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Bumblebee poison dart frog
Bumblebee poison frog
Physical description
Binomial nameDendrobates leucomelas
HabitatTropical rainforest
Lifespan18-24 years
Average SizeUp to 4.5 cm (1.8 in)
Average weight8 grams
DietInsectivorous
Conservational Status
StatusNear threatened
IUCN status3.1
Scientific classification
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAmphibia
OrderAnura
FamilyDendrobatidae
GenusDendrobates
SpeciesD. leucomelas
Distribution
Distribution of speciesVenezuela

The bumblebee poison dart frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) is a species of poison dart frog. It is endemic to Venezuela. Formerly common, its habitat is now in decline and the species is diminishing. D. leucomelas is the most toxic of its genus, the second-most toxic being D. azureus.

Description

The bumblebee poison dart frog can reach 4.5 centimeters (1.8 inches) long from snout to vent, with females being slightly larger and more robust than males. Occasionally, some individuals may grow to 5 cm, but this is fairly rare.

The bumblebee poison dart frog has an irregular pattern of bands, ranging from yellow, through golden, to orange; and black or dark brown. Some degree of variation is possible; a few have a thick, "netted" mesh of yellow or orange with only a few small spots of black on their bodies. Others have thinner bands of yellow on a mainly black body. A few have the black and yellow pattern inverted, particularly the "Guyana banded" morph.

They have glandular adhesive pads on their toes (which aid in climbing and positioning) and, in common with other species in their order, they have a short, protrudable, unnotched, sticky tongue, which extends to catch prey.

Distribution and Habitat

Beach leuc

This wild specimen has strayed onto a beach.

Dendrobates leucomelas was formerly common. It was most frequently seen in Venezuela, but it also had populations in Brazil, Guyana, and Colombia. Recently, however, due to habitat loss and the fungal infection chytridiomycosis, the populations of the bumblebee poison dart frog have diminished and today the species is only found in Venezuela.

The natural habitat of D. leucomelas consists primarily of tropical or subtropical rainforest, where it can be found on the forest floor, or up to 6 meters (19 feet) from the ground. It is somewhat adaptable, being able to adopt an arboreal existence from a terrestrial one quickly, or vice versa. Their ability to live at the edge of rainforests can result in their straying onto beaches and farms; however they often quickly return to the rainforest. Those that do not are often doomed.

Poison

D. leucomelas

Captive specimen.

The bumblebee poison dart frog, like all members of the genus Dendrobates, produces pumiliotoxin, which is stored and manufactured in subcutaneous membranes. D. leucomelas shares with D. azureus the ability to convert pumiliotoxins into allopumiliotoxin 267A, which is one of the most toxic compounds in the Dendrobatidae family. At any one time, a bumblebee poison dart frog can carry approximately three-quarters of a milligram of poison. The lethal dose of allopumiliotoxin is about one milligram or slightly less; therefore, touching an agitated wild leucomelas can have serious consequences.

Although poison dart frogs are known for their skin toxin, used on the tips of arrows or darts of natives, in reality only the species of the Phyllobates genus are used in this manner, although all poison dart frogs have some level of toxicity. In captivity, the frog loses its toxicity as a result of an altered diet.

Behavior

The bumblebee poison dart frog is diurnal and highly active. Seemingly constantly energetic, bumblebee poison dart frogs are intelligent and curious amphibians with a frequently seen desire to explore changes to their surroundings. In captivity they are among the boldest of the poison dart frogs, making little or no attempt to conceal themselves.

Bumblebee poison dart frogs live in groups of four or five in the wild; captive specimens can be kept in smaller or larger groups. Like D. tinctorius, groups of leucomelas set up established territories and defend them against rival groups. This can result in squabbles involving frogs "pairing off" with frogs from the opposing group, and wrestling.

Reproduction

During the breeding season, large assemblies of colonies gather in order to reproduce. Males let out a pleasant warbling or whistling call to attract mates. Females grapple with each other over the calling males, and the victor approaches the male in question and willingly allows him to court her. The male attempts to stimulate the female by stroking her head, flank, and cloacal area; after a few minutes of this, the female occasionally begins doing the same to the male; this is fairly rare in the wild, but quite common in captivity.

The male leads the female to a place he has selected for ovipositioning, usually within a shallow puddle on the forest floor. If she approves of his choice, the female will lay a clutch of 5-10 medium-sized eggs. One or both parents will remain on guard, gently cleaning the eggs and moistening them with their urine. The eggs hatch after approximately two weeks, climbing onto their parents' backs and sticking to them via specialized mucus. The adults then carry their tadpoles to water-filled hollows at the base of trees and deposit them in the centre. The adults remain on guard; the tadpoles feed on mosquito larvae and other small food items that inhabit their nurseries.

In captivity

Leuc

Captive specimen in an artificial rainforest.

This species relative ability to withstand broad variations in humidity and temperature, combined with its comparatively bold nature, make it a popular choice for those enthusiasts and amateur herpetologists involved in the exotic pet community. It is widely seen as being an ideal starter species for amateur hepetologists wishing to keep poison dart frogs for the first time.

The species' ability to be easily bred in captivity has led to a fall in prices within the exotic pet trade, which is an alleviative factor to the problem of over harvesting.

Once in captivity and removed from their natural source of food, Dendrobatidae lose much of their toxicity. Dendrobates leucomelas, however, are not one of the three main Dendrobatidae species that are used for poison darts by native South American tribal hunters, so toxicity levels are somewhat lower in wild caught specimens than in the Phyllobates genus.

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