- The Amazon rainforest is the largest on Earth, covering about 40% of the South American continent.
- Venomous creatures use toxins to kill or immobilize their victim by injecting them through fangs, stingers, or spines – while poisonous animals use poison as a last defense by secreting it through their skin or storing it in their internal organs – making them dangerous to eat.
- The poison dart frog is the most lethal animal in the Amazon rainforest – and includes at least 175 different species.
Humans live around hundreds of animal species. Because of this close proximity and, sometimes, the innocent appearance of many of these animals, many people forget how dangerous many of them are. The Amazon rainforest is home to many of these dangerous animals of different sizes and levels of toxicity. This article discusses the most lethal animal in the Amazon rainforest, how deadly this animal truly is, and other essential facts.
Background on the Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon rainforest, which occupies the majority of the Amazon Basin in South America, is the largest and most biodiverse tropical rainforest on Earth, accounting for more than half of the remaining rainforests in the world. The Amazon rainforest is the largest on Earth, covering about 40% of the South American continent. Over its 5,500,000 square kilometers (2,100,000 sq miles) of land, there are about 16,000 different species of trees alone. The forest extends into nine different countries – Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname, as well as French Guiana, a department of France, with around 60% of the entire forest covering Brazil.
Considering how large the Amazon rainforest is, it is no surprise to discover that the forest is home to thousands of distinct animal species. So far, 2,200 fish species, 1,294 birds, 427 mammals, 428 amphibians, and 378 reptiles have been discovered in the Amazon rainforest. The forest is also home to over two million insect species. Despite how fascinating the forest is, it is still home to some very dangerous animals, both venomous and poisonous.
Difference Between Venomous and Poisonous Animals
When talking about animals, the terms venomous and poisonous may be interesting and frightening, particularly when referring to some of the deadliest creatures on Earth. It is common for people to use these terms interchangeably, although they mean different things. In actuality, there are several significant distinctions between venomous and poisonous animals. To further add to the complexity, there are even certain animals that are both poisonous and venomous.
The primary difference between venomous and poisonous animals is the delivery method of their toxins. Venomous creatures typically use their toxins to kill or immobilize their victim. For full effect, animal venom must be injected through fangs, stingers, or spines, which usually leave a wound. Once venom has been injected into the body, it bypasses the digestive system and heads straight to the bloodstream, causing either paralysis or, in extreme cases, death.
On the other hand, animals that are poisonous typically only employ their venom as a last resort to protect themselves from being eaten by a predator. Many toxic creatures, like deadly frogs, exude their poison through their skin, while some other animals have the poison stored in their intestines or organs, making them dangerous to eat.
What is the Most Lethal Animal in the Amazon Rainforest?
Considering the variety of big and vicious animals that call the Amazon rainforest home, one would expect the most lethal animal in the forest to be something big and scary. But that’s not the case. The most lethal animal in the Amazon rainforest is the poison dart frog. These frogs have a diverse range of scientific names and belong to numerous genera and species. Currently, a little over 175 species have been identified. However, they are all members of the Dendrobatidae family.
These frogs like to live on trees or leaves scattered across the forest floors and are native to the damp rainforests of South and Central America. The most notable feature of these frogs is their brightly colored skin. In other words, the aposematic coloring of these frogs alerts nearby animals to their deadly nature. Some species of poison dart frogs also use their colors and patterns as camouflage. The various species are available in a wide range of hues, including blue, yellow, red, green, golden, and black. Despite this, not all species are as brightly colored or poisonous as others; some of these frogs come in the shade of brown or tan.
Like most other frogs, these frogs are carnivores and use their long, sticky tongue to capture insects like ants, flies, and termites. Poison dart frog tadpoles are usually omnivorous and sometimes eat algae alongside insects. They are also sometimes fed unfertilized eggs from their parents. Some species of this poison frog are also cannibals, eating the tadpoles of other species.
Although more research needs to be carried out, experts believe that the poisonous dart frog’s production of toxins is a result of its diet – specially formicine ants and other small invertebrates. There is enough research and proof showing that poison dart frogs in captivity, feeding on crickets and fruit flies, do not produce toxins from their skin.
How Lethal Is a Poison Dart Frog?
The most toxic poison dart frog is the golden dart frog. Belonging to the genus Phyllobates, these frogs secrete a potent toxin called batrachotoxin. Batrachotoxin is a strong steroidal alkaloid that disrupts the body’s neurological system. Batrachotoxins disrupt the brain’s message system, and as a result, various crippling and potentially deadly diseases, including heart failure, paralysis, and intense pain, can result. According to scientific evidence, poison dart frogs possess toxin sponge molecules that stop the batrachotoxin from having contact with their own cells, giving them immunity to their own poison.
As mentioned, many of these frogs actually carry very potent toxins, but different species produce different kinds of toxins in different quantities. Although harmful to both humans and animals, poison dart frog toxins may one day be used to treat human illnesses. These toxins are being studied by scientists who think they might be altered and made into medicines to treat pain and heart and circulatory problems.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Curioso.Photography/Shutterstock.com
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- Smithsonian's National Zoo, Available here: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/poison-frogs
- Berkshire Museum, Available here: https://explore.berkshiremuseum.org/digital-archive/fact-sheet/dont-you-know-that-youre-toxic
- Wonderopolis, Available here: https://www.wonderopolis.org/wonder/how-deadly-are-poison-dart-frogs