet habitats and can be found on forest soil in moist stones, wet tree trunks, and roots of rainforest trees. Tadpoles can be found in epiphyllic plants such as bromeliads. They are found in lowland regions with average temperatures of 26 to 30 degrees celsius or above. These frogs have been reported at elevations of 50 to 800 m above sea level. (Lehmann, 2003)

  • Range elevation
    50 to 800 m
    164.04 to 2624.67 ft

Physical Description

Dendrotes leucomelas is one of the largest species in the genus Dendrobates, with an adult body (snout to vent) length ranging from 3.1 to 5 cm, although individuals are only rarely more than 4 cm. Average weights of 3 g are reported.

This species is defined by its distinctive yellow and black bands across the body. As an individual frog ages, the black bands often break off into spots. This bright coloration undoubtedly represents aposematic coloration, which is defined as having conspicuously bright colors that are used as a warning of danger or distastefulness to potential predators. These frogs are known to produce toxic chemicals in their skin, making htem poisonous to most would-be predators. Females of this species are often larger and more robust than the males. (Bartlett, 2003; Doyle, 1999; Lehmann, 2003; Staniszewski, 1995; Walls, 1994)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Average mass
    3 g
    0.11 oz
  • Range length
    31 to 50 mm
    1.22 to 1.97 in
  • Average length
    40 mm
    1.57 in


Male poison dart frogs find the best site for the female to deposit a few large eggs, usually on the underside of a leaf that is near water. The eggs are then fertilized, protected and maintained by the male. It is the male's duty to keep the eggs moist so they can grow. There are conflicting reports of the paternal care of these frogs, with some accounts indicating that the male of this species transports the fertilized eggs in his mouth to water (Honolulu Zoo, 2003) and others indicating that the male transports tadpoles to water after the eggs have hatched (Lehmann, 2003). The reason for this discrepency is not apparent, although it may be reasonably concluded that transport of the young is accomplished by their father. Eggs hatch into tadpoles about 10 to 14 days after fertilization.

After 70 to 90 days, the tadpoles have fully metamorphed into froglets. They are mature between 12 and 18 months. ("Honolulu Zoo", 2003; Lehmann, 2003)


During mating season, males use vocalizations described as chirps, buzzes, trills, and hums to get the attemtion of females. They also show off their brightly colored bodies. Calling is most intense for an hour or two after sunrise and before sunset.

After a female chooses a male, she follows him to his chosen breeding ground and strokes his back and snout. Sometimes both the male and female slowly circle one another and stamp their feet. Females compete for males.

The male frog leads the female to an appropriate spot to deposit her eggs. The eggs are usually laid on leaves, in areas of high humidity. Then the male frog tends to the eggs and newly hatched tadpoles.

In some species in the genus Dendrobates, newly hatched tadpoles cling the male's back. Sitting upon their father, the tadpoles ride through the forest understory. The male climbs high up into the forest canopy, where he deposits the tadpoles into one of a variety of water-holding plants, particularly bromeliads. Although most sources indicate that this is also true for D. leucomelas, at least one indicates that the male transports the eggs to a water source prior to hatching (Honolulu Zoo, 2003).

Bromeliads are ideal for tadpole growth because they have numerous cup-like leaves filled with water. One tadpole is placed in each pocket of water. The parent distributes the tadpoles among many plants, presumably so that predators will not be able to locate all of the tadpoles. The primary predators on the tadpoles are giant damselfly nymphs, which have hatched from eggs also laid in the bromelid plants.

Another danger for the tadpoles is other dart frogs, including conspecifics. If an adult frog approaches a plant that is already occupied, the tadpole will produce a warning signal by aiming its head at the center of the plant, holding itself rigid, and rapidly vibrating its tail. If an tadpole-carrying parent ignores this signal and accidentally deposits another tadpole in the same bromelid sanctuary, the original tadpole will eat it. (Lehmann, 2003; Lehmann, 2003; "Honolulu Zoo", 2003; Lehmann, 2003; Walls, 1994; Woodland Zoo, 2001)

Breeding occurs during a limited season each year, from February to March. Female D. leucomelas lay multiple clutches of 2 to 12 eggs, and may lay as many as 1000 eggs during the breeding season.

Eggs are fertilized externally, then cared for by the male of the species. Young metamorphose by 70 to 90 days of age. The young froglets are sexually mature by two years of age. ("Honolulu Zoo", 2003; Walls, 1994)

  • Breeding interval
    Once yearly during the rainy season
  • Breeding season
    Breeding is reported to occur between February and March.
  • Range number of offspring
    100 to 1000
  • Range time to hatching
    10 to 14 days
  • Range time to independence
    70 to 90 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

The degree and pattern of parental care varies between species of poison dart frogs. In D. leucomelas, the male does all of the parenting. The male tends to the eggs and the hatched tadpoles, and transfers them to the water-filled cavities high in the forest canopy. The female provides the eggs with nutrients to support the tadpole before it hatches, but the male continues to wet and protect the young until they are independent. ("Honolulu Zoo", 2003; Walls, 1994)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • protecting
      • male


The longest living Dendrobates in captivity survived for 20.5 years. However, the expected lifespan of a poison dart frog in captivity is 10 to 15 years. In the wild, individuals probably live from 5 to 7 years. (Woodland Zoo, 2001)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    20.5 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 to 7 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    10 to 15 years


Dendrobates leucomelas is diurnal. Frogs live mainly on the ground, but also climb into trees. These frogs have glandular adhesive pads on their toes and fingertips, which help them to adhere to plant surfaces. This allows these frogs to climb and cling.

Male D. leucomelas are very territorial and can be aggressive in defense of a calling/breeding territory. Males call from their oviposition sites to attract females. Other frog species are ignored or avoided. Territorial disputes can lead to aggressive behavior that can include grasping belly-to-belly and emitting a sporadic buzzing call. When not breeding, these animals are a solitary. The size of the territory is unknown. ("Honolulu Zoo", 2003; Lehmann, 2003; Woodland Zoo, 2001)

Communication and Perception

Males use vocalizations such as chirps, buzzes, trills and hums to attract females. Direct behavioral actions facilitate courtship and stimulate oviposition. Call sound like pleasant "birdlike" trills, lasting for 10 to 15 seconds.

In addition to vocalizations, males use visual cues as well to show off their brightly colored bodies. Tactile communication is important in breeding, as females and males touch one another in courtship.

Tadpoles use vibrations through water to signal their presence in a water pool to adult frogs. Should a male deposit a second tadpole into a pool, the first tadpole is likely to eat it.

These frogs depend upon vision to locate prey. In general frogs are not known to have a strong sense of smell, so it is unlikely that they use chemical communication. (Doyle, 1999; Walls, 1994; Woodland Zoo, 2001)

Food Habits

Largely insectivorous, the diet of these frogs consists of ants, termites, tiny beetles, crickets, and other small insects and spiders. They spend most of their time in the wild foraging for food, presumably because their prey are so small. In captivity, they are fed crickets and fruit flies (often, "pinhead" crickets and wingless fruit flies). When raised in captivity, D. leucomelas lose their skin toxins, which indicates that they may synthesize the toxins from some component of their diet. One major source of food in the wild that may provide chemicals to synthesize the toxins are formacine ants.

Young are sometimes canabalistic, although this behavior is apparently limited to times when unwary adults place new tadpoles into an already occupied pool. Although some Dendrobates species feed their young with unfertilized eggs, this behavior has not been observed in D. leucomelas. ("Honolulu Zoo", 2003; Bartlett, 2003; Lehmann, 2003; Staniszewski, 1995; Woodland Zoo, 2001)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods


Many potential predators are undoubtedly repelled by the toxic skin secretions of this frog, but some snakes may be able to eat them. The tadpoles are also prey to damselfly nymphs. (Walls, 1994; Woodland Zoo, 2001)

  • Known Predators
    • snakes
    • damselflies

Ecosystem Roles

These animals, along with all other animals, play an important role in maintaining the balance of nature. They are predators of ants, termites, tiny beetles, crickets, and other small insects and spiders. They are prey to snakes. ("Honolulu Zoo", 2003; Woodland Zoo, 2001)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Dendrobates leucomelas helps keep its prey populations in balance, and consumes many insects that humans would consider pests. Along with other poison dart frogs in the family Dendrobatidae, this frog is used in medical research because its complex skin toxins are a possible source of medicines for human diseases. Also, certain Dendrobatid frogs were of importance to the Colombian Choco Indians who used the poisons from the frog's skin to tip their hunting darts.

Some amphibian hobbyists keep and breed these and other poison dart frogs, which may have an economic benefit if such trade can be shown to be sustainable and does not reduce natural frog populations. (Bartlett, 2003; Walls, 1994; Woodland Zoo, 2001)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

These frogs have no adverse economic impact to humans. The skin toxins of this frog are very intense, and are are capable of killing, injuring, or impairing humans if the frogs are carelessly handled; however they are of no danger to people who leave the frogs alone. (Walls, 1994; Walls, 1994)

Conservation Status

These frogs are not thought to be an especial conservation concern. They are listed on CITES appendix II, probably because of exploitation and destruction of their habitat for lumber.


Lisa Brennan (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor, instructor), Michigan State University, Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


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

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


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.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


an animal which has a substance capable of killing, injuring, or impairing other animals through its chemical action (for example, the skin of poison dart frogs).


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


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.


specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


2003. "Honolulu Zoo" (On-line). Yellow Banded Dart Frog. Accessed December 17, 2004 at

Bartlett, R. 2003. Poison Dart Frogs. Hauppauge, New York, USA: Barron's Educational Series, Inc..

Doyle, D. 1999. "Doyle's Dart Den" (On-line). Accessed January 05, 2005 at

Lehmann, P. 2003. "Amphibia Web" (On-line). Dendrobates Leucomelas. Accessed December 17, 2004 at

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

Walls, J. 1994. Jewels of the Rainforest. Neptune City, N.J.: J.F.H. Publications.

Woodland Zoo, 2001. "Animal Fact Sheet" (On-line). Poison Dart Frog. Accessed December 22, 2004 at