Ranitomeya fantastica

Boulenger, 1883

Ranitomeya fantastica

Known from varied habitats throughout northern San Martin and southern Loreto departments in north-central Peru, elevations from 150 m up to roughly 900 m. The highest morph diversity occurs in the transition zones between the lowlands and highlands around Tarapoto and Chazuta, though the Loreto lowlands near Yurimaguas also contain a variety of morphs.

Natural History
Along with its wide distribution among habitat types comes substantial variation in life-history and reproductive ecology. Most morphs are semi-arboreal and found in primary forest, where they breed in tree-holes and bromeliads, though there are also a handful of terrestrial morphs.

Conservation Status
This species has been a popular target for smugglers for several years. Smugglers have already severely compromised the nominal morph. Being now common in the hobby, the market for sustainably-harvested frogs has been drastically reduced. Also, the sustained smuggling pressure on the nominal morphs has diminished current populations to a shadow of what they formerly were. Most other morphs listed below have been discovered only within the last couple years and have already attracted the attention of smugglers.

Nominal species of the fantastica genetic group, sister to Ranitomeya benedicta. Brown et al. (2008) recently restricted this species so as to exclude populations from the lower Huallaga canyon and Pampas del Sacramento, which were described as R. summersi and R. benedicta, respectively.

Type Locality Map View Larger

Ranitomeya fantastica
Nominal Morph

This is the morph originally described by Boulenger in 1883. Until 2011, this morph had not been found and was thought to be possibly extinct due to rampant deforestation near the mentioned type locality of Yurimaguas. In 2011 this morph was rediscovered during fieldwork near Boulenger’s given type locality. The presence/absence of black markings on the head is variable, although most individuals appear to lack such markings.

Highland Morph

This is the most well-known morph of this species, at least among hobbyists. It occurs in the highlands of the Cordillera Escalera and has a gold head stamped with a butterfly silhouette. This morph can be found in the Tarapoto area from 400-900 m elevation. It is not an easy frog to catch, being both arboreal and extremely fast. They do however come down from their canopy bromeliads often enough to be occasionally seen. This morph does not extend into the lowlands.

White-banded Morph

This morph can be found near Tarapoto. It is active among the leaf litter and lower understory and prefers tree-holes to bromeliads for reproduction.

Lowland Morph

This morph was found in 2004 in lowland forest. Subsequent searches in 2005 have revealed that this is a highly variable frog. Some individuals have a nose spot, which is unlike the nominal morph found nearby. Many individuals appear to be excellent mimics of the local R. variabilis.

Reticulated Morph

This frog was one of the prize jewels of one of our expeditions of 2005. With the weather as dry as it was, we would have been lucky to find one, but we must have been very lucky, because we found three. It is hard to say if this fantastica is terrestrial or arboreal – probably somewhere in between, as they were found on the ground, in the vegetation, and up in a tree-hole.

Varadero Morph

In June 2005 we stumbled across a brilliant red-orange fantastica while on an expedition to the lowlands near Yurimaguas. The third picture is a comparison between the highland fantastica and the orange/blue fantastica. Note that the orange coloration extends well down the forearms in this morph, similar to the nominal morph.