New Rescue Lab for Endangered Amphibians Opens in Panama

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) scientists working together as part of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (PARC) opened a new safe haven for endangered amphibians today, April 8. The state-of-the-art, $1.2 million amphibian center at STRI’s Gamboa field station  expands on the capacity of the El Valle amphibian conservation center to implement a national strategy to conserve Panama’s amphibian biodiversity by creating captive assurance populations. Together these form the largest dedicated facility for amphibian conservation in Latin America.

Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation CenterPanama is a biodiversity hotspot for amphibians with more than 200 species of frogs, salamanders and caecilians. For the past 20 years, however, many of Panama’s unique and endemic amphibian species have declined or disappeared as a result of the deadly chytrid fungus that has spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, a third of amphibian species in Panama are considered threatened or endangered. Amphibian conservationists around the world have been working to establish captive populations of the world’s most vulnerable amphibian species to safeguard them from extinction.

Side view of facility“Our biggest challenge in the race to save tropical amphibians has been the lack of capacity,” said Brian Gratwicke, amphibian scientist at SCBI and international coordinator of PARC. “This facility will allow us to do so much more. We now have the space needed to safeguard some of Panama’s most vulnerable and beautiful amphibians and to conduct the research needed to reintroduce them back to the wild.”

The center features a working lab for scientists, a quarantine space for frogs collected from the wild and amphibian rescue pods capable of holding up to 10 species of frogs. In the working lab, SCBI scientists will continue research focusing on things like a cure for chytrid. Seven amphibianrescue pods house the amphibian collection and colonies of insects needed to feed them. Amphibian rescue pods are constructed from recycled shipping containers that were once used to move frozen goods around the world and through the Panama Canal; they have been retrofitted to become mini-ecosystems with customized terrariums for each frog species.

Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation Center“Our project is helping implement the action plan for amphibian conservation in Panama, authored by Panama’s National Environmental Authority—now Environment Ministry—in 2011,” said Roberto Ibañez, STRI project director for PARC. “This is only possible thanks to the interest in conservation of amphibian biodiversity by the government of Panama and the support we have received from businesses in Panama.”

The new rescue lab will be crucial to ongoing breeding efforts and breakthroughs, such as the successful hatching of an Andinobates geminisae froglet. SCBI and STRI scientists hatched the first A. geminisae froglet in human care in one of the amphibian rescue pods at the existing Gamboa amphibian conservation center. The tiny poison frog species, smaller than a dime, was discovered and described for the first time in Panama in 2014. They simulated breeding conditions in a rescue pod. The new facility will provide much-needed space to grow and expand, allowing them to build assurance populations for many more species. A small exhibition niche provides a window directly into an active rescue pod, where visitors can see rescued frogs and scientists as they work to conserve these endangered frogs.Exhibition niche where visitors can glimpse inside a pod

PARC is a partnership between the Houston Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Zoo New England, SCBI and STRI. Funding for the new facilities was provided by Defenders of Wildlife, Frank and Susan Mars, Minera Panama, the National Science Foundation and USAID.

As a research facility, PARC is not open to the public. However, there are interpretive panels and a window into the research pod where visitors can get a glimpse of the project in action. To learn more, the public is welcome to visit the new Fabulous Frogs of Panama exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Punta Culebra Nature Center, located on the Amador Causeway.

Newly Described Poison Dart Frog Hatched for the First Time in Captivity

The first captive-bred Andinobates geminisae at the Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation Center at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

The first captive-bred Andinobates geminisae at the Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation Center. Photo by Jorge Guerrel, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) scientists working as part of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project hatched the first Andinobates geminisae froglet born in captivity. The tiny dart frog species only grows to 14 millimeters and was first collected and described last year from a small area in central Panama. Scientists collected two adults to evaluate the potential for maintaining the species in captivity as an insurance population.

“There is a real art to learning about the natural history of an animal and finding the right set of environmental cues to stimulate successful captive breeding,” said Brian Gratwicke, amphibian conservation biologist at SCBI and director of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. “Not all amphibians are easy to breed in captivity, so when we do breed a species for the first time in captivity it is a real milestone for our project and a cause for celebration.”

Scientists simulated breeding conditions for the adult frogs in a small tank. The frogs laid an egg on a bromeliad leaf, which scientists transferred to a moist petri dish. After 14 days, the tadpole hatched. Scientists believe adult A. geminisae frogs may provide their eggs and tadpoles with parental care, which is not uncommon for dart frogs, but they have not been able to determine if that is the case. In the wild, one of the parents likely transports the tadpole on his or her back to a little pool of water, usually inside a tree or on a bromeliad leaf.

Andinobates geminisae egg

After the tadpole hatched, scientists moved it from the petri dish to a small cup of water, mimicking the small pools available in nature. On a diet of fish food, the tadpole successfully metamorphosed into a froglet after 75 days and is now the size of a mature adult.

Andinobates geminisae tadpole

Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project scientists are unsure if A. geminisae is susceptible to the amphibian-killing chytrid fungus. However, since it is only found in a small area of Panama and is dependent on primary rain forests, which are under pressure from agricultural conversion, they have identified it as a conservation-priority species.

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project breeds endangered species of frogs in Gamboa, Panama and El Valle, Panama. The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is a partnership between the Houston Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Zoo New England, SCBI and STRI. This study was supported by Minera Panama.

Frog Friday: Toad Mountain Harlequin Frog

atelopus certus male calling

The toad mountain harlequin frog is all decked out in orange and black for Halloween! Atelopus certus is a biological treasure found only in Panama. This terrestrial species has a golden iridescent hue with spots like a giraffe. In its natural setting, the toad mountain harlequin frog can be found streamside or on mossy rocks in moist lowland and mountain forests.  We have a healthy population in captivity to safeguard against predicted chytridomycosis-related declines.

Atelopus certus  is endemic to Panama and identified only on a single mountain range in the south-western Darien region. Before 2011, this species was quite common within its small known range, and they were still abundant in 2013, but they are predicted to decline severely once chytridiomycosis arrives in that region. Thankfully, due to the swift action of the PARC project, Atelopus certus is being successfully reproduced in captivity. The Gamboa ARC has bred a very stable population 

Did you know? The Smithsonian Channel documentary “Mission Critical: Amphibian Rescue” recounts the valiant rescue effort to save this species from imminent extinction.

Post by Dara Wilson

Frog Friday: Red-Eyed Tree Frog

5414346209_fd1e0cb159_z

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder! The bright red eyes, and blue striped sides of Agalychnis callidryas are a defense mechanism the frog uses to surprise potential predators, and avoid predation. During the day the red-eyed tree frog folds its legs at its sides, closes its eyes, and sleeps, effectively camouflaging itself on green leaves. You can observe this behavior in their natural habitat  of low to mid-elevation rainforests from the Yucatan to Colombia.  They are considered a species of least concern according to the IUCN, and are abundant throughout their range. We also have these beauties on display in our exhibit Fabulous Frogs of Panama at Punta Culebra Nature Center.

Did you know? Red-eyed tree frogs lay their eggs on plants overhanging the wáter, and when they hatch the tadpoles fall into the wáter.  Eggs in the trees can be eaten by wasps, snakes, or katydids, or killed by pathogenic fungus. Embryos can hatch early to escape from attacks by egg predators and pathogens, or in response to abiotic threats, but they typically hatch later if undisturbed. Thus tadpoles enter the water at different ages, sizes and stages of development. Tadpoles that were induced to hatch early are more likely to be killed by aquatic predators and less likely to survive to metamorphosis. After a month or more in the water, the tadpoles metamorphose into froglets. Metamorphs on land remain relatively inactive near the pond while they absorb their tails, then climb up into the trees and disappear. We know very little about their lives as juveniles.

 

Snake induced hatching of red-eyed tree frogs.

Video and information by Karen Warkentin Lab

Post by Hannah Arney

Frog Friday! Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

14987073476_3a7f5a03cb_z

Look, but don’t touch! Strawberry poison dart frogs (Oophaga pumilio) are known for their strikingly beautiful skin colors. Their bright color serves as a warning to predators that they are toxic. This type of “warning coloration” is called aposematism.  In the wild Oophaga pumilio gets its toxicity from its diet of ants and termites. The frogs we maintain in captivity in our exhibit Fabulous Frogs of Panama are fed small crickets and fruit flies. This change in diet eradicates any trace of poison in these frogs when they are raised in captivity

Strawberry poison dart frogs are generally a small species, about 0.75 to 1.5 inches (20 to 40 mm) in length. They are also mostly diurnal, and can be heard calling in the flooded forest.There are many poison frogs in the Dendrobatidae family with slightly different distributional ranges that can be found in Central America and northern South America. The species Oophaga pumilio are found in Mesoamerican countries and Panama.

Did you know? An Oophaga pumilio look alike was recently discovered in Panama by STRI scientist Cesar Jaramillo with  Abel Batista and Marcos Ponce (UNACHI) and Andrew Crawford (Universidad de los Andes). This new species Andinobates geminisae is still being described. Click here for more information.

Post by Dara Wilson

 

The 2014 Golden Frog Festival: Saving a National Treasure

GF with kids

 

HIGHLIGHTS

Participants: 2000

School Groups: 13 school groups – 300 students

Teacher Workshops: 3 workshops – 70 participants

Volunteers: 80

MEDIA COVERAGE

Radio & TV Spots: 10

News Articles: 7

Media Websites: 3

Social Media Statistics
Social media views*
        STRI Facebook page 19,717(18 posts)
        Punta Culebra Facebook page

PARC Facebook page

4,131(16  posts)

60,898 (41 Posts)

Festival event page 214 likes
Twitter hashtag used

Youtube video views

29

1023(7 videos)

*Total # of views for all posts about festival

 Youtube videos released to promote Golden Frog Festival

Name of Video # of Views # of Subscriptions driven # of shares
I love frogs 92 0 2
There’s a fungus among us 28 0 0
The Golden Frog 302 1 1
PARC Project 38 0 0
How can you help? 10 0 0
Frogs in culture 194 1 3
Why frogs matter 359 3 6
Total 1023 5 12

In August the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and partners celebrated the fourth annual Golden Frog Festival. The festival, consisting of various events held throughout Panama, calls local and global attention to the ecological and cultural value of the Panamanian golden frog and global amphibian declines. A major highlight of the festival was the opening of Fabulous Frogs of Panama, a new exhibit at Punta Culebra Nature Center featuring some of the world’s most beautiful, and endangered, frog species.

The festival kicked off on August 4 with a series of teacher workshops in El Valle de Anton led by Smithsonian Education Specialist Lidia Valencia and Peace Corps Response Volunteer Hannah Arney. Seventy teachers attended three workshop to learn about the new curriculum “Fabulous Frogs of Panama, which provides educational activities for use in teaching their students about amphibian biodiversity and conservation.

 

"Congratulations on this workshop that offered us greater knowledge of nature and science. The workshop was  practical and easy to apply to any grade level." Quote from a teacher who participated in the workshop

“Congratulations on this workshop that offered us greater knowledge of nature and science. The workshop was practical and easy to apply to any grade level.” ~ workshop participant

 

PARC scientists Jorge Guerrel and Rigoberto Diaz introduced the festival on the Panamanian national lottery highlighting the importance of the golden frog and encouraging Panamanians to help conserve amphibians.

 

 

Later that evening, the first Science in the City public talk was held at the Rana Dorada Pub. The event, held at one of our main sponsor’s venues, featured PARC scientist Jorge Guerrel and indigenous artisian Lanky Cheucarama. The pub talk was a vibrant mix of indigenous culture, conservation, education, and superb food & drinks!

 

Punta Culebra Nature Center held its soft opening of the new exhibit, “Fabulous Frogs of Panama.”  Sharon Ryan, public programs director at STRI, Matthew Larsen, STRI director, and Sylvia Cesaratto, the Canadian Ambassador for Panama, spoke about the importance of amphibians as national, cultural and biological treasures before inviting participants to visit the new exhibit.

The second Science in the City talk was held in the historic district of Casco Antiguo at the American Trade Hotel. Sharon Ryan, STRI’s director of public programs, and Brian Gratwicke, lead conservation biologist for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, talked about the PARC ‘s amphibian research, rescue and education programs.

 La Tribu finalized their performance by inviting a group of local school children to make an oath to live in harmony with the amphibians.

Performance by La Tribu

Throughout the day many people also contributed to a collective mural with the art & design studio La Tienda De Remedios

 The weekend was jam-packed with events and activities for families and frog enthusiasts. On Saturday, August 16, El Valle de Anton, the community where the PARC project began, held a family day to promote golden frog conservation. Local businesses and community groups supported the events – which included a performance by acrobatic group La Tribu, and a variety of fund and educational activities.  An estimated 500 people, mostly children, attended the event.

On Sunday August 17th, the Punta Culebra Nature Center hosted a frog themed family day to celebrate the launch of their new exhibit. The day’s events included face painting, informational presentations by STRI scientists, and frog themed games. The Rana Dorada food truck also came out to sell their delicious hamburgers and tacos.  La Tribu reprised their presentation from El Valle, and taught visitors about the importance of taking care of frogs and their habitat.

 

 

The final event of the 2014 Golden Frog Festival was a 5K/15K walk/race held in El Valle de Anton. This was the first trail walk/run race in Panama focused on raising awareness about wildlife conservation. Participants went through trails surrounding the beautiful Hotel Campestre while spectators, families, and children all watched in support.

 

Golden frog saving a life at the race in El Valle

Golden frog saving a life at the race in El Valle

Special thanks to:

  • The Festival Planning Committee (Sharon Ryan, Roberto Ibañez, Jorge Aleman, Nelly Florez, Sonia Tejada, Alvaro Gonzalez, Hannah Arney, Rigoberto Diaz, Lidia Valencia, Adrian Benedetti, Ana Matilde Ruiz, Ana Endara, Sean Mattson, Carlos Celis, Ana Lucrecia Arosemena, Heidi Ross, Dayra Navarro, Lanky Cheucarama, Dara Wilson)
  • Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project
  • Culebra guides
  • All volunteers that contributed to the events
  • Brian Gratwicke
  • Stratego Communications

Sponsors:

towerbank-logo-glow ATH logo la_rana_dorada_logo2

  • El Rey
  • Caminando Panama
  • APRADAP
  • The North Face
  • Sportshealth
  • Suunto
  • Purissima
  • Organica
  • Tacfit Panama
  • The TRI Store
  • Deka Music Group

Post by Dara Wilson, Media and Outreach Volunteer, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

New education tab launched!

fabulosas ranas cover

Lots of exciting things are happening with amphibian education here in Panama! The brand new exhibit “Fabulous Frogs of Panama” is open at Punta Culebra Nature Center on the Amador Causeway in Panama City, Panama. In conjunction with this exhibit the Punta Culebra staff and I have designed a whole new curriculum of activities to do with visiting school groups.  The curriculum is a product of collaboration by Smithsonian educators, PARC scientists, and myself. Thanks to Catherine de Rivera and the rest of her wonderful group from Portland State University we received training on inquiry-based learning techniques, and we are incorporating these methods in our brand new amphibian curriculum. It includes activities such as a dichotomous key to help students learn to identify amphibians, strategies that amphibians use to avoid predation, the frog life cycle, and the effects of chytrid fungus on amphibian skin. We have published a version of this curriculum right here on amphibianrescue.org, under the brand new education tab.  Coming soon we will also include on the education tab a virtual tour of the exhibit, videos, and other bilingual materials to be utilized by educators.  So stay tuned for exciting updates to this section of the website!

Ranas de Panama currículo

By Hannah Arney, Peace Corps Response Volunteer, Science and Biodiversity Curriculum Specialist, Punta Culebra Nature Center

Panamanian Golden Frog celebrations 2014

The 2014 Panamanian Golden Frog celebrations will be held in Panama City and El Valle de Anton. The festival, now in its fourth year, celebrates the iconic Panamanian Golden frog while highlighting the amphibian’s unique, cultural role in Panama’s history. Communities across the country will engage in activities and events in hopes of preserving Panama’s national treasure.

10517371_10154412450475402_2934970048777670163_o

The festival, scheduled to be held August 9-17, 2014, kicks off with a series of instructor workshops for five schools in El Valle de Antón. Teachers will introduce a new amphibian curriculum and Clubes de Ranas (Frog Clubs) will be launched in the schools. Shortly afterwards, the Punta Culebra Nature Center will feature new educational activities promoting frog conservation in 24 school groups, that’s over 600 students!

Adults have no need to despair; schoolchildren will not be the only ones having fun during the festival. There are several events planned for adults and professionals, including talks with STRI scientists, a performance by the theatrical group “Tribu,” and a demonstration by a very talented indigenous artisan who specializes in frog sculpturing.

10443150_10154412450455402_8155413351366000884_o10505080_10154412450460402_7206301444803902096_o

Some events to look forward to include the Ciencia en la Ciudad (Science in the City) talks held by two of the proud sponsors for the festival. One talk will be held in the historic district of Casco Viejo at the American Trade Hotel and another talk will be at the Rana Dorada Restaurant.

10466983_10154412450515402_4177462776396443381_oPerhaps the most exciting event will be the launch of a new amphibian exhibit and education program at the Punta Culebra Nature Center! STRI is very pleased to coincide this year’s festival with the launch of the new exhibit, “The Fabulous Frogs of Panama.” The amphibian exhibit features several species of frogs and toads found in Panama. Ribbon cutting ceremonies are scheduled on August 14, 2014 the National Golden Frog holiday.

Finally, for the runners out there on August 24th we have a 5K / 15 K trail run in El Valle de Anton.

10393545_711556335581382_2018232539730959374_nFestival coordinators expect the festival to attract over 8000 participants this year. So make sure you are there to experience the events for Panama’s national cultural and biological treasure!

Keep up to date with our event page on facebook

Written by Dara Wilson

The Move to Gamboa

November was the culmination of a year of incredibly hard work for us in Panama. We finally moved into our beautiful our beautiful new frog conservation facility in Gamboa. Maersk Line generously donated 7 shipping containers that that once ferried ice cream and frozen vegetables around the world, but they now house a most precious collection of endangered Panamanian frogs. The new Gamboa ARC (Amphibian Rescue Center) is an incredible leap forward enabling us to more effectively tackle the amphibian conservation crisis in Panama.

We are incredibly grateful to the Summit Municipal Park, who have been our generous hosts for the first 4 years of our project, and to our project partners Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Houston Zoo, Zoo New England, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. We have relied intensively on each other for help over the last 4 years and it has truly been a team effort! Generous grants from USAID and Minera Panama were the primary source of funds used for the construction of phase I and thanks to them, we now have a world class amphibian conservation facility. We have essential back-up systems such as an emergency generator power, and backup air-conditioning so that frogs can be kept in simulated tropical montane forest environments, even in the event of a power failure. We are now getting ready to break ground on phase II, a new NSF-funded amphibian research lab, quarantine and office building that will be the hub of our new research facility for the conservation of endangered Panamanian amphibians.