The Ranita Terribilis ProAves Reserve, located in the southwestern department of Cauca, is home to the world’s most poisonous amphibian, Phyllobates terribilis. Empty coconut shells strapped to trees have been installed within this protected area for several years to help frogs deposit their young, and thereby extend a helping hand with the conservation of this species.
Located to the western side of the department, on the banks of the imposing Timbiquí River, is one of the most important areas on the Pacific Coast for ecological diversity. Established in 2008 by the Fundación ProAves, the Ranita Terribilis Reserve protects populations of the world’s most poisonous amphibian.
The Golden Poison Dart Frog (La Rana Kokoi in Spanish) is named after the ancestral people Eperara Siapidara and member of the Dendrobatidae family. There are several poisonous and endemic frogs in this family, from Central and South America, that are called poison dart frogs. This name comes from the fact that indigenous tribes used to smear the tips of arrows on the backs of frogs before hunting animals.
The distribution of the Golden Poison Dart Frog, considered endemic of Colombia, is restricted only to the department of Cauca. But the Dendrobatidae family, to which this amphibian belongs, is present in the entire Chocó litoral, from the department with the same name, to province of Manabí in Ecuador.
Within the extensive family of Dendrobatids, La Rana Kokoi is relatively large, with adult frogs reaching between 5 and 5.5 centimeters. The entire group of poisonous frogs stands out, mainly, for different aposematic coloration patterns on the skin, a type of pigmentation that is usually related to the toxicity of the animal and functions as a warning sign against potential predators. Despite their name, not all Golden Poison Dart Frogs are golden; there are three different color morphs in the region. The Ranita Terribilis ProAves Reserve is home to 2 of the 3 morphs present in the region.
The Golden Poison Dart Frog is listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List despite its powerful defense system against natural predators. The survival of this amphibian is mainly threatened by human exploitation of rainforests by alluvial mining, logging and wildlife trafficking.
In their natural habitat these frogs are diurnal, looking for sustenance mainly in the morning and early afternoon. It is also carnivorous with a diet that consists of ants from the Brachymyrmex and Paratrechina families. Dart frogs also catch crickets, caterpillars, flies, cockroaches, and beetles, among other insects.
Many biologists believe that the very high toxicity of the Golden Poison Dart Frog is due to the consumption of a small beetle, which in addition to producing formic acid, is also capable of synthesizing Batrachotoxin. Research points that the presence of this chemical in the frog’s diet contributes to its high toxicity.
Within the same protected area, one of the ants most feared by the locals is known as the Konga (Paraponera clavata). The pain from the sting of this insect is said to be greater than that of any other insect and classified as “most painful” on the Schmidt index of sting pain. It is possible that La Rana Kokoi includes this type of ants in its diet, making it the most poisonous amphibian on the planet. Terribilis is so venomous that one swipe of its toxin can kill 10 people.