Animal Magic

Welcome to Animal Magic – a series of fortnightly columns where we take an in-depth look at some of Tilgate Nature Centre’s popular, and less well-known animal residents.

This week we look at some tiny frogs with lots of colour and plenty of personality.

jpco-6-11-13 Tilgate Nature Centre - Animal Magic / Bumble Bee Poison Dart Frogs (Pic by Jon Rigby)

jpco-6-11-13 Tilgate Nature Centre - Animal Magic / Bumble Bee Poison Dart Frogs (Pic by Jon Rigby)

Attractive amphibians

Bumblebee poison dart frog

(Dendrobates leucomelas)

Bumblebee poison dart frogs inhabit the humid rainforests of South America, particularly Venezuela. True to their name they are a striking colour combination of bright yellow with black bandings and spots. They are far smaller than our native common frog – measuring in at a length of just 4cm.

Unlike many amphibians, whose populations are declining due to disease and habitat destruction, this species is still abundant in the wild as well as being a popular choice for exotic pet breeders.

Our family of frogs arrived in 2012 and can be found in the Weird and Wonderful room.

Toxic warning

Despite their small size and attractive appearance bumblebee poison dart frogs can actually be quite dangerous as they secrete a poison through their skin.

Their black and yellow colourings warn predators they will not be good to eat. This helps protect them against attacks and allows them to be more active during the day.

While the frogs feed on a wide range of insects and small animals, ants are their favourite food and it’s from these insects that they obtain the toxins in their skin.

Our group is fed on fruit flies, springtails and small crickets and the absence of ants in their diet means the frogs at Tilgate are not poisonous.

Attract and repel

Males attract mates with a range of trilling, humming and chirping calls. They also use vocal warnings to keep other males away from them.

Bumblebee poison dart frogs are extremely territorial and surprisingly aggressive for their size. If a male ignores the warnings and enters another’s territory, the two will wrestle and fight.

Coconut caves

Our frogs have had a good breeding year and with up to ten eggs in a batch we have seen lots of tiny tadpoles. We placed water filled Petri dishes inside coconut ‘caves’ which the frogs laid their eggs in.

The eggs take about 12 days to hatch and the young start life as tadpoles measuring just 5mm. We rear the tadpoles separately and feed them on tropical fish flakes.

After three months the young complete their metamorphosis into colourful miniature versions of the adult frogs.

Come and visit us or go to to find out more about Tilgate Nature Centre and its residents.