A Successful Golden Frog Day in Panama

Golden frog parade

Part of National Golden Frog Day was a golden frog parade.

August 10th through August 13th marked the celebration of Golden Frog Day for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. The week prior, the entire staff worked hard to put together a unique experience for visitors in Panama. STRI researchers in nearby Gamboa captured túngara frogs, Savage’s thin-toed frog, gladiator frogs, leaf frogs and glass frogs for public display. Everyone took turns blowing up hundreds of yellow and black balloons. Without such team effort, we would not have been able to pull off this event.

The rescue project does not have any actual specimens of the golden frog, Atelopus zeteki, and because the species is extinct in the wild, we were repeatedly asked where the golden frogs are. This allowed for us to discuss the importance of amphibian conservation and of the rescue project, EVACC and other amphibian conservation efforts around the world. Staff members educated visitors about the frogs that were on display, and scientists studying tungara frogs in Gamboa set up a small exhibit to educate the public about the research being conducted by STRI scientists.

Seeing children become so enthused about frogs instills a wonderful feeling in a herpetologist. Over the course of the weekend, nearly 1,000 children visited the event. Every day there was an activity station set up for the kids to paint frog masks, and winners were selected from each group. On Saturday, we had use of a bouncy house and bungee race, which undoubtedly led to many tired kids (and grateful parents). But the highlight of the children’s day was always the frogs. Tiny faces lit up and smiled time and time again every time they saw the tadpoles swimming, the túngaras hopping, or even just the size of the sedentary Savage’s thin-toed frog.

Golden frog day

Children and adults alike dressed up in the frog

Events like the one held that weekend demonstrate the importance and effectiveness of educational outreach. 1,000 children over the course of three days (along with uncounted adults and family members) mean that the rescue project was able to spread the word out about the necessity of preserving biodiversity. The fact that this weekend was dedicated to the golden frog, a national symbol of Panama that now exists only in captivity, underscores the urgency to address worldwide amphibian declines.

We thanked MEDUCA (Ministry of Education) who made it possible for 310 students to visit; Aid4Aids staff; kids and parents who made our Saturday an unforgettable day; all the staff at Summit Municipal Park, especially to: Melgar, Itzel and Adalberto. Lastly, a special thanks to the volunteers (Ximena, Jesse, Laura, Kristen, Jennifer, Jose Maria, Meghan, Andrew, Kelsey, Shanta, Natalie, Ana, Giancarlo, Alexis, Sangie, Dania, Anayansi, Kristel, Digna and Katherine) who helped keep everything flowing in an orderly manner the entire weekend!

Norman Greenhawk, rescue project volunteer; and Angie Estrada, rescue project coordinator

Lungs. Who needs ‘em?

Shenandoah salamander (Plethodon shenandoah)

Shenandoah salamander (Plethodon shenandoah)

Cute “Frog” of the Day: August 27, 2012

The Shenandoah salamander (Plethodon shenandoah) is a member of the Plethodontidae family, a group of lungless salamanders. Instead of lungs, these little amphibians use their skin and mouth lining to exchange air, but they need to keep moist to do it.  This means you might never notice how many salamanders are living just outside your door, since they like to stay under damp hiding places like rocks and logs during the day.  But take a look at the forest floor on a rainy night, and you might be amazed at how many of these critters are out, searching for food and mates!

While lungless salamanders are particularly common in the forested hills and mountains of the eastern US, you’d have to be in a very specific place to find the Shenandoah salamander.  This salamander has been listed as vulnerable by the IUCN since 1989, due to its small range and the threats of climate change and human development.  It can only be found on the high-elevation slopes of three mountains within Shenandoah National Park, and seems to be competing for resources with its close cousin, the red-backed salamander.

Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

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: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

Just as cute as any frog.

Common Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

Common fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

Cute “Frog” of the Week: August 21, 2012

This week’s cute frog is not a frog at all, but a beautiful salamander! While this salamander (Salamandra salamandra) might have “common” in its name, its looks are anything but ordinary.  This relatively large salamander usually sports a bold mix of black and yellow splotches, but some individuals can be completely black, yellow or even orange.  As with many of our cute frogs, these bright colors warn predators to stay far away.  The common fire salamander stores a neurotoxin called samandarine within large glands running down its back. When it feels threatened, the salamander can coat its body with the milky secretion, and can even spray the toxin at a predator using strong muscles surrounding some of the glands.

Interestingly, instead of laying eggs, female fire salamanders move to streams or ponds and give birth to tiny, well-formed larvae. Over time, the larvae grow, absorb their frilly external gills, and climb out onto land. Some subspecies even skip the larval stage entirely, and are instead born as little terrestrial salamanders!

The common fire salamander can be found across Europe and is considered to be of least concern by the IUCN. However, there are several subspecies that are in decline, and many individual countries are working to conserve their native populations. The biggest threats to these salamanders are habitat loss due to development, pollution, and predation by introduced species.

Have you seen one? If so, send in your photo to the global amphibian bioblitz!

Photo by Gonçalo M. Rosa via ARKive.

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: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

Happy Third Annual Golden Frog Day!

Panamanian golden frogs

In 2010, the National Assembly of Panama passed a law that honors the significance of one of the most striking amphibian species, the Panamanian golden frog. That day is Aug. 14. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

It’s National Golden Frog Day in Panama today and we’re celebrating here on the blog with some thoughts from the rescue project’s partners and other stakeholders about what the golden frog means to each of us individually, to Panama’s culture, to the ecosystem and to the world:

Adrian Benedetti, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
“The golden frog was the first animal to capture my imagination when I returned to Panama after living abroad for 12 years. The fact that this little animal had such a grip on local myth and legend makes it almost magical.”

“La Rana Dorada fue el primer animal en capturar mi imaginación al regresar a Panamá después de 12 años de estar fuera del país. El hecho de que este animalito ha tenido un impacto tan grande en la mitología y leyenda local lo hace casi mágico.”

Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
“I actively search for a little glimmer of neon-yellow peeking out from behind a rock every time I hike up a river in El Valle de Anton, but I’m always disappointed. I guess I’m chasing that same ecstatic rush that people get when they twitch a new bird species, or see a grizzly bear catching a salmon in Alaska. I think anyone who has seen charismatic wildlife in wild, natural landscapes where they belong can understand why it would be so thrilling to play a small role in bringing golden frogs back from the brink.”

Golden frogs

In the market at El Valle de Antòn, you will see golden frogs by the thousands either as enamel-painted terracotta or on hand-carved tagua nuts. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

Edgardo Griffith, EVACC
“The only reason golden frogs and other species are going extinct is because of us. We are the ones that created the problems they and their habitats are facing, so we are the ones that have to find the solutions. It is our responsibility big-time, especially because the more responsible we are with the environment, plants and animals, the more chances of survival the future generations of our own kind will have. In my opinion, saving wildlife today is the only way we have to assure the survival of our very own species.”

“I recognize that not all amphibians are physically beautiful, but I love them all and consider all of them master pieces of DNA. However, the Panamanian golden frog is indeed colorful, elegant and very wise. Knowing a little bit about their natural behavior makes me appreciate them even more. I think they are one of those things where Mother Nature just went overboard.”

Heidi Ross and Edgardo Griffith, EVACC
“The golden frog is the most significant, important and charismatic amphibian in Panama. It is part of our culture and a very important member of the amphibian community. From an ecological point of view, it is one of those species that is extremely susceptible to even minimal environmental changes. It is also a species that has been used as a flagship to conserve other amphibian species.”

Panamanian golden frog

Panamanian golden frogs are extinct in the wild, but a number of zoos have successful breeding programs that aim to keep the species alive. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

“To witness an entire population disappear is just devastating, and heartbreaking. Now every time we go back to the sites where we used to work with golden frogs, all we do is remember where we used to find them and imagine what it would be like to hear their characteristic whistle-like call again. But after a few hours of not finding them, or hearing them at all, a horrible feeling of void and silence fills us up. This is the time to get out of there. In other words, it is sad, very sad to know that they are all gone now, just like living the worst day of your life over and over again. That is how it feels to go to the field now. They are some of the many ghosts of the stream now.”

Mason Ryan, University of New Mexico
“This frog is such an important symbol to Panama and now the entire conservation community that saving them is our responsibility. They are colorful, have neat behaviors, and are overall captivating. Future generations should have the joy and wonderment of seeing these frogs.”

“I spent five years looking for a closely related species in Costa Rica, the Harlequin frog, and never found one. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to see any frogs of the genus Atelopus. But then I started my first field season at El Cope with Karen Lips. Early in the season we were walking one of the main streams in the park and there it was. An adult golden frog hopping along the bank of the stream. It was a magical experience to see this golden frog with block spots in real life! I am pretty sure I was smiling the next two days. It was a dream come true to see one of these animals in its natural habitat. Over the years I saw dozens more and never tired of seeing them. I’ll never forget that first one.”

Matt Evans, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Life in the clouds.

Condor rain-peeper (Pristimantis condor)

Condor rain-peeper (Pristimantis condor)

Cute Frog of the Week: August 13, 2012

The Condor rain-peeper (Pristimantis condor) is named after its primary home in the Condor Mountains of Ecuador and Peru, though it also lives in two other mountain regions. This species can be found in cloud forest habitats, hopping on the foggy forest floor. The Condor rain-peeper is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN because of its fragmented and declining forestland. It is especially threatened by agriculture, logging and mining. Interestingly, land mines leftover from the 1995 Peru-Ecuador border war have created a safe haven for the population of Condor rain-peepers in the Condor Mountains.

Have you seen one? If so, send in your photo to the global amphibian bioblitz and claim the first observation!

Photo by Alejandro Arteaga via Flickr.

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: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

Panama’s National Golden Frog Day Events 10-19 August, 2012

Golden Frog Day is a national day of awareness in Panama that occurs annually on August 14th. This day was designated in 2010 to celebrate the Panamanian golden frog and promote amphibian conservation. Here is a detailed agenda of the many activities next week, in Spanish and translated into English below:



10-12 August: Summit Municipal Park, Panama City

  • Temporary frog exhibit and presentations by researchers
  • Student visits coordinated with the Ministry of Education (MEDUCA)
  • Recreational activities, face painting and games
  • Info: 6597-0768  parquesummit@gmail.com


  • Public Forum:“The cultural impact and state of conservation of the Golden Frog and other Panamanian amphibians
  • Presentations by: Richard Cooke, Edgardo Griffith, Roberto Ibañez
  • Earl S. Tupper Research and Conference Center, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama City. 6:00 PM
  • Info: 212 81 11   tejadas@si.edu

17 -18 August: El Nispero Zoo, El Valle de Antón – 7AM- 5PM

  • Golden Frog Parade,10:00 AM, EL Valle de Antón
  • Cultural Celebration, all afternoon, Friday 17 August
  • Visit the Golden Frog exhibit at the Zoo.
  • Student activities focused on conservation
  • Info: 6676-8094   egriffith23@hotmail.com

19 August: Punta Culebra Nature Center, Amador Causeway, Panama

  • Sand sculpture contest
  • Activities for the whole family
  • Presentations by experts
  • Creativity zone and games
  • Info: 212 8793  puntaculebra@si.edu

Leaping from leaf to leaf.

Basin treefrog (Hypsiboas lanciformis)

Basin treefrog (Hypsiboas lanciformis)

Cute Frog of the Week: August 8, 2012

Though the basin tree frog (Hypsiboas lanciformis) looks yellow/brown, it has hidden white markings on its belly, fingertips and upper lip. At nighttime, this frog perches on low trees near lagoons, pools, streams and rivers. Not surprisingly, this tree frog spends the majority of its time hopping around trees. The basin tree frog is also good at adapting to different habitats and lives in several countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. The basin tree frog is considered a species of least concern species by the IUCN because of it appears to have a large and stable population. This tree frog is a strong breeder and typically lays clutches of 2,000-2,500 eggs.

Have you seen one? If so, send in your photo to the global amphibian bioblitz and claim the first observation!

Photo by Alejandro Arteaga via Flickr.

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: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

Let the games begin!

Silverstoneia flotator

Frogs, including this Silverstoneia flotator, have all sorts of fascinating adaptations that can give them a “competitive” edge in the wild. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

On July 27, 2012, the 30th Summer Olympiad opened in London. Thousands of the best athletes from almost 200 countries are competing against one another in friendly competition for two weeks. Billions around the world have tuned in to watch the sporting events.

Few people, however, tune in to the competition going on outside their own window. For a frog, winning the 100 meter dash to a hiding place isn’t a gold medal win. It’s a win for survival. As many athletes mention, there is no second place, unless the belly of a bird counts.

As natural selection demands, only the best survive. With the Olympics in full swing, it’s a good time to take a look at the best of the best in the frog world. What follows is a list of a few of those that live by the Olympic motto, “Faster. Higher. Stronger.”

1) Longest jump – The longest recorded jump by a frog (not to be confused with the human frog jump!) was completed by a frog called Santjie at a South African frog derby. The frog, of unknown species, jumped an astounding 33 feet, 5.5 inches. In the United States, the record holder at the famous Calaveras County Jumping Frog Jubilee is Rosie the Ribeter (American bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana), who jumped 21 feet, 5.75 inches in 1986. According to the rules, the leaps were the total measure of three jumps.

2) Weightlifting – Some of the largest athletes at the Olympics are the weightlifters. With the top weight class clocking in at more than 230 pounds and able to lift twice that, these competitors have some massive muscles. The largest frog, and by proxy probably the strongest, is the goliath frog (Conraua goliath). This behemoth, found in a narrow range of Equitorial Guinea and Cameroon, clocks in at 1 foot long and more than 7 pounds! They are listed as endangered by the IUCN because of overharvesting for frog legs.

3) Wrestling – While the single largest individuals at the Olympics have often been wrestlers, the champions of the frog world are much, much smaller. Many frogs will tustle over territory during mating season, but the tiny members of the family Dendrobatidae are the best known for it. You can watch a fantastic clip of a 30-minute wrestling match from David Attenborough’s Life in Cold Blood on YouTube. The frogs rumble and tumble for up to half and hour, with the winner keeping the prime territory and the adoration of the ladies.

4) Gymnastics – It wouldn’t be the Summer Olympics without high-flying gymnastics! In the frog world, this title would most likely belong to the flying frogs, which have independently evolved in three different genera. The most famous and one of the largest is Wallace’s flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus). All flying frogs have large, webbed feet and skin flaps that allow them to glide from the treetops to escape predators, catch food or head to the ground for mating. I’d like to see them go up against the USA’s Fab Five. Wouldn’t that be a match to see?

Though there are many other frogs out there, I hear the closing ceremonies beginning. Unless that bird catches up, see you again in four more years!

– Andrew Franks, Zoo New England