It’s world frog day and we are celebrating Harlequin frogs!

There are more than 100 brightly colored Harlequin toads in the genus Atelopus, and 90% of them are threatened with extinction, and are highly susceptible to the deadly amphibian chytrid fungus. The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is working to save 5 critically endangered Panamanian Atelopus species from extinction and is part of a a larger global conservation effort called the Atelopus Survival Initiative.

The Panamanian Golden frog Atelopus zeteki.

The Panamanian Golden Frog Atelopus zeteki is a national symbol of Panama, and one of the most recognizable harlequin frogs, but they are extinct in the wild. Fortunately this species breeds in 50 AZA zoos and aquaria and at the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. The National Zoo has conducted intense research efforts to develop a probiotic cure for the amphibian chytrid fungus, but these efforts have not been successful to date.

The Variable harlequin frog Atelopus varius

As its name suggests the variable harlequin frog  comes in lots of different colors, from solid gold like Panamanian golden frogs to brown, green or orange! This species is a very close genetic sister species to the Panamanian golden frog Atelopus zeteki, and both species are referred to as golden frogs. Atelopus varius that have survived the amphibian chytrid epidemic seem to have experienced recent migration or gene flow into their populations, indicating the potential for genetic rescue in this species. We are actively exploring this idea with a grant from Revive and Restore.

The Pirre harlequin frog Atelopus glyphus

Some people call Atelopus the stub-foot toads because the etymology of word ‘Atelopus’ translates to “incomplete end of toe”. However, a more commonly used name for this group of animal is harlequin toads because their bright patterns and colors are reminiscent of a court jester costume. Atelopus are true toads because they are in the toad family Bufonidae and while they don’t resemble the more familiar brown, warty toad species, they do lay the double-stranded strings of eggs characteristic of toads. All toads are also members of the tail-less amphibian order Anura (Frogs), so sometimes they are also called harlequin frogs.

Toad mountain harlequin frog Atelopus certus

Male harlequin toads can be very clingy, hanging on to females for up to 100 days before they lay their eggs, it is a kind of mate-guarding behavior.  Egg laying can take 8-9 hours, and once the eggs have been laid the males swiftly lose interest and abandon the females fairly quickly.

The Limosa harlequin frog Atelopus limosus

Limosa harlequin frogs are found in central Panama and has declined rapidly due to the amphibian chytrid fungus. Researchers at the Pamama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project and Virginia Tech conducted the first release trials for this species. We reared captive frogs and released them to understand how animals transition from captive conditions to the wild and attached tiny radiotransmitters to the frogs to understand where they disperse.

May frogs never stop singing!

In order to respond to the amphibian extinction global crisis, many initiatives to rescue endangered frogs and conserve biodiversity have been born. An example of that, is the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project located in the Gamboa Rainforests. People may not know what we do or why we do it. But we are always there, working for the frogs, for biodiversity, for our planet. Watch this video made by PARC intern Michelle Castellanos.

 

Golden Frog Festival Calendar of Events 2019

This is the Smithsonian calendar of events to celebrate the golden frog festival 2019 

Aug 4 12:30pm to 8:30pm Visit the amphibian rescue center in Gamboa

Aug 14 11AM-3:00pm the Q?bus science education team will visit schools in El Valle de Anton

Aug 28 6PM-8PM Rana Dorada via Argentina pub talk.

Aug 27-31 Punta Culebra family-friendly frog-themed games & educational activities.

if you are looking for information on la Dorada annual run in El Valle de Anton – visit Caminando Panama 

Golden Frog Festival 2018 Calendar of Events

1-17 August – Panama City, Albrook Mall Amphibian Exhibit

11 August – Panama City Amador, Punta Culebra Nature Center Family day 11AM – 3PM Frog themed games, tours and activities.

12 August – Gamboa, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Center Open House and Tours 9AM – 5PM

12 August – El Valle de Anton La Dorada Trail Run   15K = 7AM, 10K = 7:15  5K = 7:30AM

14 August – El Valle de Anton – Golden frog day celebrations at El Nispero Zoo – free entry and guided tours to see the golden frogs. 9AM-1PM.

14-19 August – Book Fair Atlapa Convention Center, Panama City – Qriuous exhibit and the Golden Frog 9AM-9PM.

 

Bringing Panamanian Frogs Home

In 2004, as the amphibian chytrid fungus was sweeping through Panama, a group of conservationists established the Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Coalition (ARCC). At that time, there was insufficient capacity in Panama to care for captive assurance colonies in country and the goal of this project was to establish U.S. captive assurance colonies of multiple Panamanian species. Frogs were collected from the wild and exported in 2005 to the Atlanta Zoo and Atlanta Botanical Gardens who cared for the animals.

Dr. Brad Wilson and Chelsea Thomas inside the amphibian rescue pod at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, packing genetically representative frogs from the collection for their flight.

Of the multiple species in the collection, the crowned treefrog (Anotheca spinosa) and the lemur leaf frog (Agalychnis lemur) bred well in captivity. The collection at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens was held in complete quarantine isolation for the last 8 years. While in Panama, two amphibian conservation-breeding facilities were built to care for endangered frogs. However, on the Panama side, we had too few founder animals to assure the long-term genetic integrity of these species. After careful health screening for amphibian chytrid fungus, parasites and examination of pathology records for the collection it was determined to be in good health, and a total of 47 genetically representative individuals of known lineage were identified for repatriation to Panama.

A Crowned treefrog Anotheca spinosa This species lives in the rainforest canopy and breeds in treeholes where the mother lays unfertilized eggs to feed her tadpoles.

The lemur leaf frog Agalychnis lemur. Wild populations have been decimated in the wild due to the amphibian chytrid fungus.

After obtaining permits from the Panamanian Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment, and well as the US Department of Agriculture and the Fish and Wildlife Service, the frogs were flown back to Panama on May 16, 2018. The frogs were packed to IATA specifications (In delicups with damp moss, artificial leaves and packed in a cooler with Phase 22 thermal regulating packs). The frogs all made the trip in good health and are now being held in a quarantined shipping container at the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project in Gamboa. After a quarantine period, we will breed these animals with the captive-breeding stock already in Panama.

Elliott Lassiter, Jorge Guerrel (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) and Chelsea Thomas (Atlanta Botanical Gardens) unpack frogs inside a quarantined shipping container in Gamboa.

Visitors to the center can see frogs through a display window as part of a miniature exhibition.

The 14 years of investment, and dedicated conservation efforts at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens will significantly improve the genetic population management goals for both of these species in Panama, bringing the original ARCC project full circle.

More Good Reasons Not to Lick a Toad

A New Review of Chemicals Produced by the Toad Family, Bufonidae

Cane toad (Rhinella marinus)

As human diseases become alarmingly antibiotic resistant, identification of new pharmaceuticals is critical. The cane toad and other members of the Bufonidae family produce substances widely used in traditional folk medicine, but endangered family members, like Panama’s golden frog, Atelopus zeteki, may disappear before revealing their secrets. Smithsonian scientists and colleagues catalog the known chemicals produced by this amphibian family in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology highlighting this largely-unexplored potential for discovery.

“We’re slowly learning to breed members of this amphibian family decimated by the chytrid fungal disease,” said Roberto Ibañez, Panamanian staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and in-country director of the Panama Amphibian Conservation and Rescue (PARC) project. “That’s buying us time to understand what kind of chemicals they produce, but it’s likely that animals in their natural habitats produce an even wider range of compounds.”

15 of 47 frog and toad species used in traditional medicine belong to the family Bufonidae. For millennia, secretions from their skin and from glands near their ears called parotid glands, as well as from their bones and muscle tissues have been used as remedies for infections, bites, cancer, heart disorders, hemorrhages, allergies, inflammation, pain and even AIDS.

Toxins of two common Asian toad species, Bufo gargarizans and Duttaphrynus melanostictus, produce the anticancer remedies known as Chan Su and Senso in China and Japan, respectively. Another preparation used to treat cancer and hepatitis, Huachansu or Cinobufacini, is regulated by the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration. In Brazil, the inner organs of the toad, Rhinella schneideri, are applied to horses to treat the parasite Habronema muscae. In Spain, extract from the toad Bufo bufo is used to treat hoof rot in livestock. In China, North and South Korea, ranchers use the meat of Bufo gargarizans to treat rinderpest.

Only a small proportion of the more than 580 species in the Bufonidae family have been screened by scientists. “In Panama, not only do we have access to an amazing diversity of amphibian species,” said Marcelino Gutiérrez, investigator at the Center for Biodiversity and Drug Discovery at Panama’s state research institute, Instituto de Investigaciones Cientificas y Servicios de Alta Tecnologia (INDICASAT),  “we’re developing new mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy techniques to make it easier and cheaper to elucidate the chemical structures of the alkaloids, steroids, peptides and proteins produced by these animals. We work closely with herpetologists so as not to further threaten populations of these species in the wild.” Their efforts to catalog chemicals produced by the Bufonidae included researchers from the University of Panama, Vanderbilt University, in Tennessee, U.S.A. and Acharya Nagarjuna University in Guntur, India.

Most of the chemicals produced by frogs and toads protect them against predators. Atelopus varius contains tetrodototoxin. Chiriquitoxin is found in Atelopus limosus, one of the first species that researches succeeded in breeding in captivity as well as in Atelopus glyphus and Atelopus chiriquiensis. An atelopidtoxin (zetekitoxin) from the Panamanian golden frog, Atelopus zeteki, appears to consist of two toxins. Toxins from a single frog skin can kill 130-1000 mice.

The golden frog, A. zeteki, Panama’s national frog, is the only species of the genus Atelopus that secretes zetekitoxins. Threatened by the chytrid fungal disease that infects the skin and causes heart attacks, with collection for the exotic pet trade and by habitat destruction, if golden frogs were to disappear, they would take this potentially valuable chemical with them.

More than 30 percent of amphibians in the world are in decline. Racing to stay ahead of the wave of disease spreading across Central America, Panama is leading the way in conservation efforts. The Smithsonian’s Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation project (PARC) identified several Atelopus species in danger of extinction, and are learning how to create the conditions needed to breed them in captivity. Not only do animal caretakers at their facilities in Gamboa and El Valle, Panama experiment to discover what the frogs eat, they also recreate the proper environment the entire frog life-cycle: egg laying, egg hatching and tadpole survival, to successfully breed Atelopus. Each species has unique requirements, making it an expensive challenge to create this Noah’s ark for amphibians.

The chemical building blocks amphibians use to create toxic compounds come from sources including their diet, skin glands or symbiotic microorganisms. Toads in the genus Melanophryniscus sequester lipophilic alkaloids from their complex diet consisting of mites and ants. Researchers found that toxins found in a wild-caught species of Atelopus could not be isolated from frogs raised in captivity: another reason to conserve frog habitat and to begin to explore the possibility of releasing frogs bred in captivity back into the wild.

Learn more about amphibians by visiting the PARC blog and the Panama’s Fabulous Frogs exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Culebra Point Nature Center in Panama.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a part 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. Website. Promo video.

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Rodriguez, Candelario, Rollins-Smith, Louise, Ibanez, Roberto, Durant-Archibold, Armando, Gutiérrez, Marcelino. 2016. Toxins and pharmacologically active compounds from species of the family Bufonidae (Amphibia, Anura). Journal of Ethnopharmacology, doi:10.1016/j.jep.2016.12.021

2016 Golden Frog Festival Calendar of Events

Golden Frog Day Calendar 2016

EL VALLE DE ANTON

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13
FAMILY DAY #RANATICOS
Paseo El Valle, El Valle de Anton
11:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Activities: Games for children, exhibition of frogs, food and drinks, and the Golden Frog mascot.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 14
La Dorada Race
6:00 to 11:00 a.m.
Walk or run 5 to 15km to save a national treasure.
CLOSING PARADE
main streat of El Valle
2PM

GAMBOA
SUNDAY, AUGUST 21
OPEN HOUSE
Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project
1:00 – 4:00 PM
Activities: Open house to visit the amphibian Ark and meet the scientists.

BOOK FAIR
18 -19 AUGUST
Atlapa Convention Center
9:00 a.m. to 9:00 PM
Activities: exhibition of science and live frogs, games, dynamic, book sales and more.

PUNTA CULEBRA
SATURDAY, AUGUST 20
FAMILY DAY #RANATICOS
Punta Culebra Nature Center,
Calzada de Amador, Panama
11:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Activities: Meet experts frogs, Restaurant Rana, face painting, many games, food and drinks.

Please remember that up until golden frog day, all donations to the amphibian rescue project will be generously matched by Golden Frog CLICK HERE TO DONATE