Among the brown and orange leaves, faint neon wisps disappear into the shadows. Another step, and green blotches take form as they perpetually bound away until all motion ceases. Mottled light green patterns strongly contrast against a jet black body, and the animal’s eyes are almost indistinguishable along the dark contours. Such a dichromatic pattern appears almost fluorescent and lights up under the green light filtering down from the canopy. This distinct appearance belongs to none other than the green and black poison frog (Dendrobates auratus). If it wasn’t for their habit of constantly hopping away, the majority of them would easily go unnoticed. Every frog has a unique arrangement of blotches across the entire body, though individuals from the same region tend to be more similar in complexity and color. In the Caribbean lowland rainforests of Costa Rica, D. auratus has a prominent V-shaped mask above the eyes and concentric black/green circles under the chin, whereas in the Osa peninsula, the species is mostly black with a horizontal green bar on the back. Other morphs in Panama vary from black with small green dots speckled throughout, cream-white and black, pale orange with undulating black patterns, to metallic silver and green.
Like in many other poison frogs, D. auratus has fascinating reproductive and parental care behaviors. Males call to females, attracting them to suitable sites in the leaf litter for egg-laying. During early development, the male is responsible for keeping the eggs moist and providing protection from predators. When the tadpoles eventually hatch, they will then climb on the male’s back to be transported into small pools of water in tree holes and depressions. Because males invest time and effort to ensure offspring survival, it would be costly for a male to care for offspring that are not his own. To avoid misdirected parental care, males have excellent spatial memory, attending multiple egg clutches yet simultaneously searching for appropriate sites to transport the soon-to-be tadpoles, all the while courting other females and actively foraging for arthropods in the environment. It’s truly remarkable how these frogs manage so many behaviors at once. Perhaps to juggle one less cognitive task, males tend to deposit tadpoles from multiple clutches inside the same cavity over time. From the female’s perspective, it would be advantageous for a male to devote the entirety of his parental care behaviors to her eggs specifically. To this end, females will guard males from mating attempts by other females, and they will even cannibalize the foreign egg clutches in the leaf litter.
Photographed after pursuit