R. imitator 'Varadero'

Ranitomeya imitator
Schulte, 1999

The Imitators may be the most fascinating of all of the Dendrobatids.  They are excellent examples of Müllerian mimicry, meaning that they mimic other toxic species.  Of the known imitators, amazing mimicry of various morphs of R. fantastica, R. variabilis, R. ventrimaculata, and R. sirensis can be identified.  Interestingly, some imitators have been found to be more poisonous than the frog being imitated.

It is thought that the imitators were the newcomers to forests that had already been occupied by their Dendrobatid cousins, which predators had learned not to prey upon.  Nature, in its infinite wisdom decided that casualties would be minimized for both the prey and predator if the “taste-testing” of these newcomers could be avoided, thus these newcomers evolved to resemble the known deadly frogs.

Imitators are bold and feisty little frogs that should be housed in a large vivarium if more than a pair is kept together.  Same-sex aggression, clutch destroying and outright egg-eating can be relentless without sufficient space and cover.


This highly variable species has a wide range throught the lowland rainforests of northern Peru, occurring at elevations of between 200-900 m (approximately 650-3,000 ft).

Imitators inhabit forests laden with phytotelmata, which they live in, breed in and defend.  Preferred plants include the leaf axils and bracts of Dieffenbachia, Xanthosomas, Bromeiliads and Heliconias.

While the ICUN Red List of Endangered Species considers R. imitator to be of Least Concern (LC)[1], Brown and Twomey offer the following:

“There are several morphs of R. imitator that are a conservation concern simply due to their tiny range sizes. For example, a certain ‘intermedius’ morph in the Huallaga canyon may only have a range size of a few square kilometers, most of which has been or will soon be converted to cattle pastures, banana fields, or coffee farms. Furthermore, many imitator morphs, particularly those near Chazuta, have been devastated by smugglers for the past 10 years.” [2]

Brown and Twomey are a well-reputed “hands on” research team; therefore, I consider their assessment of the status of R. imitator in the wild reliable.

[1] ICUN Red List of Endangered Species: http://www.iucnredlist.org/

[2] Dendrobates.org: http://www.dendrobates.org/imitator.html



Mimics R. variabilis

Mimics R. summersi

Mimics R. ventrimaculata

Mimics R. fantastica ‘Varadero’