Exploration Life Science

Enrico Bernard’s Dendrobates tinctorius “Tumucumaque” Poison Frog

Sometime in 2008, I saw a photograph of a splendid poison frog from Brazil. It came from a set of photos taken during a series of expeditions between 2004 and 2006 in Estado Amapa, a lush rainforest region in the Guinea Shield.

During those expeditions, a researcher named Enrico Bernard (affiliated with Conservation International) snapped a photograph of what appeared to be a new species of poison frog (genus Dendrobates).  Its coloration was so unusual, that researchers proposed that this anuran might be a previously undescribed species.

Dendrobates tinctorius morph in Brazil
Dendrobates tinctorius photographed in Brazil. Image: E. Bernard
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New Poison Frog Species or an Unknown Morph?

Over time, that photo faded into memory until this week when I stumbled upon it again in one of my computer folders. This time I wasn’t going to let it go. I needed to know more about this frog. Was it some new species or just a fantastic polymorphism?

Since that photograph was taken, additional expeditions have been undertaken and extensive genetic research on poison frogs in the Guiana Shield has been performed. As a result, researchers are now confident that this poison frog is a member of the species Dendrobates tinctorius.

Now, my fellow herpers might be raising an eyebrow at this point. Dendrobates tinctorius is well known for producing polymorphisms, but nothing like this.

On the other hand, Dendrobates tinctorius is a reasonable candidate. As of 2007, there were at least 40 cataloged polymorphisms of the species. That was eventually compounded further by the revelation that the frog commonly known as Dendrobates azureus was actually a junior synonym of Dendrobates tinctoriusDendrobates tinctorius “azureus”. With such a broad range of polymorphisms, it seems more and more plausible that the gene pool of Dendrobates tinctorius might spit something out like this spectacular frog.

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Dendrobates tinctorius “Tumucumaque”

This particular poison frog morph is known as the Tumucumaque morph and it has been well-documented since its initial discovery during the 2004-2006 Rapid Biological Inventories in the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park. The literature indicates the morph was still present in the park during a follow-up expedition series conducted between 2012 and 2014.

It was during those expeditions that researcher Jucivaldo Dias Lima captured several reference images, including the one below. The two specimens in the photograph below are very much inline with what I would imagine if you asked me to combine an “azureus” morph with a more traditional “patched” morph of Dendrobates tinctorius.

Dendrobates tinctorius 
'Tumucumaque' (Jucivaldo Dias Lima)
Dendrobates tinctorius 
“Tumucumaque” (Jucivaldo Dias Lima)

The follow-up expeditions also collected at least one reference specimen of the frog. It is currently stored at the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi in Belém, Brazil.

Dendrobates tinctorius "Tumucumaque" reference specimen at Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi.
Dendrobates tinctorius “Tumucumaque” reference specimen at Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi.

So, the mystery is solved and I have an important reminder of why morphology should never be used as a standalone method when it comes to classifying poison frogs. Just to drive that point home even further, below are some more polymorphisms of the same highly variable Dendrobates tictorius for your consideration.

Dendrobates tinctorius morph, Brazil. Image: K.H. Jungfer
Dendrobates tinctorius morph, Brazil. Image: K.H. Jungfer
Dendrobates tinctorius morph, French Guayana. Image: K.H. Jungfer
Dendrobates tinctorius morph, French Guayana. Image: K.H. Jungfer
Dendrobates tinctorius morph, Suriname. Photo Credit: K.H. Jungfer
Dendrobates tinctorius morph, Suriname. Photo Credit: K.H. Jungfer
Dendrobates tinctorius morph, Suriname. Image: K.H. Jungfer
Dendrobates tinctorius morph, Suriname. Image: K.H. Jungfer
Dendrobates tinctorius morph, French Guayana. Image: K.H. Jungfer
Dendrobates tinctorius morph, French Guayana. Image: K.H. Jungfer
Dendrobates tinctorius morph, French Guayana. Image: K.H. Jungfer
Dendrobates tinctorius morph, French Guayana. Image: K.H. Jungfer

This post has been updated from an earlier version posted in 2014.

Further Reading

1 comment

  1. This photo could be from someone who did what I enjoyed during my teenage years– photoshop 2 species together and send the image to fellow poison dart frog enthusiasts, convincing them of a new species.

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