Cautious keepers at Bristol Aquarium are keeping a safe distance from their newest arrivals – a trio of golden poison frogs.
Despite measuring less than two inches in length, the tiny amphibians have got a big reputation as the deadliest creatures on the planet.
Bright almost metallic golden yellow in colour, the frogs are found only in the. rainforests of the Chaco region of west Colombia.
First described by science in 1978, the lethal properties of the tiny frog have been well known to the native tribes for centuries.
They use the toxin secreted from the skin of the frogs, whose Latin name is Phyllobates terribilis, to poison their blowgun darts.
The darts are wiped over the backs of poison dart frogs after heating them over a fire. The heat causes the poison to moisten the back and becomes easily accessible. Once a dart is poisoned, it remains toxic for up to two years.
Scientists believe the frogs produce their chemical arsenal by metabolising toxins contained in their prey, mostly insects, ants and other invertebrates.
Staff at the aquarium are housing the frogs in a specially-designed display and using protective gear whenever they have to handle them.
Bristol Aquarium curator Dan de Castro said: “It’s thought that after six months on a diet that does not include these particular invertebrates their toxicity halves and, after a year or more, they may cease to pose a major threat to humans.
“However none of us are taking any chances and we’ll continue to give them the respect that their fearsome reputation demands,” added Dan.
There are around 70 different species of poison dart frogs found throughout the rainforests of central and south America. Loss of habitat threatens their long-term survival chances and captive breeding programmes are being set up worldwide to try and safeguard their future.
Despite their deadly status it is hoped that the Golden Poison frog could one day help save lives.
Medical Researchers are developing muscle relaxants, heart stimulants, and anaesthetics made from the frogs’ toxins which also has the potential to become a far more potent and less addictive alternative to morphine.
Issued by Bristol Aquarium. For more information please contact Tina Patel or David Waines on 0117 934 0944.