Salamanders are remarkably enigmatic amphibians, both due to their often-cryptic colorations and their extremely secretive lifestyles. They are nocturnal, but even at night, one can hardly call them “active”. Many species are burrowing, and barely ever come out of their moist and dark haven created by earth and fungi. Other species prefer a life in the canopy of mysterious and often nearly inaccessible cloud forests, in a world dominated by bark, moss and lichen.
Panamanian salamanders are no exception to this rule. Herpetologists that set out to find them, regularly return after their tiring night-time missions without seeing even a trace of these wonderful creatures. Local people that work and live in areas where salamanders occur sometimes don’t even know of their existence – which is exactly why a handful of Panamanian institutions decided to organize the first International Festival of the Salamander.
The Festival took place from November 1 to 3 in Boquete, located right at the border of Volcan Barru National Park. Aptly, this is the place to be if one wants to set out on a nocturnal quest to look for them. During the days, there were photographic exhibitions, stands of the organizations involved, an interactive kids corner with movies and drawings for coloring and a small T-shirt shop, hosted by a team of volunteers that where sitting on the edge of their seats to tell you about their beloved salamanders.
But Friday and Saturday night, things even got better: every evening from 6 to 10 p.m., there was a free guided tour by Los Naturalistas in Volcan Barru National Park, with experts knowing where exactly chances of spotting one where highest.
The tour started off at the entrance of Volcan Barru National Park, where we met with a team of tour guides and biologists, led by Dr. Abel Batista. Then we drove on for another 3 km on a bumpy gravel road, until we were at a place known for its substantial salamander population. The first and most important part of the tour consisted of disinfecting boots and equipment, to avoid spreading diseases. After all, one of the major reasons of amphibian declines worldwide is an extremely infectious fungus, Batrachochytrium sp.. While harmless to us, for many amphibian species, it causes severe skin damage, leading to death of susceptible individuals. After sterilizing our shoes, we began measuring about a dozen environmental variables; humidity, temperature, elevation, etc.. In the meantime, the guides explained a few rules: avoid touching the animals, don’t shine too bright lights directly in their eyes and don’t take pictures of them for too long and preferably without flash.
Then, we started searching. The weather was cold, but very dry, and therefore, our subjects of interest would mostly be hiding in moist places, one of the guides explained. We adjusted our strategies accordingly, looking in small holes between rocks and gently turning branches to peer underneath. We slowly walked upwards, and over the course of 20 minutes, we had only progressed about a hundred meters. When we had nearly given up, one of the guides suddenly called us further on.
We hurried on, nearly running uphill. But with a great reward waiting for us: a nearly 20 cm long, female magnificent web-footed salamander (Bolitoglossa magnifica) was cautiously watching us from underneath her hiding place – a thick, rotting branch covered with lichen, about a meter and a half away from the road. All excited, we had to take turns to take a look from the right angle, so you could see her. We all took a few pictures, then we stopped bothering her with our flashlights and left her in peace.
We started hiking down again, all the while scanning every hole and crevice. We passed the cars, and soon after, someone else already shouted he had found another one. This one was more difficult to see, hiding in a small hole in between rocks and loose earth. We had barely gotten to the second, when a third one was found, and soon after even a fourth and fifth!
Despite the unfavorable weather conditions, our evening excursion turned out to be a great success, spotting 5 individuals of the endangered magnificent web-footed salamander in less than an hour and a half. We returned tired and quite hungry, but fully satisfied nonetheless.
Los Naturalistas are currently working on a salamander-focused guided tour, which will roughly follow a similar structure as the tour we could enjoy that night. They hope to organize a lot of similar events like the International Festival of the Salamander, to further raise awareness among tourists as well as Panamanians concerning these mysterious and intriguing animals. Salamanders are facing many threats, but in protected places like Volcan Barru National Park, they are thriving.
By Leni Lammens
I would like to express my gratitude towards all organizing parties involved in the International Festival of the Salamander:
Action Hub+, Bioguias Panamá, Los Naturalistas, Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí (UNACHI), Vicerrectoria de Investigación y Posgrado (VIP)
as well as to all sponsors, without which the Festival would not have been possible.
Celebrating our Natural Heritage
Almost thirty years have passed since Panamanian and international scientists formed working groups to investigate the mysterious disappearances of amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders and caecilians) around the world. Motivated by their devotion to these animals and their inexhaustible curiosity, in 1999 scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and the University of Maine, in the United States, discover the infectious fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, commonly known as the chytrid fungus, responsible for the massive amphibian die-off in Panama’s western highlands.
In 2009, the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (PARC – www.amphibianrescue.org) project was established to safeguard Panamanian amphibians at risk of extinction, such as the Golden Frog. Today, this operation continues to make significant progress toward amphibian conservation, thanks to generous support from Panama’s national government, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and many national and international entities, both public and private. Committed to the conservation of Panama’s natural heritage, the institute has invested more than four million dollars in amphibian rescue and conservation, continually placing valuable scientific resources in the hands of Panamanian professionals.
Next September, STRI will join the international scientific community to celebrate a group of researchers who dedicated their careers to the study of the fungus and the preservation of Panamanian amphibians, with hopes that soon we will also be able celebrate the successful reintroduction of these charismatic animals to their natural environment.
About the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute:
The Panama-based Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) is the only dependency of the Smithsonian Institution located outside the United States and is dedicated to enriching knowledge about the biological diversity of the tropics (www. Stri.si.edu).
What began in 1923 as a small field station on Isla Barro Colorado in the former Panama Canal Zone, today represents one of the world’s leading research institutions. STRI’s facilities provide a unique opportunity for long-term ecological studies in the tropics and are intensively used by more than 1400 scientists, including Panamanians and visitors who come every year from academic and research institutions in the Americas and around the world.
Each year around August 14, the streets of El Valle de Anton in Panama fill up with golden frogs. Though they’re not the real amphibians—the Panamanian golden frog is extinct in the wild—school-age children dress up as the animals in a spirited celebration of what has become a popular national holiday: Panamanian Golden Frog Day.
“Panamanian Golden Frog Day is about being thankful for the gift of life that we are able to experience each and every day,” says Katie Uckele, a volunteer at Punta Culebra Nature Center, one of the participants in the celebrations. “The Panamanian golden frog reminds us to cherish the gift of life and celebrate biodiversity in the world.”
In 2010—just one year after the last confirmed observation of a Panamanian golden frog in the wild—Panama’s National Assembly declared August 13 National Golden Frog Day, passing a law that made the Panamanian golden frog one of Panama’s official cultural and ecological symbols. Since then the holiday has grown from the mere acknowledgement of the National Assembly’s declaration to an entire week full of frog-focused events for children and adults across the country.
This year’s Golden Frog Day started August 13, ran through August 20 and included two family days, a race for frogs, an open house at the Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation Center, a book fair with a live frog exhibition and a parade in El Valle.
Golden Frog Day came near the end of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project’s #FightforFrogs campaign, during which time Golden Frog—a global online services provider—matched donations to the rescue project, helping raise money critical to the Zoo’s fight for frogs. The successful digital campaign brought in $21,800 in donations. With Golden Frog’s initial donation of $10,000 and their generous commitment to match up to an additional $20,000, we’ve raised a total of $51,800 for frogs.
“I’m very hopeful for the future of golden frogs and several other highly endangered frogs in Panama,” says Brian Gratwicke, international coordinator for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. Gratwicke adds that he will be baking golden frog cupcakes for his co-workers in celebration of Panamanian Golden Frog Day. “We have a fantastic team of dedicated conservationists working at maintaining and breeding frogs, and conducting the research needed to put them back in the wild.”
Though no longer found in the wild, the golden frog is a beloved icon in Panama, where local markets sell thousands of enamel-painted terracotta and hand-carved tagua nut golden frog statues, and hand-stitched fabric works of art called molas with the likeness of the amphibian. Last year Panamanian Golden Frog Day celebrations even kicked off with a golden frog-themed national lottery ticket.
“Panamanian golden frogs mean hope,” says Angie Estrada, a Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech and a native Panamanian. “Hope that Panamanians can reclaim and protect their rivers, streams and forest. Hope that we can collaborate with people from different countries and backgrounds when the goal is larger than our own interests. Hope that we will be able to find more frogs out in the wild, and that if we don’t we will keep looking. Hope that if they disappeared, we will be able to say that we did everything we could to help them out.”
The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is a project partnership between the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Houston Zoo, Zoo New England and Smithsonian Institution. You can follow the Fight for Frogs campaign on Twitter using the #FightForFrogs hashtag or on the rescue project’s Facebook page.
We invite you to submit your own version of the frog template for the 2014 Golden Frog Festival: Saving a National Treasure. The Golden Frog is Panama’s cultural, biological, and national icon. In celebration of the frog and in the spirit of amphibian rescue and conservation, we want to showcase Panamanian pride and creativity with this convocation of Golden Frog themed art!
MAKE YOUR OWN VERSION OR USE OUR TEMPLATES
Draw, color, sculpt, construct, distort…
The only requirement is that your art reflects the original image of the golden frog template in some way. Whatever you imagine will work!
Make it and share it
Save the file as a high-resolution PDF or JPG image. There is no limit to the number of pieces you can submit.
When your work is complete tweet us your photo at:
All of the finished pieces will be shown on the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s facebook page
WE LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR SUBMISSIONS!
Jumping from the “Lemur Frog Leap” station to the “Robber Frog Romp”, bouncing between the “Harlequin Frog Hop” to “Toad Mountain Tiddlywinks” and topping the afternoon off with “Golden Frog Gallop” sack races, elementary students at the American School of The Hague (ASH) helped give amphibian research a leg-up last week and made conservation fun! Each student who participated in the Hop To It! event donated 5 Euros to Panama’s Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. With their contribution, young conservationists earned a ticket into the frog-themed field day where they could move between six stations that focused on moving their bodies like frogs.
Students in grades 1-4 at ASH have been celebrating the “Year of the Frog” in their science lab during the 2013-14 school year. In science class, students learned about what makes amphibians unique and fragile critters. Young scientists then invited their families to attend an interactive exhibit where they could explore hands-on activities, view photographs of rainforest frogs, try to match calls of frogs to their makers, as well as share their knowledge of amphibians with their parents. The conservation section of the exhibit focused on the international epidemic of chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) that is negatively impacting amphibian populations worldwide. Students at ASH come from 74 different countries and many kids were surprised to hear that frogs from the canals of The Netherlands to waterways in their home countries are all getting sick from this same mysterious fungus.
Last Wednesday, as students happily hopped their way to an 830 Euro ($1123.00) contribution towards research that will help to fight the devastating impacts of chytrid, one 4th grader summed it up “Kids like frogs and we want them to stick around. If we need to hop a little to help them, we’ll do it!”
by Simone Welch, teacher and former volunteer with the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project.
For five years, I have worked as the staff herpetologist at Las Casas de la Selva, a sustainable forestry project in Puerto Rico. I’ve also had the privilege of spending five months in Panama; some of that time was spent working with PARC and I have noticed many similarities between Puerto Rico and Panama. Specifically, I have noticed how each country has a frog as a national and cultural symbol.
In Panama, everyone knows of the Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki), and when I was studying the folklore of Panama, I heard old stories about how the frog was good luck, and that people used to believe that it turned to gold when it died. Nowadays, the Golden Frog is a symbol of Panama itself, and what it means to be Panamanian. Images of the Golden Frog adorn everything from lottery tickets to t-shirts to coffee mugs. Some of my friends in Panama have even gone so far as to get Golden Frog tattoos. And each year, thousands of people celebrate Golden Frog Day.
As an island, Puerto Rico has very few species of frogs, and 16 of the 18 native species belong to the genus Eleutherodactylus. This genus is referred to collectively as “Coquis”, although only two species make the distinctive “Ko-Kee” mating call that makes nighttime in Puerto Rico such a noisy affair. Of the 16 species of Coquis, 13 are listed by the IUCN as either Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered. As with the Golden Frog in Panama, Coquis are a symbol of everything Puerto Rican. Mainland-born Puerto Ricans who return to the island respond to challenges about their Puerto Rican “authenticity” used to respond, “I’m as Puerto Rican as the Coqui”. Images of the Coqui show up on artistic murals, tourist kitch, and tattoos; there is even a “Coqui” brand of coffee and a “Coqui” car dealership!
But we are missing something in Puerto Rico- we have no equivalent to the “Dia de Rana Dorada”. After my time at PARC, including my opportunity in 2012 to help Angie Estrada, Jorge Guerrel, Ligo Diaz, and the rest of the staff plan and execute educational activities at the Summit Zoo, I decided to take the spirit of “Dia de Rana Dorada” back to Puerto Rico with me. The idea has been well-received, and the first “Dia del Coqui” will be a weekend-long festival from September 26th-28th, 2014. It will be held at the Jardin Botanical y Cultural William Miranda Marin in the centrally-located city of Caguas. Already, artisans, scientists, musicians, university students, historians, and public-works officials are coming together to make this event a success.
The intention of Dia del Coqui is to be a cultural celebration, but also an important learning tool to help the people of Puerto Rico know that the frogs that they have always shared the island with are in need of conservation. We hope that Dia del Coqui becomes a cultural mainstay in Puerto Rico, akin to Dia de Rana Dorada in Panama.
by Norman Greenhawk email@example.com www.facebook.com/diadelcoqui
School Groups: 34 (approx. 1000 kids)
Fliers Distributed: 1450
Frog Cookies Eaten: 100
Radio/TV Spots: 5
News Articles: 4
Media Websites: 4
The third annual Golden Frog Festival, consisting of events throughout Panama, united locals and visitors from around the world in a single mission: celebrating and conserving Panama’s amphibian treasures.
The festival began on Sunday, August 11 at the Smithsonian’s Punta Culebra Nature Center, where staff members from the Gamboa Amphibian Rescue Center led discussions and animal demonstrations for visitors of all ages. Children competed to make the best frog sculpture on the center’s sandy beach, then moved to decorating their own golden frog masks. Visitors learned about the crisis facing the country’s amphibian populations—from the deadly fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) to habitat loss—and of different ways to help preserve these valuable species. It was a fun-filled day for all ages.
The Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute (STRI) hosted several mid-week events in both English and Spanish. In STRI’s weekly “Tupper Talk,” Dr. Myra Hughey spoke on her cutting-edge research in how understanding the bacterial components of a frog’s skin can help elucidate ways to combat Bd infection. Hughey’s lecture targeted the scientific community, while the following day a public forum offered visitors of all backgrounds and ages the chance to hear from Dr. Roberto Ibanez, one of the chief scientists at the Panamanian Amphibian Rescue and Conservation (PARC) project; Lucrecia Arosemena, whose tireless efforts helped prompt the Panamanian legislature to recognize August 14, 2010, as the first national Golden Frog Day; and Dr. Justin Touchon, who humorously explored a number of interesting and little known facts about frogs. (For example, until his talk, I had no idea that some female frogs select their mates based on the complexity of their calls—or that those complex calls that woo the most females also make males more vulnerable to predators such as bats.)
In continued efforts to build public involvement, STRI and PARC personnel also spoke at La Rana Dorada pub in Casco Viejo, where Dr. Richard Cooke enthralled many casual passersby with his tales of the psychotropic properties of frogs and in a talk titled “It’s not easy being green,” Angie Estrada offered a moving plea for conservation and action. These talks proved so inspiring that by evening’s end, several audience members had decided to start volunteering with PARC.
Finally, the week wrapped up with events for schoolchildren and families at both Gamboa’s Summit Zoo and the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center. Throughout the weekend, visitors saw the frogs—including several golden frogs successfully hatched in captivity, learned about the valuable contributions amphibians make to the Panamanian ecosystem, and discovered how to help conserve these animals. In El Valle, the local golden frog parade featured floats and costumes galore—one child dressed as a golden frog princess; another, a morphologically accurate tadpole. After learning that golden frogs use semaphore, a form of hand gestures, for communication, some children compiled a dance to mimic their movements. As dusk fell in the mountains that night, I heard one shimmying teenage girl explain to another, “If I were a golden frog, this is how I’d call my mate.” Her hands circled her torso, then she raised her palms to the sky. From a distance, she probably looked like any teenager bouncing to the beat of her favorite song. But I was close enough to hear her explain, “And this is how I’d protect my territory,” and I knew this dance stemmed not from the idle energy of a teenager on holiday, but from an engagement that just might lead to action.
Somewhere nearby a woman exclaimed, “This year’s festival was amazing! Next year’s will be even better!” With your help, it will. If you’d like to be involved as a volunteer for amphibian rescue, please contact us. See you in 2014!
-Elizabeth Wade, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project Volunteer
EARL S. TUPPER CONFERENCE CENTER, SMITHSONIAN TROPICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE Ancon
Time: 6:00 pm
PUBLIC FORUM. Presentations by Dr. Roberto Ibañez, Dr Justin Touchon and Lucrecia Arosemena.
La RANA DORADA PUB, Casco Viejo
Time: 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
“Science and Beer” conversation with amphibian experts: Dr. Richard Cooke and Angie Estrada
SUMMIT MUNICIPAL PARK
Come to Summit with your friends and help to save frogs!
Time: 10:00 AM a 12:00 PM and 1:00 a 3:00 PM
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org , 232-4850/232-4854
Saturday 17 August
EL VALLE DE ANTON
Time: 11:00 AM
“Golden Frog Parade ”
Parade participants please meet opposite the church. Participants should dress festively, inspired by frogs.
17 & 18 August
EL VALLE DE ANTON
El Níspero Zoo – El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC)
Times: Saturday: 12:30 – 4:30 PM. Sunday: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Educational activities and exhibit of the amphibian conservation center and golden frogs.
JOIN US TO CONSERVE OUR NATURAL HERITAGE
Organizers: Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Summit Municipal Park, El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, La Rana Dorada Pub, APRADAP, FUNDECO, Cámara de Turismo de El Valle de Anton and Corregiduría de El Valle de Anton.