Poison Frogs: Dendrobatidae - Phantasmal Poison Frog (epipedobates Tricolor): Species Accounts
Physical characteristics: Phantasmal poison frogs are dark brown or brick red with three cream-colored, yellow, or light green stripes running from the head to the rump. The center stripe widens out at the front of the head to cover the whole snout, and the two side stripes may also come far enough forward to blend into this snout blotch. Sometimes, the stripes are broken into dotted lines or blotches. The green, yellow, or cream color also appears on the front and back legs in spots. The frog has long hind legs for leaping and fairly long but thin front legs. It has two large eyes on its head, which slopes toward the front. Often the frogs have a short green, yellow, or cream-colored line under each eye. The underside, including the belly and throat, has numerous green or cream blotches that sometimes almost completely color the underside. Females and males are nearly the same size. As adults, females usually reach about 0.8 to 1.1 inch (2.1 to 2.7 centimeters) long from snout to rump. Males typically reach slightly less than an inch (2.5 centimeters).
Geographic range: Phantasmal poison frogs live in southwestern Ecuador and northwestern Peru to the west of the Andes Mountains.
Habitat: Adults live on land in mountain valleys. Although they survive in wet or dry areas, they usually remain near streams. Tadpoles develop in streams or small pools of water.
Diet: Adult phantasmal poison frogs eat various small arthropods, including insects.
Behavior and reproduction: Scientists know little about this species outside of its breeding behavior. Mating occurs on land, as it does in the other poison frog species, but phantasmal poison frogs mate differently. While the male mates by climbing onto the back of a female, he does not hold onto her near her front or back legs, as nearly all other frogs do. Instead, he grips her with his front legs around her head. From this awkward-looking position, the female lays fifteen to forty eggs. Afterward, the female leaves, but the male stays behind with the eggs and watches over them. As each egg hatches into a tadpole, the tadpole scrambles up the male's leg and onto his back, and he carries the tadpole to a nearby stream or pool. The tadpole swims off, and the male returns to the hatching eggs to pick up the next tadpole. He continues until he has carried all the young to the water. The tadpoles develop into froglets in the water.
Phantasmal poison frogs and people: The poison in this frog's skin, while very dangerous, has helped scientists to design effective painkillers for human patients. By studying the frog's poison, which is two hundred times more powerful than the drug morphine (MORE-feen), scientists have made drugs that work in the same way that the poison does, but are not unsafe.
Conservation status: The World Conservation Union considers the phantasmal poison frog to be Endangered, which means that it faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild. This species lives in only seven spots on mountains in part of Ecuador, but it once lived over a larger area. In the remaining populations, the number of adult frogs is continuing to drop. Its small habitat is at risk because the land is being developed for farming, and because farming chemicals are polluting the water in the frogs' habitat. Conservationists are not sure, but they think that the frogs might also be at risk from people who collect them for the pet trade or from infection with chytrid fungus. This fungus has killed many different kinds of frogs around the world. ∎
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