Red-headed poison dart frog
Ranitomeya Fantastica
Physical description
Binomial nameRanitomeya fantastica
HabitatTropical rainforest
Lifespan6-10 years
Average Size1.4 cm (0.6 in)
Average weight1.3 grams
Conservational Status
StatusLeast concern
IUCN status3.1
Scientific classification
SpeciesR. fantastica
Distribution of speciesEcuador, Peru

The red-headed poison dart frog, Ranitomeya fantastica, is a species of poison dart frog native to Ecuador and Peru. Common in suitable habitat, R. fantastica is kept as a pet and is one of the more challenging poison dart frogs to keep.


The red-headed poison dart frog, while less toxic than many of the other dendrobatids, is still sufficiently toxic enough to discourage predation. Its skin secretes pumiliotoxin C, a less-potent version of the pumiliotoxins secreted by the Dendrobates and Oophaga species. Pumiliotoxin C, like other pumiliotoxins, interferes with muscle contraction in the heart and skeletal muscle. The red-headed poison dart frog does not carry a large amount of pumiliotoxins due to its small size, but direct contact with an upset frog's skin will certainly cause violent illness.

Pumiliotoxin is deadly in high concentrations. Pumiliotoxin is weaker than allopumiliotoxin and especially batrachotoxin, with a lethal dose of 2 mg (R. fantastica carries about a quarter milligram). There are three different types of this toxin A, B and C. The toxin works by affecting the calcium channels. Some of the symptoms of pumiliotoxins are partial paralysis, having difficulty moving, being hyperactive and in some cases it can result in death.

Physical descriptionEdit

R. Fantastica

A male "Copperhead" R. fantastica.

Ranitomeya fantastica is one of the smallest poison dart frogs, reaching 1.4 centimetres (0.6 inches) long from snout to vent. Females are typically larger than males, but a more reliable means of sexing is the size and shape of the toepads, which are larger in males than in females.

The red-headed poison dart frog typically has an irregular reticulum of off-white on its predominantly black dorsum, flanks, and belly. The head and throat are fire orange, a feature that gives the species its name. There is a large black splotch between the eyes and another on the male's vocal sac. Some morphs have the off-white replaced by pale yellow or robins' egg blue. The "Reticulated" morph has an orange reticulum that closely matches its head; this morph along with the "white banded" morph may be difficult to differentiate from Ranitomeya summersi.


Ranitomeya fantastica is a diurnal and highly active frog. Seemingly constantly energetic, red-headed poison 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 most athletic and energetic of the poison dart frogs.

Red-headed poison dart frogs live in groups of three or four in the wild; captive specimens can be kept in smaller or larger groups. Unlike many dendrobatids, however, fantastica are not particularly territorial and may be tolerant of other groups in close proximity.


Fantastica Pair

A photo displaying the incredible variation in subpopulations within the species.

Ranitomeya imitator, R. vanzolinii, R. flavovittata, and R. sirensis exhibit a degree of parental care, with the female laying unfertilized feeder eggs for the tadpoles to eat. However, unlike the Strawberry Poison-dart Frog (Oophaga pumilio) and related species, this behavior is not required for the survival of the tadpoles.

R. fantastica and other members of the fantastica group (including R. benedicta and R. summersi) however, do not supply their tadpoles with unfertilized eggs, and instead the tadpoles rely on invertebrates, algae, and detritus for nutrition.

Females will typically lay small clutches of 1-3 eggs, which when fertilized develop to tadpoles within 10-14 days. The male will then transport these tadpoles to their own individual water source as the tadpoles are cannibalistic.

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