Arthropod predation in a dendrobatid poison frog: Does frog life stage matter?

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Alkaloids, Automimicry, Chemical defense, Oophaga pumilio, Unpalatability


Frogs in the family Dendrobatidae are well known for their conspicuous colors and variable alkaloid-based chemical defenses. The aposematic coloration in dendrobatid frogs appears to deter predators with color vision, but relatively little is known about how these frogs are protected and their defenses are perceived by non-color vision dominated predators. The neotropical bullet ant Paraponera clavata and the red-legged banana spider Cupiennius coccineus are predators that avoid adults of the dendrobatid Oophaga pumilio, but readily consume non-toxic frogs. Juvenile O. pumilio possess the same warning coloration as adult O. pumilio, but may be more palatable given that they have lower quantities of defensive chemicals. This may provide juvenile O. pumilio protection from color-sighted predators, while leaving them susceptible to predators that use chemoreception. To test this hypothesis, we presented juveniles and adults of both O. pumilio and the non-chemically defended frog Craugastor bransfordii to bullet ants and banana spiders. Both bullet ants and banana spiders preyed upon C. bransfordii significantly more than on O. pumilio. Adult and juvenile C. bransfordii experienced similar predation rates by both predators. The life stage of O. pumilio significantly predicted predation by bullet ants, with juveniles being consumed significantly more often than adults. However, the life stage of O. pumilio did not predict predation by banana spiders, as no adults or juveniles were consumed. Our study provides evidence that bullet ants can detect differences in chemical defenses between juvenile and adult O. pumilio, resulting in differential predation on the more palatable juvenile frogs. The avoidance of both adults and juveniles by C. coccineus suggests the alkaloids in O. pumilio act as an effective chemical deterrent to banana spiders, regardless of quantity. Overall, our results suggest that differences in alkaloid defenses among life stages in O. pumilio correspond to differences in relative palatability to at least one arthropod predator.

Recommended Citation

Murray, Erin M., Sarah K. Bolton, Torsten Berg, and Ralph A. Saporito. "Arthropod predation in a dendrobatid poison frog: does frog life stage matter?." Zoology 119, no. 3 (2016): 169-174.

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