Orientation by environmental geometry and feature cues in the green and black poison frog (Dendrobates auratus)


The ability to use environmental geometry when orienting in space reflects an animal’s ability to use a global, allocentric framework. Therefore, understanding when and how animal’s use geometry relative to other types of cues in the environment has interested comparative cognition researchers for decades. Yet, only two amphibians have been tested to date. We trained the poison frog Dendrobates auratus to find goal shelters in a rectangular arena, in the presence and absence of a feature cue, and assessed the relative influence of the two types of cues using probe trials. We chose D. auratus because the species has complex interactions with their physical and social environments, including parental care that requires navigating to and from distant locations. We found that, like many vertebrates, D. auratus are capable of using geometric information to relocate goals. In addition, the frogs preferentially used the more reliable feature cue when the location of the feature conflicted with the geometry of the arena. The frogs were equally successful at using the feature cue when it was proximal or distal to the goal shelter, consistent with prior studies that found that D. auratus can use distal cues in a flexible manner. Our results provide further evidence that amphibians can use environmental geometry during orientation. Future studies that examine when and how amphibians use geometry relative to other types of cues will contribute to a more complete picture of spatial cognition in this important, yet understudied, group.