Known for centuries as the Okopipi by indigenous Tiriyo tribe, Dendrobates azureus was so named (from azure, a Latin word for blue) when it was revealed to the scientific world in 1968 by Dutch herpetologist Marinus Hoogmoed and classified as its own species. Subsequent studies have shown that D. azureus is in fact an isolated population of tinctorius, and it was added to that family in 2006, thus the current name Dendrobates tinctorius ‘Azureus’.
Origin, Distribution and Habitat
Dendrobates tinctorius ‘Azureus’ is endemic to island forests surrounded by the Sipalawini Savannah in southern Surinam. These island forests, isolated from even each other, are situated along hillsides and follow the creeks that descend them. Warm and humid, they are all remnants of a greater rainforest, and D. tinctorius ‘Azureus’ is a “relic” species that has managed to thrive within them.
Like other tinctorius, Azureus is essentially terrestrial. During daylight hours it can be found throughout its micro-environment along streams, on and among large moss-covered rocks and boulders, among leaf litter, fallen logs and vegetation of the forest floors. However, it does not confine itself to lower reaches. It is also a climber and one is just as likely to find it scaling tree trunks.
3 – 4.5 cm (1.18-1.77 in.) D. tinctorius ‘Azureus’ is a spectacular animal, having a bright, sky-blue dorsal area with large to very fine (or a combination thereof) black spotting. The ventral area is a slightly darker blue with fine to no spotting, and the legs are typically a solid cobalt blue. It is likely that this one frog has attracted more people to the hobby than any other.
D. tinctorius ‘Azureus’ collects and sequesters pumiliotoxins (specifically pumiliotoxin 251D) from various elements of its natural insect diet. It converts these pumiliotoxins to allopumiliotoxin 267A, which has been demonstrated to be five times more potent than the original pumiliotoxin. The skin of a wild Azureus will contain between ½ and ¾ of a milligram of this toxin. A dose lethal to humans is estimated to be slightly less than a milligram. Although D. tinctorius ‘Azureus’ is not one of the frogs used to poison arrows or darts, it does create one of the most toxic compounds in the Dendrobatid family.
Successful breeding programs have for the time being established Azureus in captivity; however, in its native habitat it is endangered. Although illegal collecting and smuggling for the pet trade is a constant concern, the greatest threats may come from nature. The savannah itself, once a lush rainforest, will continue to consume the remaining forest fragments, and fires, natural or otherwise, can be devastating. Azureus is listed as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
There have been some accounts of D. tinctorius ‘Azureus’ being found in or coming from Brazil. While the Sipalawini Savannah extends into northern Brazil, Azureus have apparently been restricted by the dry savannah itself to isolated patches of rainforest north of Brazil. It is likely that other tinctorius morphs have been mistaken for Azureus. Examples of frogs closely resembling Azureus can be seen in the Koetari River, New River, Sipalawini and True Sipalawini tinctorius. These are variable morphs that display varying amounts of blue, yellow and green, with black spotting or markings, however; some are predominately blue making it easy to confuse them with their cousins to the north. Other than the spotting, which is unique to each frog, unlike many others of the species Azureus is not variable. It only comes in blue!