Panamanian golden frog
The Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki) is a critically endangered toad which is endemic to Panama. It has been considered a subspecies of A. varius, but is now generally regarded as a separate species. While the IUCN still lists it as critically endangered, it may have been extinct in the wild since 2009. Individuals have been collected for breeding in captivity in a bid to preserve the species.
Although known as a frog, the golden frog, despite being smooth-skinned and frog-like in appearance, is classified as a "true toad" (Bufonidae). Like other frogs and toads, the golden frog is capable of secreting poison to help protect themselves from predators. In the case of the golden frog, this is a water-soluble neurotoxin called zetekitoxin.
In dry habitat, the adult male measures 35 millimetres (1.4 in) to 40 millimetres (1.6 in) and weighs 3 grams (0.11 oz) to 5 grams (0.18 oz). The adult female ranges from 45 to 55 mm and from 4 to 7 g. It is larger in wet forests, where the male can grow to 48 mm and weigh up to 12 g, and the female can be as large as 63 mm and weigh up to 15 g. They inhabit tropical forest regions, particularly on mountains, near streams.
These frogs are unusual in that they communicate by a form of semaphore, waving at rivals and prospective mates, in addition to the sounds more usual among frogs. This adaptation is thought to have evolved in the golden frog because of the noise of the fast-moving streams which formed their natural habitat. Males tend to stay near the streams where breeding occurs, while in the non-breeding season females retreat into the forests. Males have a soft call they use to entice prospective mates, grabbing the female and hanging on when she crosses his path. If she is receptive, she will tolerate his amplexing; if not she will attempt to buck him off by arching the spine.
Amplexus can last from a few days to a couple of months, with ovipositioning usually taking place in shallow stream. Tadpoles emerge from the eggs after 2-10 days and bury themselves into crevices where they remain for up to two weeks. At this point, they become a blackish-gold coloration as melanin floods the dermal layers, giving the larvae protection from the sun. The larvae feed on algae until they metamorphose.
The golden frog appears to socialize with other frogs using sounds from the throat and hand waving. This hand waving was investigated by a group of amphibian experts and appears to be used for a variety of social situations, from friendly waves to signals to back off. A fake frog with a moving hand was used, and after repeated hand waving, the authentic frog attacked.
The species was filmed for the very last time in the wild in 2007 by the BBC Natural History Unit for the series Life in Cold Blood by David Attenborough. The remaining few specimens were taken into captivity and the location of filming was kept secret to protect them from potential poachers.
Populations of amphibians, including the golden frog, suffered major declines possibly due to the fungal infection, chytridiomycosis, which is an invasive fungal pathogen that reached El Valle, the home of the Panamanian Golden Frog in 2006. Additional factors, such as habitat loss and pollution, may have also played a role.
"Project Golden Frog" is a conservation project involving scientific, educational, and zoological institutions in the Republic of Panama and United States. The intended outcomes of this project are: greater understanding of the golden frog, coordinated conservation effort by governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations, heightened awareness of current global amphibian declines, greater respect among Panamanians and global citizens concerning wildlife, and greater land preservation for threatened and endangered species throughout the world. This organization will use education, field studies, producing offspring through the already captive frogs, and offering financial support to help preserve these frogs.
The Panamanian golden frog is something of a national symbol, appearing on state lottery tickets and in local mythology. It is thought that when the frog dies it turns to gold. It is believed that the frog brings good luck to those fortunate enough to see it. In 2010 the Panamanian Government passed legislation recognizing August 14 as National Golden Frog Day. The main celebration event is marked annually by a parade in the streets of El Valle de Anton, and a display of golden frogs at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in the El Nispero Zoo, El Valle.
- Savage, J.M. 2002. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 0-226-73537-0
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species - Atelopus zeteki – Critically Endangered - Accessed February 4, 2008
- AmphibiaWeb: Mantella baroni - Panamanian Golden Frog
- San Diego Zoo website: sandiegozoo.org
- BBC News Online 2nd February 2008
- "Panama Amphibian Conservation Timeline". Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. http://amphibianrescue.org/?page_id=57. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
- Happy First Annual National Golden Frog Day! Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, 2010 Accessed September 28, 2010