Allobates femoralis

© Andrius Pašukonis

Poison frogs (Dendrobatidae) belong to a neotropical frog family of some 300 different species that differ vastly from the stereotypical frog.

They are active throughout the day, exhibit strong territoriality, and lay their clutches on land. Many of them are brightly coloured, which indicates high levels of toxicity to potential predators. The dilemma of terrestrial clutches that will develop into aquatic tadpoles – able to breath in water only through gills – has been “solved” in these frogs via parental behaviours.

Adult frogs take their hatched tadpoles piggy-back across the rainforest to water bodies, and sometimes they have to cross quite large distances to accomplish this duty.

tadpole transport
© Andrius Pašukonis
© Eva Ringler

Allobates femoralis, which is non-toxic with a rather cryptic coloration, but has proven to be an optimal model for studying mating and parental behaviour.

This species is widely distributed across Amazonia and the Guiyana shield. During the breeding season, males are highly territorial and broadcast territory occupancy with a prominent advertisement call that is aimed at both attracting nearby females and also warning male competitors not to come closer.

Females decide when and with whom they want to mate. They approach calling males and thereby initiate a very extended and complex courtship behaviour. During courtship, the male guides the female across his territory and presents her with various possible egg deposition spots in the leaf litter – a process that can take many hours! After a clutch has been deposited, the female leaves the male’s territory and goes back to her resting site outside the male’s territory.

The male remains in his territory and will transport the clutch to widely distributed water bodies as soon as tadpoles hatch about three weeks later. Tadpoles are deposited in a variety of medium-sized terrestrial water bodies, such as floodplains, water-filled depressions, palm fronds and holes in fallen trees, which are located up to 200 m from the males’ territories.

© Andrius Pašukonis