Cute Frog of the Week to feature ARKive’s cutest frogs

Riobamba marsupial frog  (Gastrotheca riobambae)

This image of a Riobamba marsupial frog is ARKive Research Manager Dr. Verity Pitts' favorite frog photo in the ARKive collection. (© Pete Oxford /

Every Monday morning we enjoy sharing with you a particularly adorable amphibian photo, complete with fun facts through our popular Cute Frog of the Week feature. Now, thanks to ARKive–a website containing an extensive collection of photos, videos, facts and updates about endangered species from all over the world–we’ll have even more diverse library of captivating images to share with you. We love that ARKive is helping educate individuals globally through images and wanted to share a Q&A we conducted with Dr. Verity Pitts, one of ARKive’s research managers a senior team member.

1. What was the primary objective for beginning ARKive? Now that it has become such a large site, has this objective changed?

ARKive was launched in 2003 and is an initiative of the international charity Wildscreen.

Wildscreen’s mission is to promote a greater understanding of the natural world, and the need for its conservation, using the emotive power of the very best wildlife films and photos.

A brainchild of the late Christopher Parsons OBE, former Head of the BBC Natural History Unit, and one of Wildscreen’s founders, ARKive was, and still is, a centralized multi-media library of the world’s endangered species.

ARKive not only communicates the wonders of the planet’s biodiversity, but it also provides a safe haven for almost 100,000 film clips and photos–for use by today’s generation and those of the future.

The ethos of ARKive remains true to its origins: providing unrivaled access for people from around the world to amazing imagery, unlocking the wonders of the natural world, in a bid to protect the planet’s precious flora and fauna.

2. What do you think that films and photos can uniquely do for conservation that other actions may not be able to accomplish?

Wildscreen’s Patrons have answered this question very eloquently:

“Natural history films are more than just entertainment. They provide a crucial insight into the world, from which so many of us are increasingly divorced. We cannot properly value what we do not know. I truly believe the films that Wildscreen cares for and promotes are major elements in the battle to protect our imperilled natural world.”
Sir David Attenborough, world-renowned naturalist and broadcaster

“Books and lectures can do a lot to explain the facts of life on this planet, but films and photographs are better at stirring the imagination.”
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh

3. What kind of audience does ARKive hope to reach? How does this affect the content that it hosts or shares?

Through ARKive, Wildscreen’s mission has always been to provide people from all walks of life free access to its amazing collection of educational and awe-inspiring content.

Wildlife imagery can be a powerful tool in the fight to combat biodiversity loss and to reconnect people with nature–no matter how young or old. ARKive reveals what species look like, what makes them special and why we should care. Whether in the classroom or lecture hall, at home or in the field, ARKive transcends boundaries, and can be used in numerous educational situations–both formal and informal.

We do tailor information for different audiences, and on ARKive visitors can explore content in lots of different ways–through scrolling galleries of stunning images; by habitats; countries and topics, such as climate change; to fun interactive games and activities.

The ARKive blog is a relatively new feature to ARKive, but it enables us to use the ARKive imagery in different ways, helping us: tell stories about threatened species in the news; publish featured articles; update our visitors with what’s new to ARKive; as well as entertain with quizzes and games.

4. We’re so grateful that you’re helping us out with our Cute Frog of the Week. How has ARKive been able to work with and promote conservation organizations like ours?

Wildscreen recognizes the importance and value of building relationships and works in partnership with organizations from around the world on many different levels.

We believe that heightened public awareness to conservation issues translates into action, campaigning, lobbying and fundraising–all vital for protecting our most endangered species and habitats.

Through ARKive, Wildscreen is able to promote and support the efforts of conservation organizations working on the ground in a bid to save a huge variety of species.

5. ARKive has worked in cooperation with the Smithsonian and Google Earth. What future projects or objectives does Wildscreen hope to accomplish?

Reaching new audiences and engaging more people with the importance of biodiversity is an ongoing priority, whether this is by developing new resources and activities, via outreach programmes and new technologies, or of course through partnership working.

Wildscreen will continue to build on current partnerships and encourage new collaborations to enable additional access to ARKive through multiple third party platforms to reach even greater audiences.

6. What type of reaction do you hope that visitors to ARKive’s site have when browsing through the images?

Wildscreen’s aim is to open the window onto the natural world through its ARKive project. The charity works with the world’s finest photographers, filmmakers, scientists and conservationists to bring scientific names to life.

By inspiring people to care for the natural world and its many wonders, Wildscreen hopes to motivate visitors to become involved in the conservation movement, whether on a local or global level.

7. What do you enjoy most about the work you do at ARKive?

There are now more than 75,000 photos on the ARKive website and each of these has been hand-picked by one of our researchers. We only select the ‘best’ images for each species, which are either engaging portrait shots or shots that tell the story of the species’ life history. However, for some species only a few images exist and tracking these down is a very rewarding task.

Having worked on the ARKive project for nearly eight years, I still enjoy learning about new species and seeing the stunning imagery that is pouring into the office from around the world.

Am I your prince?

Vaillant’s frog (Rana vaillanti)

Vaillant’s frog (Rana vaillanti)

Cute Frog of the Week: June 27, 2011

The next time the princess in a tropically set Pixar fairytale wants to liberate her prince by kissing a frog, she would be wise to seek out the 3.5-inch-long individual, not its larger 5-inch-long counterpart. Like many neotropical species, Vaillant’s frog showcases sexual dimorphism and dichromatism. For example, females are generally larger than males, but males are livelier in color. They sport vivid green while the fairer sex is happy in a subdued gray-brown. The princess might choose Vaillant’s frog because it fits the popularized conception of a frog. Large, stocky, and rugged-looking, it lives a semi-aquatic life, floating and resting on the surface of ponds. Between dense mats of floating vegetation, only its rounded black eyes and green head emerge from the water. On shore, it sits and waits for a passing insect for its meal. But it will also go for fish or birds—a fact that gives you a better sense of its relative size. On land, it expends a lot of energy trying to evade a host of frog-eating neotropical snakes (for example, the Mexican snake eater, Clelia scytalina). If it does run into one, Vaillant’s frog makes a mad dash towards the safety of water, diving headfirst. Next stop: the bottom of the lake, where it lays quietly until the danger has passed.

Vaillant’s frog is found in Costa Rica and Panama and tolerates a wide range of habitat types and human encroachment and alteration. Its population is stable, but pesticide use, primarily from aerial spraying, will threaten it in the future. The chemicals find their way and stay in the water.

Photo by Brian Kubicki, Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center.

Banded horned tree frog (Hemiphractus fasciatus) ALL-NEW frog ringtones: Download the vaillant’s frog’s call!

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:

Sneak attack!

Chacoan horned frog (Ceratophrys cranwelli)
Chacoan horned frog (Ceratophrys cranwelli)

Cute Frog of the Week: June 20, 2011

The Chacoan horned frog (Ceratophrys cranwelli) looks like it is more mouth than frog. Such a large mouth on such a little frog earned it the nickname Pacman frog, from the popular video game. The Chacoan horned frog’s oversized mouth conceals something a little more treacherous—teeth. A row of sharp teeth protruding from the upper jaw come in handy when they are ambushing their prey. This frog seeks out hiding places, usually holes, along the forest floor in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay that complement its green and black or brown and black coloring. It nestles itself in its hiding places and waits, motionless, for a meal to wander in front of it. It strikes, lunging out of its hole suddenly, sinking its teeth into its prey. This frog is not a picky eater. Much of its diet can be made up of other frogs. It is capable of swallowing an animal half of its size and has even been known to attack animals larger than itself. Chacoan horned frogs can grow as large as 15cm and weigh half a kilogram. They can sometimes bite off more than they can chew, and can choke on prey that is too large to swallow.

The Chacoan horned frog’s predatory behavior starts at a young age. Tadpoles are cannibalistic and start eating each other after they hatch from their eggs, which are laid in clumps at the bottom of fresh water ponds. During the breeding season, the frogs lay all of their eggs with the first heavy rain of the year.

The frog has a bad reputation among local human populations, but not one that is warranted. Some incorrectly believe that the frog is venomous. However, this fat little frog has no venom, despite what its bright colors may suggest.

Photo courtesy of: The Houston 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:

Chytrid spreading fast and furiously

This week we broke the news that chytridiomycosis, a rapidly spreading amphibian disease, has reached a site near Panama’s Darien region, leaving us little time to save the species there at risk of extinction. Here’s an updated map of how the pathogen is moving through the neotropics:

Chytrid spread
Chytridiomycosis has been linked to dramatic population declines or even extinctions of amphibian species worldwide. Within five months of arriving at El Cope in western Panama, chytridiomychosis extirpated 50 percent of the frog species and 80 percent of individuals.

Conservationists have been fretting for years about what might happen to Eastern Panama’s 120-odd amphibian species when chytrid hits. Chytrid is a disease that cannot tolerate extremely hot temperatures, so it tends to be most devastating in cooler mountainous regions of the tropics that remain cool and moist year-round. The mountainous regions of Eastern Panama are one of the last remaining strongholds of naïve amphibian populations in the New World, and species that tend to have a highland distribution and small ranges are the most vulnerable to extinction.

Press release: Smithsonian Scientists Find Deadly Amphibian Disease in the Last Disease-free Region of Central America

Toad Mountain harlequin frog (Atelopus certus)

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project has established an assurance colony for two species endemic to the Darien, including the Toad Mountain harlequin frog (Atelopus certus), shown here. (Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

Smithsonian scientists have confirmed that chytridiomycosis, a rapidly spreading amphibian disease, has reached a site near Panama’s Darien region. This was the last area in the entire mountainous neotropics to be free of the disease. This is troubling news for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, a consortium of nine U.S. and Panamanian institutions that aims to rescue 20 species of frogs in imminent danger of extinction.

Chytridiomycosis has been linked to dramatic population declines or even extinctions of amphibian species worldwide. Within five months of arriving at El Cope in western Panama, chytridiomychosis extirpated 50 percent of the frog species and 80 percent of individuals.

“We would like to save all of the species in the Darien, but there isn’t time to do that now,” said Brian Gratwicke, biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and international coordinator for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. “Our project is one of a few to take an active stance against the probable extinction of these species. We have already succeeded in breeding three species in captivity. Time may be running out, but we are looking for more resources to take advantage of the time that remains.”

The Darien National Park is a World Heritage site and represents one of Central America’s largest remaining wilderness areas. In 2007, Doug Woodhams, a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, tested 49 frogs at a site bordering the Darien. At that time, none tested positive for the disease. In January 2010, however, Woodhams found that 2 percent of the 93 frogs he tested were infected.

“Finding chytridiomycosis on frogs at a site bordering the Darien happened much sooner than anyone predicted,” Woodhams said. “The unrelenting and extremely fast-paced spread of this fungus is alarming.”

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project has already established captive assurance colonies in Panama of two priority species endemic to the Darien—the Pirre harlequin frog (Atelopus glyphus) and the Toad Mountain harlequin frog (A. certus). In addition, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo maintains an active breeding program for the Panamanian golden frog, which is Panama’s national animal. The Panamanian golden frog is critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and researchers have not seen them in the wild since 2008.

Bd infection

Chytridiomycosis is a rapidly spreading amphibian disease that attacks the skin cells of amphibians (shown here) and is wiping out frog species worldwide. (Doug Woodhams, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)

“We would like to be moving faster to build capacity,” Gratwicke said. “One of our major hurdles is fundraising to build a facility to house these frogs. Until we jump that hurdle, we’re limited in our capacity to take in additional species.”

Nearly one-third of the world’s amphibian species are at risk of extinction. While the global amphibian crisis is the result of habitat loss, climate change and pollution, chytridiomycosis is at least partly responsible for the disappearances of 94 of the 120 frog species thought to have gone extinct since 1980.

“These animals that we are breeding in captivity will buy us some time as we find a way to control this disease in the wild and mitigate the threat directly,” said Woodhams, who was the lead author of a whitepaper Mitigating Amphibian Disease: strategies to maintain wild populations and control chytridiomycosis. This paper, published in Frontiers in Zoology, systematically reviews disease-control tools from other fields and examines how they might be deployed to fight chytrid in the wild. One particularly exciting lead in the effort to find a cure is that anti-chytrid bacteria living on frog skin may have probiotics properties that protect their amphibian host from chytrid by secreting anti-fungal chemicals. Woodhams recently discovered that some Panamanian species with anti-chytrid skin bacteria transmit beneficial skin chemicals and bacteria to their offspring. The paper, Social Immunity in Amphibians: Evidence for Vertical Transmission of Innate Defenses, was published in Biotropica in May.

“We are all working around the clock to find a cure,” Gratwicke said. “Woodhams’ discovery that defenses can indeed be transferred from parent to offspring gives us hope that if we are successful at developing a cure in the lab, we may find a way to use it to save wild amphibians.”

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute serves as an umbrella for the Smithsonian Institution’s global effort to understand and conserve species and train future generations of conservationists. Headquartered in Front Royal, Va., SCBI facilitates and promotes research programs based at Front Royal, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide.

# # #

Media only: contact Lindsay Renick Mayer, Smithsonian’s National Zoo, 202-633-3081

Seeing spots.

Yellow-flecked glass frog (Cochranella albomaculata)

Yellow-flecked glass frog (Cochranella albomaculata)

Cute Frog of the Week: June 13, 2011

This sleepy-looking frog’s vibrant skin is enough to awaken anybody. The yellow-flecked glass frog (Cochranella albomaculata) lives in the lowlands of Central America and northern South America. This frog prefers the sticky humid air that hangs around elevations from sea level to 1,500 meters above sea level. Its golden brown eyes, that seem to almost pop out of its head, and glassy yellow polka-dotted skin are common sights in the forest vegetation around freshwater streams where its larvae develop.

This species is listed by the IUCN as ‘least concern’ due to its wide range, but monitoring has revealed that this species is declining rapidly in some areas due to chytridiomycosis. Therefore, this species is a priority amphibian rescue candidate species. As a species occurring in lowlands, it is probably less vulnerable to chytridiomycosis in the lowland parts of its range, but we have a lot to learn about the absolute effects of Bd in warmer lowland areas.

Photo credit: Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project

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:

Living the high life.

Panama cross-banded treefrog (Simlisca sila)

Panama cross-banded treefrog (Simlisca sila)

Cute Frog of the Week: June 6, 2011

Nightfall in the misted lowland forests of Costa Rica, Panama, and northern Columbia awakens a brown frog with characteristic blue thighs. The Panama cross-banded treefrog (Similisca sila) hides among the dense overhanging vegetation on forest floors. The moisture of mist and droplets of water are not enough for the little frog; it stays close to slow-moving stream banks and shallow rocky pools where its tadpoles can be found. It is not afraid of the dark or of heights. It can venture higher in the forest or even to more open landscapes if it so desires. The Panama cross-banded treefrog can live in secondary forest complete with dense vegetation. It has been found ranging from sea level to 500 meters above sea level.

This beautiful frog is a common amphibian species found in Panama and Colombia. Its range is expanding in Costa Rica, where it is still considered rare. Though the Panama cross-banded treefrog is not considered endangered, it is still vulnerable to deforestation, pollution, illegal crops and human settlement.

Photo credit: Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project

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:

Prescription for Saving Frogs

SMARxT DisposalPanama may seem like a world away, but you can help save frogs locally by committing to one simple task at home, wherever you may live. Amphibians are super sensitive to water contamination. They show evidence of harm at pollution levels that scientific tests can’t detect. Amphibians are truly today’s “canaries in a coal mine.”

While research on the long-term effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment is ongoing, there’s no question that properly disposing of unused prescription and over-the-counter medications, instead of flushing them in the toilet or pouring them down the drain, means you’re keeping our water sources clean – for frogs and for people.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America teamed up to organize  SMARXT DISPOSAL, a campaign aimed at educating consumers on how to dispose of medicines in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. Here’s what they recommend:

  • Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag. If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.), add a small amount of water to dissolve it.
  • Add kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds to make it less appealing for pets and children to eat.
  • Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.

Help spread the word about this simple step everyone can take to protect our environment and frogs. Find out more about SMARXT DISPOSAL here.

Katie Borremans, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo