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.  

High Jumper

How's that for a view? The Agile Frog Rana dalmatina, (c) Nicola Destefano

How’s that for a view? The Agile Frog Rana dalmatina, (c) Nicola Destefano

If you want to see the agile frog live up to its name, just try catch one! This wily creature can jump for distance (2m) and height (1m).   Found throughout most of Europe, this species can be abundant in forest glades in deciduous forests where it is found. It is listed as least concern by IUCN, but evidently it’s acrobatic skills are no match for cars and it has been declining at some sites due to road-kill, conversion of forest habitats to agriculture and eutrophication.  The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has been running a conservation project on this species which declined precipitously on the Island of Jersey in the 1980’s.

Photo courtesy Nicola Destefano, submitted via the cute frog of the week Flickr group.


Aptly named!!

Red-headed Poison Frog Ranitomeya fantastica Photo Credit: A. Stuckert via cute frog of the week flickr pool.

The red-headed poison frog is known for its most unique feature, its fire-orange head and throat, from which it received its name. Below the orange, it typically sports a white dorsum band followed by unique black and grey patterning. The red-headed poison frog is endemic to Peru and is restricted to a small land distribution of the San Martin and Loreto regions, making it extremely vulnerable to habitat loss. It is a small, highly active and dangerous frog. If threatened, it has the ability to secrete poisonous toxins from its skin. But despite their danger to humans, the red-headed poison frog population is decreasing because of their high demand in the pet trade. These threats to the species have led to the conservation status ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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:

Are you talkin’ to me?

White-spotted cochran frog (Sachatamia albomaculata)

White-spotted cochran frog (Sachatamia albomaculata)

Cute Frog of the Week: March 11, 2013

The white-spotted cochran frog is a nocturnal frog commonly found in humid lowlands and pre-montane slopes. It is native to a wide distribution of land, from the Caribbean slopes (Honduras to Costa Rica), to the Pacific slopes (Costa Rica to Colombia), and is likely to make nests on leaves above water. A brightly colored frog, the Cochran frog is bluish green with yellow to silver spots covering the body. Even its bones are green, which can be seen when viewed from the dorsal side, thanks to their translucent skin. Because of their wide distribution and large population, the white-spotted Cochran frog is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN.

Photo by Jorge Brito 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:

Teachers: Don’t let ‘em go!

American toad tadpoles

Learning about the process of turning from a tadpole to a frog is an important lesson for students. Teachers should understand how to do it safely. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

The seemingly harmless act of collecting tadpoles from a pond for nature study and re-releasing them after metamorphosis could actually contribute to the spread of a fatal frog disease, amphibian chytrid fungus. We want to be sure that schools, parents and students are aware of the risks to local amphibians and do NOT spread this fungus by moving or releasing frogs to the wild.

NEVER release a frog or any other amphibian into the local environment even if it came from there in the first place!

The study of amphibian metamorphosis is an integral part of nearly every K-8 curriculum. At this time of year some schools bring tadpoles into the classroom to watch metamorphosis in action.

Frog eggs and tadpoles, commercially available online from science supply companies, can be carriers of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd or chytrid for short).  This disease spreads easily and is rapidly fatal to many native amphibians. Unfortunately, many of these companies advise customers to simply release the frogs to the wild. This is not only illegal in some states, but dangerous.

To prevent the spread of chytridiomycosis, consider studying tadpoles in a pond without bringing them back to the classroom. If you are collecting or purchasing tadpoles or eggs, make absolutely sure that: 1) it is legal – permits are required in some states; 2) the tadpoles are kept by themselves and never mixed with any other tadpoles or frogs or water that has been with other animals; 3) you are prepared to care for the frogs for the rest of their lives or can find appropriate captive homes. So, only raise as many as you can re-home responsibly or care for yourself. Some companies, (e.g. Grow-a-Frog) will welcome your frog back and provide shipping bags. If you have no other options please call your local zoo, state wildlife department or nature center.

If planning for care of native frogs in the classroom post-metamorphosis, please take into consideration that in nearly all cases you will need to provide a steady diet of live insects as most native frogs only eat live food. Most native tadpoles have relatively easy care requirements, but most native frogs have very demanding care requirements. You need to consider whether you are committed to providing the special requirements and steady diet of live, moving insects for the frog’s entire lifespan. If so, this can be a wonderful thing for students to participate in.

The release of any animal, captive, non-native or native, into your local ecosystem is a serious cause for alarm.  Now more than ever, it is imperative to inform your students about the global amphibian extinction crisis and risks of releasing any animal and especially any amphibian into your local ecosystem. Pure and simple: Don’t let ‘em go !

Survival of amphibians and the well-being of our environment depends upon what your students learn now. You can and will make a difference for future generations!

To help educate students about the immediate global concern for amphibian extinctions please see this link for curriculum materials.

–Della Garelle, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Twenty-one is my lucky number.

White Madagascar Frog (Gephyromantis luteus)

White Madagascar Frog (Gephyromantis luteus)

Cute Frog of the Week: March 26, 2012

The white Madagascar frog lives along the eastern coast of the island in lowland rainforests. Often found during the day on the forest floor, it blends in with leaf litter and can jump far, if necessary. Males will climb at night to about 1-2 meters above the ground where they will call for females during mating season. Calls consist of up to 21 short, melodious notes, and the frogs do not sing together.

Perhaps one of their most distinguishing characteristics is the double blackish subgular sacs that the males have under their throats. Their skin is smooth, but they do have inner and outer ridges that run down the spine. Their coloration is usually light brown or reddish brown, uniform or with a few smaller black markings.

This species is fairly common, though overall numbers are slowly decreasing, most likely due to general habitat alteration and loss, habitat modification from deforestation, logging, intensified agriculture and livestock grazing, urbanization.

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:

Dog? No, frog!

Dumeril’s bright-eyed frog (Boophis tephraeomystax)

Dumeril’s bright-eyed frog (Boophis tephraeomystax)

Cute Frog of the Week: March 19, 2012

If you ever visit Madagascar and hear a little dog yelping during the night, think again—you may be listening to a Dumeril’s bright-eyed frog (Boophis tephraeomystax) (named for the first person to describe it). These frogs can be found in open areas of the island’s coasts and are known to hang out on banana plants near villages. Males spend the night singing near shallow pools, which are also where tadpoles grow up. When droughts come, these frogs tuck themselves into the leaf buds of plants to hide. Because these frogs can adapt easily to a variety of homes and is fairly common, they are not considered endangered.

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:

October 29 is National Take Back Your Drugs Day

Do you have unused or expired medications in your medicine cabinet? Don’t flush them, rush them to a collection site near you this Saturday, October 29! The Drug Enforcement Administration is working with local law enforcement agencies around the country to set up community drug collection sites. Not only does properly disposing of drugs help reduce prescription drug poisonings, misuse, abuse and theft, it’s better for frogs, too. Past national collection days have kept more than 309 tons of medication out of waterways.

Find a collection site near you.

Amphibians are super sensitive to water contamination. They show evidence of harm at pollution levels scientific tests can’t detect. While research on the long-term effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment is ongoing, there’s no question properly disposing of unused prescription and over-the-counter medications, instead of flushing them or pouring them down the drain, means you’re keeping our water sources clean–for frogs and for people.

If you can’t make it to a drug collection site this weekend, check out these recommendations from SMARXT DISPOSAL for safely disposing of medicines in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

  • Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag. If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.), add a small amount of water to dissolve it.
  • Add kitty litter, sawdust or coffee grounds to make it less appealing for pets and children to eat.
  • Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.

Help spread the word about this simple step everyone can take to protect our environment and frogs!

–Katie Borremans, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Damage Control

Brian Gratwicke

Dr. Brian Gratwicke swabs a frog in the field to test it for chytrid. (Courtesy of Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

Today, conservation biologists from around the world remain locked in a race against amphibian extinction. In Panama, researchers who care about conserving the country’s abundant biodiversity are re-evaluating the cards they were handed, recognizing just how high the deck is stacked against their efforts.

The primary cause of amphibian decline, a fungal disease called Bd continues to run its insidious course. Scarily, it has reached Eastern Panama sooner than expected.

The outlook is grim. Nearly a third of the 6,000 amphibian species worldwide could be gone within decades. Gone. And in many instances, the fungus will take the blame. Rare species seem to disappear first, leaving the more common species, which may make amphibians even more susceptible to other diseases.

Still, there is some hope. At the Smithsonian in Panama, researchers continue to discuss the possibilities of undercutting the disease and its effects in the wild.

Captive breeding projects in Panama insure the genetic lineages of Panama’s most endangered species. Volunteers and dedicated personnel pour their energy into rescue missions and husbandry projects despite tight budgets.

Smithsonian researcher Doug Woodhams and colleagues published a comprehensive article in the journal Frontiers of Ecology about “mitigating amphibian disease with strategies to maintain wild populations and control chytriodiomycosis.” The study finds that mitigation does not necessarily involve wiping out the fungal pathogen in the wild, nor does it necessarily mean preventing disease (neither of which are realistic approaches, anyway).

Their approach is to use information about species that don’t seem to succumb to the disease but do act as hosts that transmit the fungus along with information about the virulence of the disease under different environmental conditions to manage populations in the wild. They call their approach “an ecologically-oriented damage response network.”

If anything, recent news and research efforts indicate that perseverance in the difficult tasks of captive breeding and active disease management is the key, rather than spending precious time searching for an elusive silver bullet.

–Charlie Hruska, Columbia University and Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project volunteer