BACKGROUND: Color and pattern phenotypes have clear implications for survival and reproduction in many species. However, the mechanisms that produce this coloration are still poorly characterized, especially at the genomic level. Here we have taken a transcriptomics-based approach to elucidate the underlying genetic mechanisms affecting color and pattern in a highly polytypic poison frog. We sequenced RNA from the skin from four different color morphs during the final stage of metamorphosis and assembled a de novo transcriptome. We then investigated differential gene expression, with an emphasis on examining candidate color genes from other taxa. RESULTS: Overall, we found differential expression of a suite of genes that control melanogenesis, melanocyte differentiation, and melanocyte proliferation (e.g., tyrp1, lef1, leo1, and mitf) as well as several differentially expressed genes involved in purine synthesis and iridophore development (e.g., arfgap1, arfgap2, airc, and gart). CONCLUSIONS: Our results provide evidence that several gene networks known to affect color and pattern in vertebrates play a role in color and pattern variation in this species of poison frog.