The Recently Discovered Salamander-Devouring Fungus and Reasons for Concern for the Future the Salamander Biodiversity in the United States

appalachian salamandersEnigmatic Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) declines in the Netherlands have been attributed to the recently described fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bs). Since 2010, the S. salamandra population at Bunderbos, Netherlands has decreased by 96%. An Martel et al’s recent Science paper showed that some US salamander species are highly susceptible to Bs, confirmed its occurrence in the pet trade, and noted that it has not yet been detected in the US. Large numbers of live salamanders are legally imported into the US each year for the pet trade. In the first 6 months of 2014, for example, 3,445 fire salamanders imported into the US, mostly from Slovenia.

The genus Batrachochytrium, which before the discovery of Bs solely included Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), has gained an infamous reputation for global amphibian declines. Biologists believe that we are witnessing the sixth mass extinction in part because of the virulence and global spread of Bd among the world’s amphibians. The discovery of this new pathogen and our improved understanding of the ravaging effects of emerging wildlife disease raise concerns that US salamanders could share the same fate.

The US is a biodiversity hotspot for salamanders

Appalachia is a global salamander biodiversity hotspot (Source:

Appalachia is a global salamander biodiversity hotspot (Source:

The Appalachian Mountains are a renowned biodiversity hotspot for salamanders. The potential threat of this emerging pathogen in the US is therefore magnified, and it is imperative that we keep this disease out of the US. Salamander genetic diversity in the Appalachians is the highest in the world with 72 salamander species that are mostly endemic. The United States is home to nine out of ten salamander families and four of the ten extant salamander families are endemic to the United States including amphiumas, Pacific giant salamanders, torrent salamanders and sirens. Mole salamanders are also found in Canada and Mexico, but nearly all of their biodiversity is contained with U.S. borders. Giant salamanders are a primitive lineage of giant salamanders with three extant species, located in the U.S., Japan, and China. The hellbender is one of the giants and has found refuge in the Appalachian Mountains since amphibians originated, some 360 million years ago.

The ecological role of salamanders, the smaller majority, can often go unnoticed, but consider this biomass assessment of salamanders in Appalachia. One classic mark-recapture study in the eastern US noted “The biomass of salamanders is about twice that of birds during the bird’s peak breeding season and is about equal to the biomass of small mammals” (Burton and Likens 1975). With densities this high, a novel salamander-specific pathogen to which these animals have never been exposed have the potential be able to spread like wildfire, much like Bd spread through naïve Neotropical amphibian populations.

Immediate action is needed

We should immediately halt the importation of salamanders from any overseas sources, unless they can be certified free from Bs and Bd. In May 2008 the OIE, which is the organization created to mitigate zoonotic diseases (i.e., anthrax, mad cow disease, etc.), recognized Bd as a notifiable disease. Stricter trade regulations recommended by OIE would substantially reduce the spread of both Bs and Bd, however the OIE changes have not been adopted by the US Department of Agriculture and Interior and until doing so there are no legal means to reject infected shipments. A joint statement from the Amphibian Specialist Group and Amphibian Survival Alliance calls for immediate policy actions to stop the further spread of devastating wildlife diseases, and this time it is not too late to do something about it.

by Blake Klocke

Defenders Urges USFWS to Ban Importation of Live Frogs That May Have Chytrid

Chytrid infected frog

Defenders of Wildlife has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ban the importation of live frogs unless they are accompanied by a health certificate verifying that they are free of the chytrid, which killed the frog shown here. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

The global amphibian trade has been indicted as the culprit in the spread of the deadly chytrid fungus. A study published in New Scientist  calls for an amphibian quarantine to help slow the disease’s spread.

The study sequenced the genomes of 20 samples of Bd, collected in Europe, Africa, North and South America and Australia. They found that 16 of the 20 samples were genetically identical.

The researchers say the explanation for this is simple, that world-wide trade in amphibians enabled the spread of this disease.

The researchers suggest that countries quarantine all imported amphibians and only allow them to stay if they are not infected.

Defenders of Wildlife, a partner in the Panamanian Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ban the importation of live frogs unless they are accompanied by a health certificate verifying that they are free of the chytrid fungus.

“Billions of frogs are traded internationally each year for human consumption, and that industry is responsible for depleting wild populations, spreading deadly disease, and allowing invasive species to destroy the health of native ecosystems,” said Alejandra Goyenechea, counsel for the international conservation programs for Defenders of Wildlife.

Defenders is working with the upcoming CITES Animals Committee to ensure that the international trade of frogs is not detrimental to their survival and with CITES Parties to bring awareness on the international trade of frog legs with our report.

Cindy Hoffman, Defenders of Wildlife

Q & A with Dr. Vance Vredenburg: Chytrid in Asia

Chytrid study

Dr. Vance Vredenburg swabs frogs to test for chytrid. (Photo courtesy of Vance Vredenburg, San Francisco University)

A new study published on Aug. 16 in the journal PLoS ONE found that Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), the fungus that causes chytridiomycosis, is indeed present in Asia, but at significantly lower levels than anywhere else in the world. In fact, researchers found that just more than two percent of the individuals they tested were positive and that the fungus was present only in the Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea. Now scientists want to know why.

An international research team conducted this study between 2001 and 2009, examining more than 3,000 amphibians, most of which were frogs, from 15 Asian countries. It was the first large-scale investigation of the disease conducted in Asia.

We spoke with Dr. Vance Vredenburg of San Francisco University, one of the researchers from the study and a leading expert in this disease. Here’s what he had to say:

1)  This was the first comprehensive survey of chytrid in Asia. Why do you think this hasn’t been done before?

I think expense is probably a huge hindrance on research. Our study was conducted in 15 countries and our data was collected by a large number of field personnel. The cost of analyzing the samples is not cheap–costs range from $5 to $30 per sample, depending on where and how they are analyzed. We ran nearly 3,500 samples.

2)    What do your findings mean in the battle against chytrid, and what is your next step?

Our findings provide an important milestone because they are the first broad survey for Bd across a vast continent that harbors a large amount of amphibian diversity. Our hope is that researchers will now be able to return to many of these sites and see if the dynamics of the pathogen host system change and if so, in what direction. Our next step will be to follow up on as many sites as possible.

3)    Were you surprised by the findings? Why or why not?

Yes. I was surprised by how low the prevalence was across what appears to be such perfect habitat for this pathogen.

Hylarana similis

This frog, Hylarana similis, is native to the Phillipines and is a species now infected by chytrid. (Photo courtesy of Rafe M. Brown, University of Kansas)

4)   Why do you think that frogs in Asia aren’t being wiped out at the same rate as frogs in the neotropics?

There are only a few possibilities. We describe them in detail in the discussion [in the paper], but in short, either Bd is only just emerging in Asia and thus we haven’t seen mass die-offs due to chytridiomycosis yet, or it is endemic and there are either abiotic or biotic influences holding the pathogen at bay. We still don’t have the answer to this.

5)   If this outbreak in Asia is relatively recent, where did it originate on the continent?

We discovered one–and only one–place out of 300 sites where an outbreak may be occurring, at a site in the Philippines.

6)   The Philippines are a series of Islands. If you believe there is or is going to be an outbreak there, how did it get there and how can it spread to other places in the world?

We propose that human trade is involved, specifically that farms raising American bullfrogs could be the source of Bd that could then spread to wild frogs [if some escape]. We don’t know where it originated or how it spread for sure.

7)   Are there Asian amphibians other than frogs that appear to be affected by chytrid?

Asia has a rich fauna of both salamander and caecilians, but to date we do not know if they are affected by Bd. Our study did not sample caecilians and includes only a small number of salamanders.

8)   A few amphibian species, such as bullfrogs, are said to be carriers of Bd, but rarely seem to die from it. What exactly allows a species to be a “carrier,” or is there still not enough information known about that?

We don’t yet know how bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) are able to survive Bd infections without showing symptoms of chytridiomycosis.

9)   Do you believe that these Asian frogs that seem to be less affected may be carriers as well?

 We need more information to assess this. My guess is that there are probably some species that can sustain infections just like American bullfrogs and could act as carriers.

10)  What other threats do frogs in Asia face and what is being done to address those threats?

 The two major threats in Asia are habitat destruction and hunting and gathering amphibians to eat.

Sara Bloom Leeds, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Chytrid spreading fast and furiously

This week we broke the news that chytridiomycosis, a rapidly spreading amphibian disease, has reached a site near Panama’s Darien region, leaving us little time to save the species there at risk of extinction. Here’s an updated map of how the pathogen is moving through the neotropics:

Chytrid spread
Chytridiomycosis has been linked to dramatic population declines or even extinctions of amphibian species worldwide. Within five months of arriving at El Cope in western Panama, chytridiomychosis extirpated 50 percent of the frog species and 80 percent of individuals.

Conservationists have been fretting for years about what might happen to Eastern Panama’s 120-odd amphibian species when chytrid hits. Chytrid is a disease that cannot tolerate extremely hot temperatures, so it tends to be most devastating in cooler mountainous regions of the tropics that remain cool and moist year-round. The mountainous regions of Eastern Panama are one of the last remaining strongholds of naïve amphibian populations in the New World, and species that tend to have a highland distribution and small ranges are the most vulnerable to extinction.

This time, it is not good to be a leader

Atelopus varius

Atelopus varius is just one of many species of frog that is critically endangered. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project).

Chytrid fungus is believed to have played a role in the disappearance of 94 of the 120 frog species thought to have gone extinct since 1980.  But that is not the only battle frogs are facing in the fight to survive.

No one issue can explain all of the population declines that are occurring at an unprecedented rate, and much faster in amphibians than most other animals, the scientists conclude in a study just published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

The totality of these changes leads these researchers to believe that the Earth is now in a major extinction episode similar to five other mass extinction events in the planet’s history. And amphibians are leading the field – one estimate indicates they are disappearing at more than 200 times that of the average extinction rate.

In this case, it is not good to be the leader.

Cindy Hoffman, Defenders of Wildlife

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Mantellas on the Move

Black-eared Mantella froglets bred at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

An adult blue-legged Mantella. (Photo credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo)

A hop, skip, and a jump from Panama (well, a little farther than that), the Mantellas are fighting their own battle with potential extinction on an island off the coast of Africa. Madagascar is home to 16 species of the frogs, which are endemic to the country, but collection for pet trade and deforestation are threatening their survival.

We first told you about Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Mantella captive breeding program last fall. It was animal keeper Jeff Baughman’s goal to establish a breeding program for the frogs within the zoo community, and over the past year, he did just that. In a matter of weeks, Baughman’s first batch of 70 captive-bred blue-legged and black-eared Mantellas will be on the move to AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) zoos around the country.

People are drawn to the bright colors of the Mantella, colors that rival those of the more familiar poison dart frogs in Central and South America. However, only a handful of zoos in the U.S. have the endangered blue-legged and critically endangered black-eared species. Baughman started by bringing a collection from a trusted captive breeding source to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s off-exhibit Amphibian Conservation Center. He then created an environment similar to Madagascar’s less humid winter months, followed by increased humidity and daylight to simulate the rainy season. The females laid their eggs in March, and the end result is about 35 blue-legged and 35 black-eared Mantellas.

Chytrid has not yet spread to Madagascar, but if it does, the effect would be devastating. Because Mantella populations are so fragmented, they could easily be wiped out by the fungus. That’s why the Wildlife Conservation Society and other experts are looking at creating a facility in Madagascar, similar to the one in Panama.

What can you do to save frogs? If you’re buying them as pets, it’s important to find out where they came from. Make sure you get your frogs from a trusted captive breeding source and avoid buying frogs caught in the wild.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo guests are helping frogs, too. In 2008 – 2009, the zoo’s Quarters for Conservation program supported a conservation and research organization in helping protect Mantella frogs in Madagascar. With every visit this year, zoo guests can vote to provide funding to the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project.

Katie Borremans, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Frog Fantasmas

Jar of frogs

Researchers collected these dead frogs from sites where the fungus is moving through. (Photo credit: Karen Lips, University of Maryland)

Booo! Halloween’s over but ghost stories linger. In Panama, holiday season has begun! Nov. 3 marked the start of a long string of holidays–Independence from Colombia and from Spain this month, Mother’s Day, Chaunukah and Christmas in December, summer vacation for kids during the dry season, and ending up with Carnival festivities in February and back to school in March.

Yesterday my family piled into the car for the day-long drive up into the Chiriqui highlands near the border of Panama and Costa Rica.

We slept very well last night in the cool mountains where it’s extremely quiet compared to our home on the border of Soberania National Park in the lowlands where they say that the night time forest sound reaches 50 decibels–and a big part of that sound comes from frogs.

For some reason that no one understands, the chytrid fungus pathogen doesn’t seem to kill frogs in the lowlands, where it is sometimes found, but it decimates all amphibian populations along highland streams.

Earlier this month I had the wonderful opportunity to take an interpretation course offered by the National Association for Interpretation as part of a USAID tourist guide training program organized by Panama’s Association for Sustainable Tourism (APTSO). Each of the student guides was asked to share a story that they tell visitors to Panama that touches their hearts.

Carlos Fonseca, a young guide from Chiriqui, told that he and his brother used to spend summer days playing along streams in the highlands where they loved to find frogs…colorful frogs with pale white underbellies and even glass frogs that you can see through! About ten years ago, the chytrid epidemic passed through, and now the kids who play there don’t even know that there were frogs there.

Insects and birds dominate a cloud forest soundscape that used to ping and croak.

So, we’ll go for long walks in the woods on our weekend trip–we will see rainbows and maybe even a resplendant quetzal–and we’ll keep our eyes open for survivors–the few frogs that either managed to escape or were resistant to the disease.

Due to the vision of researchers like Karen Lips, from the University of Maryland, who first saw the fungus coming into Panama from Costa Rica, Roberto Ibanez, from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Brian Gratwicke from the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, a rescue effort was mounted to save Panama’s frogs.  Now, with support from Panama’s Environmental Authority (ANAM) and Summit Nature Park in Panama and eight other partner institutions in the United States, the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation project rescues frogs in Eastern Panama where the fungus hasn’t been yet. It is one of the few examples of proactive conservation of species that otherwise would be doomed, and, to that end, offers a kind of hope that is rare in this world.

–Beth King, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Keepers on the Front Lines

The five keepers for the rescue project at Summit Zoo (left to right): Nancy Fairchild, Rousmary Betancourt, Angie Estrada, Jorge Guerrel, Lanky Cheucarama.

The five keepers for the rescue project at Summit Zoo (left to right): Nancy Fairchild, Rousmary Betancourt, Angie Estrada, Jorge Guerrel, Lanky Cheucarama.

(Versión en Español)

Our next door neighbors are: a margay cat named Derek, a couple of Geoffroy’s tamarins and an ocelot. Across the street lives a troop of white face capuchins and every day we pass the parrots as they try to hit on us and say “hola,” no matter how many times we ignore them.

We are the keepers at the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project at the Summit Municipal Park in Panama.

We take care of 191 frogs, from seven species, all of them native to Panama. Though each one of us has our own favorite frog—Kuno, Danielito, Chasky, James Bond and Survivor, for example—we make sure they all have everything they need to be happy and safe in their home at the zoo.

Our frogs need a lot of attention! We have to keep them healthy, clean and fed. Maybe it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but each of those tasks takes a tremendous team effort, a high level of responsibility, tons of time and even a bit of intuition.

To ensure healthy frogs, first we treat the animals for chytridiomicosis (a skin disease caused by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd) once they get back from rescue missions in the mountains of eastern Panama. Chytridiomicosis is a fungal skin disease that’s been killing amphibians in the wild for more than two decades and that is spreading fast. Treatment days are awful! We often get nervous and anxious because we know that for some of the frogs it’ll be too late, but we’re relieved at the same time when the majority of them survive. After they are treated, the new frogs are ready to be part of our collection. The hard part really comes after treatment.

A chytrid-free frog does not automatically mean a healthy frog. Before and after they become part of our collection, the frogs can be underweight or have parasites. It is part of our job to hand feed them if necessary and sometimes to remove very active worms under their skin. We need to make sure the frogs take their medicine on time, with the correct dose and with proper follow-up. None of this would be possible without the help and supervision of a group of vets and keepers from other conservation centers and zoos who trained us and are patient enough to receive a lot of emails and phone calls from us.

Hyloscirtus colymba

One of the many frogs that keepers for the rescue project care for at Summit Zoo. (This is la loma tree frog, or Hyloscirtus colymba)

Frogs don’t need to take a bath to stay clean, though their environment needs to be cleaned regularly. Amphibians are very sensitive to changes in their habitat because of their permeable skin and the fact that during metamorphosis, they spend part of their life stages in both ecosystems: aquatic and terrestrial. These are some of the reasons why they are declining so rapidly in the wild. When permeable skin comes in contact with contaminated water or soil, frogs can get infected by Bd. In our control environment in the pod, we need to clean the frogs’ enclosures, especially the ones in quarantine. We change and clean all the tanks twice a week, change and clean their plants and leaves, spray water on the tanks that don’t have misting systems and remove the feces.

Last but not least: frogs need to eat! What do our frogs eat? We would need many blog posts to fully explain how we manage to keep alive a room full of two species of fruit flies, springtails and earthworms; and an even larger room with 95 plastic boxes full of crickets and a couple containers of superworms. The latest additions to the menu are a working colony of cockroaches and a brand new outdoors house for grasshoppers. You can say that these frogs are well fed…maybe too well. They eat so much that we’re even putting a few of them on a diet this week!

Summit keepers cups

Frogs are clearly always on the minds of the rescue project's keepers at Summit Zoo.

Did we mention that all of this is not enough to save the species? To do that, we need to breed them too. Reproduction is a very different story. We basically need to create the perfect scenario so the frogs can get in the mood. And getting them in the mood can take from two days (such as for the Toad Mountain harlequin frog, or Atelopus certus) or eight months (as is the case for La Loma leaf frogs, or Hyloscirtus colymba).

This is part of our daily work; we love it and we are very proud of it. Though some people call us “frog heroes,” we are proud to be part of a group of scientists, keepers, vets, volunteers and frog lovers who are trying to safe these beautiful and interesting animals all over the world.

–Angie Estrada, Nancy Fairchild, Rousmary Bethancourt, Jorge Guerrel, Lanky Cheucarama, keepers for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project at the Summit Zoo in Panama.

Cuidadores en lineas delanteras

The five keepers for the rescue project at Summit Zoo (left to right): Nancy Fairchild, Rousmary Betancour, Angie Estrada, Jorge Guerrel, Lanky Cheucarama.

Los cuidadores del proyecto de rescate: Nancy Fairchild, Rousmary Betancour, Angie Estrada, Jorge Guerrel, Lanky Cheucarama.

(Version in English)

Nuestros vecinos de al lado son: un tigrillo llamado Derek, una pareja de monos tití y un ocelote. En frente viven una tropa de monos cariblancos y sin importar las veces que caminemos frente a los loros de cresta roja tenemos que ignorar sus flirteos y sus incesantes “hola”.

Somos los cuidadores del Proyecto de Rescate y Conservación de Anfibios de Panamá en el Parque Municipal Summit en Panamá.

Nosotros cuidamos de 191 ranas, de siete especies diferentes, todas ellas nativas de Panamá. Y aunque cada uno de nosotros tiene su favorita-por ejemplo: Kuno, Danielito, Chasky, James Bond y Survivor-nos aseguramos que todas tengan todo lo que necesiten para ser  felices en su hogar en el zoológico.

¡Nuestras ranas necesitan de mucha atención! Es nuestro deber mantenerlas saludables, limpias y alimentadas. Quizás no parezca algo muy complicado, pero cada una de esas tareas requiere de un tremendo trabajo en equipo, un alto nivel de responsabilidad, toneladas de tiempo e incluso un poco de intuición.

Para asegurarnos que las ranas estén saludables, necesitamos primeramente tratar a los animales contra la quitridiomicosis (una enfermedad de la piel causad por Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis o también conocida como Bd) una vez regresan de las giras de rescate en las montañas del este de Panamá. La quitridiomicosis es una enfermedad infecciosa de la piel que ha causado el decline de poblaciones de anfibios por más de dos décadas y que se está dispersando demasiado rápido. ¡Los días de tratamiento son horribles! Muy a menudo nos sentimos ansiosos y nerviosos porque sabemos que para algunas ranas será demasiado tarde, pero al mismo tiempo nos sentimos aliviados al observar que la gran mayoría sobrevive. Después de ser tratadas, las ranas nuevas están listas para ser parte de nuestra colección. La parte mas difícil es realmente, después del tratamiento.

Hyloscirtus colymba

Uno de las ranas en Summit Zoo. (La rana hoja de la Loma, o Hyloscirtus colymba)

Una rana libre de quitrido no es una rana saludable. Antes y después que formen parte de nuestra colección, las ranas pueden presentar bajo peso o tener parásitos. Y es parte de nuestro trabajo el brindarles alimentación asistida de ser necesario y algunas veces debemos remover activos gusanos que se encuentran debajo de su piel. Tenemos asegurarnos que las ranas tomen a tiempo sus medicamentos, que la dosis sea la correcta y que se le de el seguimiento apropiado. Nada de lo anterior seria posible sin la  ayuda y supervisión de un grupo de veterinarios y cuidadores de otros centro de conservación y zoológicos quienes nos entrenan y están disponibles para recibir miles de emails y llamadas con cientos de preguntas.

Las ranas no necesitan de un baño para estar limpias, sin embargo el ambiente donde se encuentran debe permanecer regularmente limpio. Los anfibios son muy sensibles a cambios en su ambiente debido a su piel permeable y al hecho que durante la metamorfosis, pasan parte de su ciclo de vida en ambos ecosistemas: acuáticos y terrestres. Estas son alguna de las razones por las cuales los anfibios están desapareciendo en la naturaleza. Cuando la piel permeable entra en contacto con cuerpos de agua o suelo contaminado, las ranas pueden infectarse de Bd. dentro De nuestro ambiente controlado en el laboratorio, es necesario mantener limpios los contenedores de las ranas, especialmente aquellos que se encuentran en el área de cuarentena. Dos veces por semana, nos encargamos de cambiar y limpiar todos los tanques y plantas dentro de los mismos, mantener húmedo su interior con la ayuda de un aspersor y eliminar las heces que se encuentran en ellos.

Summit keepers cups

Las ranas son un parte grande de las vidas de los cuidadores del proyecto de rescate.

¡Por último pero no menos importante: las ranas tienen que comer! ¿Que comen nuestras ranas? Serán necesarios muchos otros “blogs” para explicarles como logramos mantener un cuarto con de dos especies diferentes de moscas de frutas, cajas con cientos de mínimos colembolos y lombrices de tierra. Además de un cuatro aun más grande con 95 cajas repletas de grillos domésticos y varios envases con larvas de escarabajos. La última adición al menú de las ranas es una colonia de cucarachas y una nueva casa al aire libre lista para albergar deliciosos saltamontes. Se podría decir que estas ranas están bien alimentadas…demasiado bien tal vez. Comen tan bien, que algunas iniciaron una estricta dieta esta semana!

¿Les mencionamos que todo esto no es suficiente para salvar a una especie? Para lograrlo, también debemos reproducirlas en cautiverio. La reproducción es una historia muy diferente. Básicamente hay que crear el escenario perfecto para que las ranas entren en ambiente. Y para lograr que las ranas se sientan cómodas y estén listas para reproducirse, puede pasar desde 2 días (como en el caso de el sapito arlequín de montaña) hasta 8 meses (como en el caso de la rana hoja de la Loma o H. colymba).

Todo esto es parte de nuestro trabajo diario; nos encanta y estamos muy orgullosos de ello. Aunque algunas personas nos han llamado “los héroes de las ranas” nos llena de orgullo formar parte de un grupo de científicos, cuidadores, veterinarios, voluntarios y amantes de las ranas quienes están haciendo un gran esfuerzo alrededor del mundo para salvar a estos hermosos e interesantes animales.

Angie Estrada, Jorge Guerrel, Lanky Cheucarama, Nancy Fairchild y Rousmary Betancour, los cuidadores del Proyecto de Rescate y Conservación de Anfibios de Panamá en el Parque Municipal Summit en Panamá.

Guppy Travels: Day Five

Brian Gratwicke and Atelopus glyphus

One of the ways to tell the frog's story is through photos that capture each animal's unique beauty in detail. Here the project's international coordinator, Brian Gratwicke, takes one of his incredible stylized frog shots.

Anyone who’s been out in the woods at night has heard the call of a frog. Sometimes it’s from a female to a nearby male looking for some romance. Sometimes it’s from a whole camp of males hoping to impress a very picky female. After just a few days in the Panamanian rainforest, I have learned to identify the call of the tungara frog (and can hear one out my window right now), the gladiator frog and the red-eyed tree frog. I’m still working on learning the many other big noises that come from these small creatures.

Although the sounds that frogs make are as varied as the animals themselves, there’s one thing frogs can’t do: talk. That’s where I come in.

Frogs have an important story to tell. It’s one about a fungus that is wiping out their kind worldwide and spreading rapidly. It’s one about those among the Earth’s most powerful species who are doing something to save the animals and it’s about those who don’t much care. Through the frogs’ eyes, it’s a story that has evolved along with the planet since the time of the dinosaurs and a story that still has a very uncertain ending.

Shipping container

To bring frogs into captivity, rescue members and volunteers have to transform this shipping container...

Rescue pod

...into a rescue pod like this, which already houses a number of frogs and is the pod I've worked in this week.

The frogs at Summit Zoo were able to tell their story to a reporter who came to visit today and my job—the conservation action that I have to offer—is to ensure that reporters help get the word out and that we connect with as many people as possible in Panama, the States and, well, everywhere else. We need people to care and then we need people to take action. We need this to happen very quickly, before chytrid spreads to those places that are home to the rescue priority species we’re still trying to make room for.

Right now we’re already pushing capacity with the newbie Pirre Mountain frogs (Atelopus glyphus) in quarantine, awaiting their turn to re-locate to a rescue pod. But their rescue pod still looks more like what it was originally created to be—a shipping container.

Ed Smith

Spreading the word requires the interest of reporters around the world. Ed Smith, a biologist at the National Zoo, helps a film crew work with Panamanian frogs at the Zoo's Amazonia Exhibit.

Outfitting the pods for the frogs takes a tremendous amount of work. Once we receive the shipping industry’s donation, we need to turn it into an ark by setting up life support systems, from air conditioning to filtration to lighting. This week it took me two hours to make just three false bottoms (tank bottoms that prevent the frog from escaping through a filtration pipe) and about an hour to put together about 20 lights. Really we’re just doing this one or two people at a time.

This takes time and this takes money. Thanks to a grant from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, the rescue project was able to hire someone to coordinate and recruit volunteers—and volunteers are essential to building capacity we need.

So my shameless plug in the midst of a week of being nothing but frog mad: If you want to be among the good guys in the story of the frogs, come to Panama to volunteer. Or donate money. Or help with the campaign we’ll be announcing next week. Or just do whatever you can to help us spread the word, whether on Facebook, Twitter or at your next dinner party. When the words stop, so, too, will the frog calls.

And that’s a silence I don’t think the world can bear.

Lindsay Renick Mayer, Smithsonian’s National Zoo