Next, to bend space and time.

Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)

Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)

Cute Amphibian of the Week: January, 28, 2013

The hellbender has the distinct honor of being the largest salamander in the United States, growing as large as two feet long. It can be found in rocky, clear creeks and rivers, usually where there are large rocks for shelter. Its mottled appearance allows the hellbender to almost perfectly blend into its surroundings, making it quite the crafty salamander. Despite its name, this species is not a fan of warm water and strictly avoids water with temperatures above 68 o Fahrenheit/20 o Celsius.

The principal threat to this species is habitat degradation since it is a habitat specialist with little tolerance of environmental change. While it may seem like the sensitive type, do not be fooled; this species knows how to defend itself when push comes to shove. Hellbenders produce skin secretions that are likely unpalatable to predators and lethal in mice. At the current time the species is listed as near threatened by the IUCN.

Follow the Smithsonian National Zoo’s hellbender work at

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:

Cuban Frog Crisis

Oriente Mottled Frog (Eleutherodactylus simulans)

Oriente mottled frog (Eleutherodactylus simulans)

Cute Frog of the Week: January 21, 2013

The crisis facing this little Cuban native doesn’t involve missiles, but it does require immediate action to save this frog species from extinction. Characterized by its dark mottled brown pattern on its dorsal surface, the Oriente mottled frog (Eleutherodactylus simulans) blends well among the rocks, leaves and streambeds from which it is found. Recorded only in five small locations in Cuba, this terrestrial frog is currently classified as endangered by the IUCN. Due to habitat destruction from increasing deforestation within the country, the Oriente mottled frog population is clinging on to its existence.

Photo by Ariel Rodriguez 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:

Frogs and Drought

Cane toad (Rhinella marinus)

The cane toad is an example of an amphibian that has adapted to survive extreme environments.

On this blog, we’ve discussed the challenges facing tropical frogs, especially those susceptible to chytrid fungus. Little discussed, however, are the amazing amphibian survivors in drier climates like deserts, grasslands and savannahs.

These frogs and toads have adapted to survive in an environment that’s very different from the tropical rainforest. Unlike the rainforest, frogs in a dry environment have to seek out rare pools of water to breed. They also have to find ways to prevent massive water loss through their thin skin during extended dry spells.

There are several species of frogs and toads that have developed amazing adaptations to survive in some pretty extreme environments. One of the most common adaptations is called aestivation (also “estivation”). During aestivation, an animal becomes dormant during a dry period to better conserve water or keep cool. Think of it like the dry weather counterpart to cold weather hibernation.

The water-holding frog (Litoria platycephala) of western Australia is a prime example of aestivation. Western Australia is prone to dry spells lasting months or even years. When rain does come, it’s usually in the form of tropical moisture, which means a lot of it and all at once. The water-holding frog takes advantage of this short breeding period to lay their eggs in the pools that form. Once all the water is gone, they bury themselves underground and shed several layers of skin that are thick enough to not only prevent dehydration but also store water. A convenient hole in the skin near the nostrils allows the frog to breathe slowly waiting out the next rainy period.

Aborigines discovered that these frogs could be used as an emergency source of water by squeezing the frog and emptying the almost fresh water for drinking. This doesn’t immediately kill or harm the frog, but it does make it harder for them to survive to the next rainfall.

Around the world, there are other species of frogs that aestivate in the same or similar manner to the water-holding frog. These include the African bullfrog (Pyxicephalus adspersus), cane toad (Bufo marinus) and plains spadefoot toad (Spea bombifrons). All three species are currently listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

Despite their incredible ability to survive dry seasons, there is a limit to how much stress these frog species can handle. Climate change is likely to increase weather extremes, both floods and droughts. Increased drought length or severity could push some of these frogs to the edge where parasites or diseases could severely impact an already weakened population. In order to save all frog species, we’ll have to look high, low and even underground in some pretty dry places!

Andrew Franks, Zoo New England

Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute


Black-eyed beauty.

Morelet's tree frog (Agalychnis moreletii)

Morelet's tree frog (Agalychnis moreletii)

Cute Frog of the Week: January 14, 2013

Also known as black-eyed leaf frogs, the Morelet’s tree frog is striking with its lime-green body, jet-black eyes, and vibrant orange underbelly. Found in moist, subtropical lowland rainforests and wetland habitats of Belize, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, this small frog species thrives in pristine sub-tropical habitats with permanent bodies of water in which they can breed. During the summer months, they will breed and deposit clutches of 50 to 75 eggs on vegetation or rocks over water. When the eggs hatch, the larvae fall into the water to complete their development into frogs.

Sadly, the Morelet’s tree frog used to be abundant in Central America, but because of chytrid, the species is currently listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.

Photo by Victoria Ogilvy 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:

Genetic Matchmaking Saves Endangered Frogs

Marsupial frog

The casque headed tree frog (Hemiphractidae: Hemiphractus fasciatus), is one of 11 species of highest conservation concern now being bred in captivity in Panama. Females carry eggs on their backs where the young complete development hatching out as miniature frogs. DNA barcoding data suggest that populations of H. fasciatus may comprise more than one taxonomic group.

What if Noah got it wrong? What if he paired a male and a female animal thinking they were the same species, and then discovered they were not the same and could not produce offspring? As researchers from the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project race to save frogs from a devastating disease by breeding them in captivity, a genetic test averts mating mix-ups.

At the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center, project scientists breed 11 different species of highland frogs threatened by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which has already decimated amphibian populations worldwide. They hope that someday they will be able to re-release frogs into Panama’s highland streams.

Different frog species may look very similar.

“If we accidentally choose frogs to breed that are not the same species, we may be unsuccessful or unknowingly create hybrid animals that are maladapted to their parents’ native environment,” said Andrew J. Crawford, research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and professor at Colombia’s Universidad de los Andes. Crawford and his colleagues make use of a genetic technique called DNA barcoding to tell amphibian species apart. By comparing gene sequences in a frog’s skin cells sampled with a cotton swab, they discover how closely the frogs are related.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems.

Beth King, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Photo by Edgardo Griffith.

Caught red-handed.

Riggenbach’s reed frog (Hyperolius riggenbachi)

Riggenbach’s reed frog (Hyperolius riggenbachi)

Cute Frog of the Week: January 7, 2013

The Riggenbach’s reed frog is distinct for its striking red fingers and leopard-like pattern. Native to Nigeria and Cameroon, this species is thriving in West African wetlands and montane grasslands. These terrestrial frogs call at dusk for mates from within stems of waterside plants. Females will then proceed to lay their eggs in still freshwater ponds. Due to habitat loss, this species is currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.

Photo by Vaclav Gvozdik 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:

Frog Poetry and the Washington Post

Washington Post

On Dec. 30, the Washington Post ran a front-page story about the rescue project.

The year ended on a high note for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. William Booth, a science writer for the Washington Post, joined rescue project researchers on a field expedition and his story about the rescue project came out on the front page of the Post on Dec. 30. The story inspired one reader, Tim Torkildson, to share a lovely poem about frogs and the disease that is wiping them out.

Booth also did this NPR interview about his recent trip to Panama.

If you saw the story and are interested in making a donation to the rescue project, please follow this link to the National Zoo’s website.

by Tim Torkildson

The frog is an amphibian
Who thrives most ev’rywhere,
From the dry Namibian
To just off ol’ Times Square.
The ones who have a bumpy skin,
With warts and pits and nodes,
Are the closest Phylum kin;
We simply call them toads.
The bullfrogs in the early spring
give ponds reverberation
With their raucous verbal fling,
Attempting procreation.
The have a courtship ritual
that’s called, I think, amplexus,
Which gives them fits conniptual
Between the two odd sexes.
A little boy will manage to
Corral a tadpole, yes,
And give it quite a slimy view
Right down his sister’s dress!
And did you know the urine from
a pregnant lady will
cause some frogs to lay a scum
of eggs, with no male thrill?
And so they’re useful critters,
As the French will tell you so;
Their legs taste good in fritters,
Are mistaken for turbot.
And what of cane toads, mind you,
Where, if you lick the skin,
The psychedelics blind you
To sorrow, grief and sin?
But frogs, those little gargoyles,
Which are funny in cartoons,
Are engaged in lethal broils
That leaves their lives in ruins.
A fungus known as “Bd” kills
The frogs down in Belize,
Then jumps the valleys and the hills
So others it may seize.
The Costa Rica Golden Toad
Is now extinct, alack.
More are headed down that road,
Since habitat is slack.
Toxins give some frogs three legs,
Which doesn’t help them jump.
Instead they are like clumsy kegs
Who in the water flump.
Scientists preserve some frogs
In habitats in labs.
Dressed in their starched, stiff white togs
They keep meticulous tabs.
To save the frogs, oh please donate
A dollar or a yuan,
So the polliwog birth rate
Will someday be a shoo-in!