Do I know you? Aren’t you….?

Imitator poison dart frog (Ranitomeya imitator)

Imitator poison dart frog (Ranitomeya imitator)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 28, 2011

This colorful frog appears to be posing. And he is! Male imitator poison dart frogs (Ranitomeya imitator) are arboreal and position themselves on leaves to make sure other males see them and stay out of their territory. Their bright colors signal to predators to leave them alone, since their skin is toxic. Their striking appearance is not unique, however. These frogs mimic their poison dart frog neighbors’ color patterns (hence the name “imitator”), and the only way to easily identify them is by their call (listen here from The imitator hails from Peru, striking its poses in the moist forests at the foothills of the Andes Mountains. It is active during the day, ensuring its colorful body can be seen by all.

Photo credit: Joe Milmoe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here:

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Finds Endangered Frog In The Jungles of Panama

Limosa Harlequin Frog

Limosa Harlequin frog. Photo B. Gratwicke, Smithsonian Institute

A Cheyenne Mountain Zoo team led by President Bob Chastain is back in Colorado after spending nine days in the jungles of Panama as part of a global effort to save amphibian species on the verge of extinction due to chytrid fungus. The team was searching for the endangered Atelopus limosus harlequin frog, and collected one female, two males, and a juvenile (sex to be determined). Until this trip, there was just one Atelopus limosus female and four males in captivity in the world. The female found by the team is especially important in creating a viable, sustainable population.

“I saw first-hand how grave the situation is, and it’s sobering,” said Chastain. “But there’s no time for despair. There’s work to be done and we have to dig in. As Americans, we are no strangers to digging in and dealing with monumental problems.”

Over one-third of the world’s amphibians are threatened with extinction. The rapidly spreading chytrid fungus is taking a huge toll, wiping out 30% – 50% of species in its path, species which could hold the key to significant medical advances against HIV, cancer, and other diseases.

“The forest is getting quieter and quieter,” said Chastain. “During our first trip in November of 2009, the sound of frogs was almost deafening. That’s not the case anymore.”

This was the fifth expedition for Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The team of five spent as many as 13 hours a day hiking the remote, mountainous area of Cerro Brewster looking for the Atelopus limosus, a half-dollar-sized frog that blends in with the dark rocks and green moss. The only tools at their disposal were walking sticks to move leaves and rocks.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Chastain.

When a specimen was found, the team swabbed the frog to check for chytrid. Each frog was then placed in a plastic bag and transported to a bio-secure breeding facility at Panama’s Summit Zoo, where another Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staffer assisted with veterinary care.

“We’re seeing entire populations go extinct before our eyes,” said Chastain. “By finding these frogs and treating them, we’re at least giving them a chance at survival. In the words of ecologist Aldo Leopold, to keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo hopes by getting involved before amphibians are gone forever, future generations of scientists will have the resources necessary when it comes to curing environmental disasters and making medical history.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a founding partner in the international Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project initiative. The organization’s mission is to establish amphibian assurance colonies and develop methodologies to reduce the impact of the chytrid fungus so captive amphibian species may one day be re-introduced to the wild. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was joined this trip by representatives from other Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project partners, including Houston Zoo’s El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC), Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Summit Zoo. Zoo New England oversaw the veterinary support. Africam Safari, ANAM (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente), Defenders of Wildlife, and Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park also fund and provide support for the project.


Katie Borremans, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Snakes where frogs should be!

As the fungal disease, chytridiomycosis, wipes out frogs and other amphibians across Panama, snakes appear to be more common than previously—but are they really, and will they last?

Eyelash viper

Chad Montgomery took this photo of an eyelash viper, Bothriechis schleglii, eating a frog in El Cope, Panama, one of the most studied frog decline sites here.

Panama’s ongoing “Amphibian Armageddon” completely changes who eats whom—aka the food chain—near the highland tropical streams where frogs and amphibians used to abound.

Researchers from the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project’s latest expedition to Cerro Brewster in Central Panama report that where the frogs used to be, they are now seeing snakes—deadly eyelash vipers, to be exact.

This weekend my family was visiting from the United States and we ventured out on my favorite easy day trip from Panama City–a drive up to El Valle, a little town nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano.

Our first stop was El Nispero, a small private zoo, home to the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center, EVACC, a project initiated by the Houston Zoo with some logistical support from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

EVACC is housed in a new building—with a beautiful small exhibit about Panama’s endangered frogs where you can see one of the last remaining golden frogs, Atelopus zeteki—named for James Zetek, one of the founder’s of STRI’s Barro Colorado Island research station in the 1920’s.

Edgardo Griffith is pretty much the powerhouse behind EVACC. He was in the lab there and was kind enough to take a break to talk to me about the most recent rescue project trip up to Brewster Hill.

The last visit to Brewster, which also included a big group of people from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado, was in November, 2009.  That team found a lot of frogs, but many of them were already infected with the fungus.

This time they found very few frogs, although they were psyched to have found a female Altelopus limosus, the Limosa harlequin frog, which the rescue project recently bred in captivity.

Instead they found a lot of snakes. Edgardo speculated that because there are fewer frogs it is not so much that there are more snakes, but that the snakes have to work harder to find frogs and are concentrated around the streams where a few frogs remain, so the team was just running into them more often.  But without more careful work, it is hard to say.

Chad Montgomery, now a professor at Truman State University in Missouri, did his post-doctoral research with Karen Lips from the University of Maryland on the effects of amphibian declines on frog predators at El Cope, one of the most studied frog decline sites in Panama.

He told me: “In 2005, the first year following the amphibian decline, we saw a change in the snake community, with snake species that are more dependent on amphibians as food (such as Sibon and Leptodeira) becoming less common relative to those snake species that are not as reliant on amphibians as prey (such as Oxybelis and Dipsas).”

“The ecosystem can’t support the previously large snake community,” he said. “Ultimately, loss of amphibians probably causes local extinction of some snake species and severely reduced population sizes in those species that remain.”

According to Julie Ray, the director of the La Mica Biological Station in El Cope, it’s unusual to see so many eyelash vipers, which have declined in El Cope following the frog decline. Eyelash vipers feed on frogs, lizards, mice, etc. She also said that Fer de lance, Panama’s most poisonous snake, actually feed on dying and dead frogs.

One of the truths that the rescue project reveals is how little we still know about playing Noah.  Many of Panama’s endangered frogs have never been studied in the wild or kept in captivity.

Not only do rescue project researchers have to figure out what frogs eat and what they need to survive and reproduce in a zoo, they still have no idea how their habitat will change as a result of the disease and when, if ever, it will be possible to reintroduce captive frogs back into the wild. We need to know much more about how frog extinctions change insect and animal communities…and that take precious time and money, which is why frog rescue projects need your support.

–Beth King, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Wart’s Up?

Wyoming toad (Anaxyrus baxteri)

Wyoming toad (Anaxyrus baxteri)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 21, 2011

This lumpy looking, wart-covered Wyoming toad (Anaxyrus baxteri) may not be easy on the eyes, but it probably doesn’t even know it–Wyoming toads can’t see very well. At about two inches in length, its spots and brown color help it blend in. So does the cover of night, when the toads are most active.

Up until the early 1970s, the Wyoming toad was abundant in the Laramie Plains of none other than Wyoming. Within a few years, the species had a major population crash most likely due to pesticides, fertilizers, habitat loss, climate change, and the chytrid fungus. In 1994, the remaining six toads were removed from Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge and placed in a captive breeding program. There are now several Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) participants, including Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service facilities housing breeding populations. Through extensive captive breeding efforts, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has produced more than 5,000 tadpoles for release. Unfortunately the reintroduction of this species has been slow to take hold due to chyrtid present in the reintroduction sites, predation and other diseases. To learn more, visit Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Wyoming toad page.

Photo credit: Jeff Baughman, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here:

Frog Love

Valentine's frogs

In celebration of Valentine’s Day this week, we pulled together some of the most interesting breeding rituals in the frog world. Their wooing methods and reproductive techniques are as diverse as the animals themselves—and candy and flowers are not required for success!

1. The Underwater Ballet: Surinam toads (Pipa pipa) bring the romance of the ballet to their breeding habits, performing what looks like an “underwater ballet.” While they are joined in amplexus (when the male hangs on the female’s back, grasping her around the neck), they flip through the water together in arcs; a perfect dance. As the male and female swing in synchrony, the female releases eggs and the male fertilizes them.

Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki)2. The Sign for “I Love You:” Panamanian golden frogs (Atelopus zeteki) aren’t shy. If the males can’t get their point across to a potential mate through their low whistling call, they wave their hands in seduction. Some researchers believe they may even use this to greet one another!

3. That’s a Mouthful: Now thought to be extinct, the gastric brooding frog (Rheobatrachus silus) incubated its young inside its tummy! The female swallowed the eggs after they had been fertilized and the tadpoles developed in her stomach while the female’s entire digestive system would shut down to ensure she didn’t digest her children! After about six weeks, she would give birth to up to 25 young by opening her mouth widely so the fully formed frogs could emerge and hop away.

Nest of a foam nest tree frog (Chiromantis xerampelina)4. Whipping up a Frenzy: When two male foam nest tree frogs (Chiromantis xerampelina) find true love, they shack up in a nest of foam. But it’s up the female to build it and she whips up a foam nest out of skin secretions with her back feet before blending between 500 and 1,200 eggs into the froth. Sometimes this process includes more than one pair of frogs—or more than one male at a time!

5. Flying High: Wallace’s flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus) spend almost all of their time in trees, coming down only to mate and lay eggs. These frogs are very particular, however, about where they lay their eggs, preferring the smelly wallowing holes of the nearly extinct Asian rhinoceros! They seem to risk getting stepped on in exchange for at least some protection from potential predators who are scared off by the rhinos.

6. Paternal Instincts: In the case of the Darwin’s frog (Rhinoderma darwinii), it’s up to the father to rear the young. After the female lays the eggs, the male then guards them before picking up all of the survivors and carrying them around. The tadpoles develop in the male’s baggy chin skin, feeding off their egg yolk. When they are tiny froglets (about half an inch), they hop out and swim away, leaving pops on his own again.

7. Egg Mania: The female blue mountain tree frog (Litoria citropa) lays about a thousand eggs on the floor of a rocky pool of water during the spring and summer. When the eggs are fertilized, she kicks them so they disperse and have a greater chance of survival in the case of a targeted attack. The female frog can reproduce only at the age of 2 or 3 years old.

Banded horned tree frog (Hemiphractus fasciatus) 8. Hitchin’ a Ride: The eggs of the banded horned tree frog (Hemiphractus fasciatus) get pushed into a sack on the female’s back as the male fertilizes them. These frogs breed by direct development, which means that when they are born, they pop out as kid frogs instead of baby tadpoles. Then they stick around for awhile, taking a ride on mom’s back.

Lexie Beach, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

–Unless otherwise indicated, photos by Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project

Leaf me alone!

Solomon Island leaf frogs (Ceratobatrachus guentheri)

Solomon Island leaf frogs (Ceratobatrachus guentheri)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 14, 2011

These gorgeous forest floor dwellers are native to the wet rainforests of the Solomon Islands and the hot and humid Papua New Guinea. As their name suggests, they look very much like leaves–their color can range from golden to duller browns and they are sometimes referred to as “eyelash” frogs because of the growths over their eyes that gives them more of a “leafy” appearance. Among the 5,000 known frog species, there’s a diverse range of how frogs develop from fertilized egg to hopping little froglets. Coquis are members of a group of frogs that don’t have a free-living (larval) phase. Instead, all steps of development (from single-celled egg to froglet) occur inside the egg. This means that when the pea-sized egg hatches, you don’t get tadpoles, but froglets! How cute is that?! Their eggs are also transparent enough that you can see the developing frog in the egg. These frogs are only about a quarter inch long when they hatch and grow to about three inches by the time they become adults. Even though these cuties are tiny, they have a pretty noisy call which sounds like the barking of a small dog! Hear it for yourself!

Photo credit: Jessie Cohen, Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here:

The story of the deer and the frog

The story of “The deer and the frog”

The deer and the frog

Frogs and conservation are part of many traditions and cultures.

Once upon a time, there was a deer that always made fun of small wild animals, especially frogs. “You guys are slow, weak and small,” the deer used to say and to demonstrate his strength and speed, he challenged one of the frogs to a race. The intelligent frog accepted the challenge and together the frogs planned a way to beat the deer. They agreed that each of them would wait every few meters and relieve the other and as a result, deceive the deer. The race started and the deer took the lead, but after a while the frog was ahead of him. The deer sped up and took the lead again until the frog overtook him again. Close to the finish line, the deer got tired and lost the race, not knowing that many small frogs with agile minds proved him wrong.*


If you follow this blog, you know that a group of zoos, governmental and nongovernmental organizations motivated by and concerned about the current crisis facing amphibians started this project to rescue and conserve some of the most endangered frog species in eastern Panama. It is easy to understand what motivates a scientist, a veterinarian, a zookeeper or an environmentalist to conserve a species, but we often forget that there are people whose cultures are based on the respect for nature, conservation of many species and the dissemination of this knowledge through the generations.

Hand-carved frog taguas by Lanky Cheucarama

One of the rescue project's frog keepers, Lanky Cheucarama, carves these beautiful frog tagua nuts. Can you tell which is real and which is fake?

Lanky Cheucarama is Wounaan and one of the keepers at Summit Zoo for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. The Wounaans are one of seven ethnic groups found in Panama and they occupied the eastern region of Panama (the Darien) and the Chocó region in Colombia. Its inhabitants are principally engaged in the sale of hand-made crafts. Baskets woven by women and carved wood and tagua (vegetable ivory) by men are some of the products offered to tourists who visit the Wounaans.

Lanky began tagua carving at the age of 12, taught by his father Chafil and uncle Selerino, two of the most outstanding artists in their community. Frogs are among the most common animals carved in tagua and take between three days (for the simple ones) and up to one week (for the most elaborate tagua) to carve. Lanky’s hand-carved tagua nuts are modeled after the frogs in the rescue project and available for sale here (proceeds support the rescue project).

For many indigenous communities in Central and South America, frogs have played an important role within their cultures. It is well know that some dart frog’s poison was used to hunt animals and was even used in weapons during fights with other indigenous groups. K’up’uur (frog, in wounaan language) is found in dances, songs, fables, art, medicine and other rites. This is why we know how important they are for this group.

Here at Summit Zoo, we always learn something new about Lanky’s culture and some of our team members and volunteers have been lucky to visit and meet his community and his family. It’s interesting to realize how even though we have come from different backgrounds; we all have the same interest: to protect and preserve what nature has to offer. By learning from each other and sharing our knowledge, we are able to save frogs and many other endangered species.

Purchase one of Lanky’s beautiful hand-carved tagua nuts modeled after the rescue project’s frogs here (proceeds support the rescue project).

*This is a story told to the children in Lanky’s community.

-Angie Estrada and Lanky Cheucarama, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project

What’s your name?

Coqui (Eleutherodactylus coqui)

Coqui (Eleutherodactylus coqui)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 7, 2011

The coquí (Eleutherodactylus coqui), or “little frog,” as it is called in its native Puerto Rico, is a small frog that ranges in size between 15mm and 80mm and is considerably diverse in appearance. They can be green, brown or yellowish and sometimes have touches of different colors—and even stripes! The coquí is one of those frogs that undergoes metamorphosis inside its egg, unlike many other frog species (and most amphibians for that matter) that change from tadpoles into adult frogs. This means that it hatches from its egg as a little baby frog.

Ask a Puerto Rican abroad what they miss about home, and many will say the sound of coquis! This species has accidentally been introduced to  Hawaii where it thrives, but most Hawaiians don’t have the same appreciation of this frog and go to great lengths to try and get rid of them! And if you can’t remember the name of this little frog, just ask it. Its call sounds like it is saying “coqui.”

Wiggle your toes!

Coquíes have disks on the tips of their toes to help them adhere to surfaces, like moistened leaves. Because they don’t require open water for their life cycle, they don’t have webbing between their toes, like more aquatic frogs, which means that this particular frog is probably not adapted to swim. They do like to be different, don’t they!? These lucky guys are listed as “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, though they have suffered some declines in the highlands.

Photo credit: Joe Milmoe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here:

If You Build It, They Will Come


For those in North America, creating a natural habitat in your backyard will help attract native frog species, like this bullfrog. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project)

It happens every year about this time, and despite the fact there’s a fresh layer of snow on the ground in Colorado Springs, spring fever is setting in. I’m already looking forward to spending time in the yard, pruning and planting. As you begin to plan your garden for the year, why not keep the bugs at bay naturally by creating a backyard oasis for amphibians? Frogs and toads gobble up mosquitoes and other insects, which are not only a nuisance, but can carry diseases like West Nile Virus.

The National Wildlife Federation has some great tips for easy water features to make frogs and toads feel right at home. You can purchase pre-formed pond liners at your local garden center, or use a flexible pond liner to create a custom shape. Place your pond in a spot where it will receive some direct sun (avoid full sun for the entire day), and plant native grasses and other vegetation around the edge. Be sure there’s a ledge to provide gradual depth change, which allows critters to get in and out easily. You can also stack rocks or logs to help them. It’s best not to add chlorine. Instead, add a bucket of water from a nearby natural pond or stream, which will introduce all kinds of organisms to help keep your pond healthy. Adding a little barley straw will limit algae growth as well.

No room for a pond? Try placing a toad abode in a shady spot near a large saucer of water. Just turn a ceramic flowerpot upside down and prop the edge up with a rock so toads can get in and out.

Most importantly, never purchase or move frogs or toads to your backyard, which could end up killing them. Remember, if you build it, they will come. Check out the National Wildlife Federation for more backyard habitat ideas!

Katie Borremans, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo