Nicaragua’s Amazing Amphibians

Nicaragua is known for its tremendously diverse flora and fauna, and visitors to any of the 78 protected areas in the country are likely to see a wide range of animals in the various habitats. Among these are more than seventy listed amphibian species, some of which are considered to be ‘vulnerable’ from a conservation point of view. The more colorful amphibian species in Nicaragua include the green and black poison dart frog, the strawberry poison dart frog, the hourglass tree frog and the red-eyed tree frog.

As arboreal and nocturnal creatures, red-eyed tree frogs (Agalychnis callidryas) spend most of their time in trees and hunt for their food at night. During the day these lime green colored frogs with blue and yellow flanks, orange webbed feet and bright red eyes, remain motionless under leaves, with their eyes closed and colorful flanks tucked in tightly in order to blend in with their surroundings. At night, when they come out to catch crickets, moths and flies with their long, sticky tongues they are vulnerable to attack by other nocturnal creatures further up on the food-chain. So, when they are in danger they flash their eyes and reveal their brightly colored feet and flanks in a move which scientists believe startles their attackers, giving the frog precious seconds to jump to safety. Fortunately, red-eyed tree frogs are plentiful and not considered to be endangered, although it has been noted that the destruction of their rainforest habitat, which so many other animals are also dependent on, is of grave concern to conservationists.

The green and black poison dart frog (Dendrobates auratus) and strawberry poison-dart frog (Dendrobates pumilio) are both found in many color variations in their natural habitat of premontane forest and humid lowlands. When they are eating their natural diet of true bugs and formicinae ants they are very toxic and can make humans ill, but when they have a change in diet, these colorful amphibians are no longer toxic and are sometimes kept as exotic pets. (Here it should be noted that all frogs have permeable skin and it can be detrimental to their health and wellbeing to be handled.) When mating season starts, poison dart frogs gather in groups where, after some squabbling, each male frog claims a small patch of earth for himself. Males make a series of bird-like calls to attract a mate, and a female will wander from one male to the other before making her choice. Upon making her choice, the female will lay her eggs and the male will fertilize them. When the eggs hatch into tadpoles the parents carry them into the forest canopy to put them into individual little pools of water, usually in bromeliads. Here the tadpoles will feed on algae and other tiny invertebrates as they grow – all the time under the watchful eyes of their parents. To ensure her offspring are well nourished, females also lay unfertilized eggs into the water as food. The tadpoles develop into froglets, and once their tails have been reabsorbed, they are juvenile frogs that are able to fend for themselves.

When exploring this exotic Central American country, be sure to look out for the amazing amphibians that serve a vital role in the healthy ecology of Nicaragua’s natural areas.