Like other poison dart frogs, the Cainarachi wears the colours of its martyr.
Thanks to at least one kamikaze frog, there’s an unwritten rule that you don’t mess with the brightly coloured yet deliciously bite-sized hoppers. This doesn’t really work for humans though, because when we see something pretty, the first thing we do is coo and try to pick it up.
I suppose it’s good I couldn’t find any documented examples, but if we somehow ingested some of Cainarachi’s poison, we’d apparently enjoy some paralysis with an aftertaste of heart damage.
On the other hand, if it makes a froggy fashion faux-pas, it gets eaten.
Bad taste can be a killer
In their 2011 study of Peruvian frogs, Chouteau et al. found that, thanks to their froggy forebears, certain patterns spelt doom for frogs in certain regions. A new frog hops into Spot City, donning the latest stripes from over the border? Dead. And it would probably take many more for a new warning pattern to catch on. When you dress to kill, that’s not meant to include you.
Still, at least the toxic skin would do its job, and Cainarachi and co. can probably thank their diet of poison-plant-munching insects for this. It’s fortunate they can’t affect each other, because that’s the other reason they spend their lives looking so fabulous.
Ours ‘n’ ours
Both male and female Cainarachi poison frogs have black and yellow bands, a rusty back, and a beautiful blue pool-ripple on their underside, but the female is slightly larger. Probably wise given how they mate.
The male chirrups like a bird had a baby with an alarm clock, and the female either finds this romantic, informative, or mates with him just to get him to stop. Via “cephalic amplexus” – him on her back with forelegs around her throat – she lays her eggs for him to fertilise. Transaction done, the male isn’t only on hatching duty but carries up to 10 tadpoles on his back to a slow-flowing stream. From here, they start their long journey to adulthood.
Unfortunately, suitable nurseries are disappearing, mostly from deforestation due to palm oil, rice and, somewhat awkwardly, coffee. We can’t leave a beautiful species alone either, can we?
Exotic frogs are all the rage in the pet trade, and this can decimate wild populations. They’re supposed to be tracked by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), but some wonky figures between Kazakhstan, some non-CITES countries and the rest of Asia revealed possible frog-related laundering. There is a ray of hope, however.
Somewhat brilliantly, one man in Colombia, Ivan Lozano, took it upon himself to breed poison frogs in captivity – which were healthier and safer due to their non-toxic food – and flood the market, undercutting the illegal traders. And it’s working. What’s more, it also pays to stand out from the crowd.
Still keeping the frogs’ welfare in mind, captive breeding has allowed “morphs” of different colours. While these would normally violate every fashion rule, they’re more unique and therefore more valuable to pet collectors – and more popular than those captured from the wild.
Sometimes it really is best to keep your crazy fashion foibles to the comfort and safety of your own home!
Latin: Ameerega cainarachi
What? Brightly coloured, poisonous Peruvian frog
Where? In its namesake the Cainarachi Valley, as well as other parts of San Martín, Peru.
How big? Females are slightly larger at up to 3.1 cm / 1.2 inches, long, males about 2.5-3 cm / 0.9-1.1 inches long
Endangered? Yes, due to habitat loss, mainly clearing for palm oil, rice and coffee plantations, as well as illegal trading.
Probable motto: Do I have killer taste? You decide! Actually, please don’t.
They look beautiful. Do they need my help at all?
Yes, and not just the Cainarachi. A fun combination of habitat loss and the illegal pet trade is far more poisonous.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
“Ameerega cainarachi“. No date. Dendrowiki.org.
“Ameerega cainarachi“. No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
“Clinical effects“. No date. Clinical Toxinology Resources. University of Adelaide.
Froschraum. 2016. “Ameerega cainarachi males calling“. YouTube.
“Intrigue over poison arrow frog trade“. 2011. Traffic.org.
Pappas, Stephanie. 2011. “Poison frogs dress in hometown colours“. LiveScience.
Pappas, Stephanie. 2016. “Freaky! New frog mating position discovered“. LiveScience.
Schulte, Rainer. 1989. “Nueva especie de rana velenosa del género Epipedobates registrada en la Cordillera Oriental, departamento de San Martín“. Boletin de Lima, May(63):41-46 [in Portuguese]
Steffens, Gena. 2018. “How one man is working to save one of the world’s most poisonous animals“. National Geographic.
Twomey, Evan, and Brown, Jason. No date. “Ameerega cainarachi“. Dendrobates.org.
Zug, George R. No date. “Poison frog“. Britannica.com.
Featured image credit: “Ameerega cainarachi“, © 2016 Tiffany Kosch