This week’s cute amphibian: White-spotted slimy salamander

White spotted slimy salamander - Plethodon cylindraceus

White spotted slimy salamander (Plethodon cylindraceus) Photo: Brian Gratwicke SCBI

White-spotted slimy salamanders are large, attractive, boldly marked lungless salamanders from the Appalachian region of the United States. they range from Maryland to South Carolina and have a thick tail and secrete a sticky white substance when handled, giving them the group the reputation of being ‘slimy’ salamanders.  These terrestrial salamanders are found under large rotting logs. They have an elaborate courtship dance where the male deposits a spermatophore on the ground that is then taken up by the female, the female lays her fertilized eggs in underground cavities where she guards them.  Some authors have noted worrying declines of this species, but they are still widely distributed and can be abundant in places. They are listed as ‘least concern’ by the IUCN.

Find out more about the National Zoo’s salamander conservation program here.

Cute frog of the week: Yellow Treefrog (Dendropsophus microcephalus)

The yellow tree frog (Dendropsophus microcephalus)  Photo: Brian Gratwicke Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

The yellow tree frog (Dendropsophus microcephalus) Photo: Brian Gratwicke Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Yellow treefrogs are abundant and widely distributed in lowlands from Belize to South America. This adaptable species prefers highly disturbed agricultural areas flooded grasslands and ponds and is classified by the IUCN as least concern because their populations seem to be stable or increasing in places.

These tiny frogs call from small ponds and swamps, where males aggressively joust for the best calling sites where they emit an insect-like ‘creek-eek-eek-ekk’ sound. If you have seen this awesome little critter send you photos to i-naturalist so we can improve the known distribution map. http://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/65373-Dendropsophus-microcephalus

Long Live the Frog: The 2013 Golden Frog Festival

THE HIGHLIGHTS
Participants: 6280
Volunteers: 44
School Groups: 34 (approx. 1000 kids)
Events: 9
Fliers Distributed: 1450
Frog Cookies Eaten: 100

MEDIA COVERAGE
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.

2013 Golden Frog Day Parade  in El Valle

2013 Golden Frog Day Parade in El Valle

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.

Frog sandcastle at Punta Culebra

Frog sandcastle at Punta Culebra Photo: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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.)

GFD&parkour

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.

Edgardo Griffith presenting a lesson on frog conservation in El Valle schools

Edgardo Griffith presenting a lesson on frog conservation in El Valle schools

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.

Kids on the Golden Frog Float on the 2013 Golden Frog Day Parade

Kids on the Golden Frog Float on the 2013 Golden Frog Day Parade

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

Golden Frog ATVs!

Golden Frog Successfully Bred in Captivity in Panama

Juvenile Panamanian golden frog, reared at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center

Juvenile Panamanian golden frog, Atelopus zeteki, reared at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center

Now in its fourth year, Panama’s Golden Frog Day, August 14, is a salute to Panama’s cultural and ecological heritage with the golden frog, one of the most iconic symbols of Panama. The national legislation promotes species preservation and maintains an objective to promote conservation and protection of this amphibian species. This year the country can celebrate the successful breeding of the Panamanian golden frog at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC), located inside the Níspero Zoo in El Valle de Antón. The egg clutch laid on November 24, 2012 successfully developed into tadpoles and were raised to form a group of 42 healthy young golden frogs.

“Bringing wild animals into captivity is only the beginning of the work that we do in our facility. Fusing applied technology, available resources, and human innovation to create Mother Nature, inside, is the challenge, “ said Heidi Ross, Director of EVACC. “Learning from our past experiences we focused a lot of energy on diet, and as the saying “you are what you eat” applies to humans, it also is essential for amphibians”.

EVACC director, Heidi Ross with a box of juvenile captive-reared golden frogs (Atelopus varius).

EVACC director, Heidi Ross with a box of juvenile captive-reared golden frogs (Atelopus varius).

“We are extremely proud of our conservation team in Panama,” said Peter Riger, director of conservation programs at the Houston Zoo, and one of the principal sponsors of this project. “EVACC has successfully bred both golden frog species in captivity and they have aggressive population management goals to grow the captive population to at least five hundred individuals for each species that I’m sure they will meet.”

The EVACC facility forms part of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. The Project collects frogs in areas threatened by the devastating chytrid fungal disease that has decimated amphibians worldwide. The hope is to learn to raise these animals in captivity until enough is known about the disease to allow researchers to release amphibians into the wild once again. Project partners include the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Houston Zoo, and Zoo New England. To learn more about the project please visit the project’s website.

Contact: Beth King kingb@si.edu 202-633-4700

Third Annual Golden Frog Day Calendar of Activities (2013)

Golden Frog Day
11 August
PUNTA CULEBRA NATURE CENTER Amador Causeway
Times: 10:00 AM a 6:00 PM
Frog exhibit and fun activities for kids.
Contact: Puntaculebra@si.edu 212-8793

14 August
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.
Contact: FlorezNA@si.edu

15 August
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
Contact: FlorezNA@si.edu

16 August
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: angiestrada@gmail.com , 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.
Contact: sentimientovallero@gmail.com

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

Celebrate Golden Frog Day (English) from Melissa Mak on Vimeo.

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.

Apparently gold is an unlucky color for frogs

The Golden Mantella is a critically endangered frog from Madagascar Photo: Brian Gratwicke Smithsonian's National Zoo

The golden mantella is a critically endangered frog from Madagascar Photo: Brian Gratwicke Smithsonian’s National Zoo

The golden mantella, Mantella aurantiaca, is yet another of the world’s critically endangered golden colored frogs. It comes from Madagascar where it is associated with screwpine forests and has a tiny range of 10 square km. Popular in the pet trade, this species is threatened by an unsustainable demand from hobbyists and was listed on CITES appendix II listed species in 1995 to limit the trade. In 2000 all Mantella species from Madagascar were also added to the list. Appendix II permits limited trade and Madagascar has an export quota for 550 animals each year. In addition to unsustainable harvest this beautiful little creature is threatened by habitat loss, including loss of breeding habitat due to gold mining. More than 1,500 golden mantellas are now managed by 50 zoos and aquaria around the world, and an in-country conservation strategy has been developed that you can read here.

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.

Update from Project Atelopus: One small frog

There are two types of golden frogs in Panama, Atelopus zeteki, the Panamanian golden frog, and Atelopus varius, the variable harlequin frog, which has more variable coloration ranging from mostly yellow to this darker chevron form. Photo: Jamie Voyles, Project Atelopus

There are two types of golden frogs in Panama. This one, Atelopus varius is the variable harlequin frog, which ranges in appearance from from this browner form to a bright yellow color at some sites. Atelopus zeteki is the distinctive day-glow yellow  Panamanian golden frog. Photo: Jamie Voyles, Project Atelopus

Jamie Voyles

One small frog can offer a great deal of hope. This frog, an adult male Atelopus varius, belongs to a genus that is critically endangered – not a single species, but the entire genus – and it is, therefore, one of the most rare creatures on earth. The Panamanian golden frog Atelopus zeteki carries the additional distinction of being Panama’s national animal and it is a symbol of good luck for the Panamanian people – so much so, that in the past golden frogs graced the face of lottery tickets. So, the loss of Atelopus, due to the lethal disease chytridiomycosis, has been nothing short of a tragedy for Panamanians, as well as for the larger global community.

About a decade ago, together with my colleague, Cori Richards (now Dr. Cori Richards-Zawacki), and I watched these golden jewels vanish from the streams of Panama as the disease chytridiomycosis (“chytrid”) spread across the country. Cori and I were still graduate students; we had a youthful (albeit slightly naïve) enthusiasm for confronting the ominous conservation disaster. Cori focused on golden frogs for her PhD and sampled thousands of frogs before they succumbed to disease. I was interested in understanding which species would be affected by the disease, not knowing that chytrid would, in a few short years, cause a wholesale wipe-out of entire amphibian communities. When frogs started to disappear, our research projects ground to a halt. After all, no frogs means no frog research. So our advisers, perhaps wisely, advised us to move on. As we shifted our research projects to other locales, the golden frogs reached the brink of extinction; sightings of these now-rare creatures dwindled until they were mere rumors.

Jamie_Cori

Drs Cori Richards-Zawaki and Jamie Voyles, the principal investigators of Project Atelopus.

Fast-forward ten years. Cori and I had both advanced in our academic careers, but we were still haunted by the loss of Panamanian amphibians. When Cori visited the University of California, Berkeley, where I was finishing up my post-doctoral work, we spent an afternoon sitting on the green campus lawn and reflecting on our work of a decade earlier; despite the projections, we had not realized the full scope of what had been coming – especially for those beautiful Panamanian  frogs. In those days, we remembered, not very many people outside of a small group of researchers had even heard the word “chytrid”, much less tried to pronounce it. Few were paying attention to the global decline of amphibian populations; even fewer were aware of Panama’s devastating loss of its national mascot and lucky charm. So, naturally, we hatched a plan to return. We needed to see for ourselves what remained of the Panama’s golden frogs.

We set about gathering money from conservation grants, one small award at a time. The news coming from field reports was grim, but we remained determined. We pooled our small pots of funds (including support from the Smithsonian and Project Golden Frog) and galvanized small research team (including Edgardo Griffiths, Heidi Ross and Matt Robak). Soon enough, we trudged the misty mountains of Panama, machetes in hand and hopes held high despite the overwhelming odds. We visited numerous sites where Atelopus varius and Atelopus zeteki were historically found, including all of Cori’s old golden frog sites. We followed rumors, tips and hints. After several months of surveys, after hours of climbing trails with heavy packs and muddy boots, we repeatedly stumbled out of the rainforest disappointed, bug-bitten and empty handed. It would have been easy to admit that we weren’t chasing frogs anymore – now we were chasing ghosts.

Until, after months of searching, we finally found our glimmer of hope. On November 8, 2012 we found a healthy adult male Atelopus perched on a mossy boulder, unconcerned that a cross-continent scramble had been underway for months, just to find him. We sat in the rain, watching him and snapping pictures. We collected non-invasive samples for diagnostic and genetic testing and then, somewhat reluctantly, we said good-bye and wished him well. We were overjoyed…. and here’s why: One small frog in the wild suggests that there are at least some surviving populations out there. And if there is even one small population holding on, there is hope – not just for that population, or even for the species, but for the whole genus. Having evidence to support that hope, in the form of that single, small and beautiful frog, is something even better than holding a winning lottery ticket with his picture on it.

To find out more about Project Atelopus follow their field blog here.

Mission Critical: Amphibian Rescue

This award-winning documentary featuring our race to find a cure for a deadly amphibian disease and to build an amphibian ark in Panama is now available for FREE.  Watch the trailer below and download the full feature if you would like to see more on the itunes store for a limited time only.

CLICK HERE to download the full episode of Smithsonian Networks Mission Critical: Amphibian Rescue film. FREE FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY!

And now for my gummy-bear impersonation.

hyperolius_benguellensis

A beautiful little reed frog (Hyperolius benguellensis)

This easily overlooked, almost translucent little frog can be found in ditches and ponds in Southern Africa. The males perch like little green jewels on reeds on the water’s edge. They spar with other males on flimsy stalks for prime breeding spots and advertise their presence to females with a short almost insect-like rasping rattle. If successful at attracting a female, the amplectant pair will lay clutches of up to 200 gelatinous eggs on vegetation just below the water’s surface.

The taxonomy of this group of small, green reed frogs can be confusing, but the pale paravertebral lines in addition to the dorsolateral stripes are one characteristic trait of this species. The frog is tolerant of disturbance and can be found in agricultural areas where it can be very abundant and it is listed by the IUCN as Least Concern.

Picture courtesy Brian Gratwicke.