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April 21, 2018  |  Login

Panamanian Golden Frog
Atelopus zeteki

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What Are They Like?

The tiny Panamanian golden frog, unique to the country for which it is named, is something of a national symbol, appearing on Panamanian state lottery tickets and in local folklore, which says that when the frog dies it turns to gold, and that it brings good luck to those fortunate enough to see it. Lottery tickets may be the only place, other than a handful of zoos, to see this critically endangered amphibian, since it has become extinct in the wild. The frog is golden in color, and capable of secreting a potent neurotoxin called zetekitoxin to protect itself from predators. In a dry environment, adult males measure 1.4-1.6 inches (3.5-4 centimeters) in length and weigh 0.11-0.18 ounces (3-5 grams). Adult dry forest females measure 1.8-2.2 inches (4.5-5.5 centimeters) and weigh 0.14-0.25 ounces (4-7 grams). Wet forest males and females are larger; adult males measure 1.5-1.9 inches (3.9-4.8 centimeters) in length and weigh 0.28-0.42 ounces (8-12 grams), while adult females measure 2.2-2.5 inches (5.5-6.3) centimeters and weigh 0.35-0.5 ounces (10-15 grams).

Where Do They Live?

Unique to Panama, Panamanian golden frogs once inhabited tropical forest regions, particularly near streams on mountains. They were first identified in the volcnic rainforest of El Valle de Anton in the Coclé Province of Panama. Now, they can be found only in zoos, which are trying to save the species through captive breeding.

Did You Know?
The Panamanian golden frog is classified as a “true toad” (Bufonidae), even though it looks like a frog and has the smooth skin that differentiates frogs from toads.

How Are Babies Made?

The frogs breed in and around forest streams.

What Do They Eat?

The Panamanian Golden frog eats a variety of insects.

Did You Know?
The last wild frogs in the wild were filmed in 2007 by the BBC’s David Attenborough, and then removed to secret locations to try to save the species in captive recovery programs.

What Do They Do?

The golden frog socializes with other frogs using sounds from the throat and “hand waving.” This hand waving appears to be used for a variety of social situations, from attracting a mate, to a friendly greeting, to signaling competitors to back off. Scientists think this hand-waving behavior evolved because more normal frog noises couldn’t be heard over the noise of the fast-moving mountain streams which formed their natural habitat.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Panamanian Golden frog as “critically endangered.” Loss of habitat, over-collection and a disease-causing fungus have caused the species to crash so sharply that no wild populations currently exist. The chytridiomycosis fungus that has claimed the Panamanian golden frog is probably the leading cause of amphibian declines in the world. It has affected amphibians in Australia, Africa, and Central and North America. The only hope to save the species currently lies in the captive breeding programs now under way.

What's Being Done?

Today, a captive breeding population of Panamanian golden frogs is being managed by a number of zoos and aquariums in the U.S. and Panama, in hopes of someday reintroducing the species back to the wild in its native country. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., is one of the institutions that has successfully raised Panamanian golden frogs in captivity, with the first clutches of eggs hatching and maturing in 2005. The captive populations of frogs also help zoos and aquariums call attention to the worldwide plight of other endangered amphibians whose populations have crashed due to the chytrid fungus. Researchers working with groups like the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, and Project Golden Frog at the Denver Zoo are hoping to develop a cure to control the further spread of chytridiomycosis among the world’s amphibians.


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