Meet 9 of Panama’s ‘Lost Frogs’

The deadly amphibian chytrid fungus has caused much devastation to Panama’s native frogs, salamanders and caecilians. We have learned a lot about this disease in the last 10 years and we have been able to take stock of its effects. A recent survey of Panamanian frog experts revealed that of Panama’s 214 described amphibian species, about 100 species can still be reliably found even in places where the chytrid fungus is found, and experts consider these species less susceptible to the fungus. Approximately 80 species are very rare, and we simply do not have any idea about their susceptibility to chytridiomycosis, or their current population numbers. 36 species were considered highly susceptible to the chytrid fungus and were once reliably encountered but have experienced, or are predicted to experience, severe chytridiomycosis-related declines.
Unfortunately a number of these species have already completely disappeared in the wild and have not been seen in many years. We call these Panama’s ‘lost frogs’.

1) Atelopus chiriquiensis – Chiriquí harlequin frog
These attractive diurnal frogs were appealing research subjects and occurred in high numbers in highlands on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. There are many scientific papers about this species, and they were primarily studied for their highly toxic tetradotoxins in their skin as well as their unique signaling and aggressive mating behavior. A study by Dr. Karen Lips in the las Tablas reserve of Costa Rica reports that they occurred in high numbers – up to 20 individuals seen in 100m of stream on a single visit, but the frogs experienced a severe chytridiomycosis-related decline over a 5-year period and were last seen in 1996.

A pair of Atelopus chiriquiensis in amplexus. Photo (c) Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

A pair of Atelopus chiriquiensis in amplexus. Photo (c) Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

2) Atelopus zeteki – Panamanian golden frog
This is Panama’s national amphibian, a charismatic emblem of the environment and conservation. August 14th is a dedicated national day to honor the golden frog as a symbol for Panama’s incredible biodiversity heritage. Recognizing the chytridiomycosis threat, a conservation project called Project Golden Frog established a healthy breeding colony of golden frogs at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, another colony is maintained in Panama at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center. As predicted, Panamanian golden frogs experienced severe chytridiomycosis-related declines starting in 2006, and the last confirmed observation of Panamanian golden frog in the wild was in 2009. Project Atelopus continues to survey known golden frog sites for survivors, and a detailed conservation plan has been developed by stakeholders and facilitated by the IUCN Species Survival Commission for golden frogs in Panama. The plan aims to eventually reintroduce them to the wild.

One of 2,000 captive Panamanian Golden Frogs managed in captivity by the Golden Frog Species Survival Plan and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore Photo: Brian Gratwicke Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

One of 2,000 captive Panamanian golden frogs managed in captivity by the Golden Frog Species Survival Plan and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore Photo: (cc) Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

3) Craugastor obesus
This species was found in the spray zone on rocks, boulders in the Atlantic-facing slopes of Western Panama and Costa Rica. The species was last recorded from Costa Rica in 1984 rainforest. This species belongs to the Craugastor rugulosus group and all these closely related species of amphibians have all been have been decimated by the amphibian chytrid fungus.
4) Craugastor punctariolus
This semi aquatic species was found in mountainous streams of Central Panama. Rapid chytridiomycosis-related declines and disappearances were observed in the field in 2004-2008. This species belongs to the Craugastor rugulosus group and all these closely related species of amphibians have been decimated by the amphibian chytrid fungus. Genetic analysis revealed that it is likely a species complex. It has been maintained in captivity, and occasionally deposited eggs that were either infertile or did not develop fully and a viable captive population was not established.

Craugastor punctariolus, Bob's Robber Frog at the El valle Amphibian Conservation Center, photo (c) Kevin Johnson Amph

Craugastor punctariolus, Bob’s Robber Frog at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) photo (c) Kevin Johnson Amphibian Ark

5) Craugastor rhyacobatrachus
This species is found in premontane and lower montane southern slopes of the Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama. Despite extensive searches for this species in both Costa Rica and Panama, there are no recent records of this species. This species belongs to the Craugastor rugulosus group and all these closely related species of amphibians have all been have been decimated by the amphibian chytrid fungus.
6) Incilius majordomus
Males of this species were lemon yellow, and females were brown, the only other known toad of this genus that exhibited similar sexual dimorphism was Incilius peringelis—the famous Monte Verde Golden Toad of Costa Rica that is now extinct. Incilius majordomus is known only from the Pacific slope of Cerro Bollo, on the border between the provinces of Bocas del Toro and Chiriquí. This species was described in 2013 using a series of specimens collected in 1980. It has not been seen in the wild since 1980 despite extensive herpetological surveys in the area.

Incilius majordomus type specimen © Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles

Incilius majordomus type specimen © Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles

7) Isthmohyla calypsa
A  treefrog frog covered with spiny tubercles found in a small mountainous area on the border of Costa Rica and Panama where is used to be locally common. At las Tablas in Costa Rica, the species experienced severe chytridiomycosis-related declines between 1993 and 1998. Despite extensive recent survey efforts in Costa Rica and Panama, the species has not been seen recently and is possibly extinct. Many other stream breeding species in this genus have also experienced dramatic declines and are now extremely rare frogs.

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Isthmohyla calypsa in the wild, Photo (c) Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

8) Ecnomiohyla rabborum – Rabbs’ fringe-limbed treefrog
Rabbs’ treefrog is thought to be endemic to the vicinity of El Valle de Anton, where it was always a rare frog difficult to find as they live high in trees and breed in tree holes. Experienced herpetologists could hear their calls reliably at some places, but the last individual was heard in El Valle de Anton in 2008. A few individuals of this species were collected for captive breeding efforts at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center and at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, but captive breeding efforts were unsuccessful. As of 2015 only a single individual persists in captivity at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

Ecnomiohyla rabborum - Rabb's Fringe-Limbed Frog at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Photo (c) Brad Wilson

Ecnomiohyla rabborum, Rabb’s fringe-limbed  tree frog at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Photo (c) Brad Wilson

9) Oophaga speciosa – Splendid poison frog
This large, unmistakable bright red dart frog lives only in the mountains of Western Panama. It was once collected for the pet trade, and was exported as recently as 1992. This species has not been seen in the wild in many years, despite intensive searches. It is not known whether it still lives in captivity, but has probably disappeared from the wild.

Oophaga speciosa, the Splendid poison dart frog. Photo (c) Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Oophaga speciosa, the Splendid poison dart frog. Photo (c) Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

If you have any recent records of these missing species please let us know, and consider uploading your record to the global amphibian bioblitz on inaturalist.

by Brian Gratwicke

*WE ARE SEEKING VOLUNTEERS TO HELP TRANSLATE OCCASIONAL AMPHIBIANRESCUE.ORG WEB PAGES INTO SPANISH, IF YOU ARE WILLING TO HELP US OUT OCCASIONALLY, PLEASE EMAIL Gratwickeb[AT]si.edu FOR MORE INFORMATION.

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!

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!

Mamoni Valley: A Rescue Mission

It isn’t every day that one gets to travel to the heart of one of Panama’s richest rain forests on a rescue mission to save some of Panama’s most endangered amphibians. A brief two-hour drive from Panama City brought us to a facility run by Earth Train called the Mamoni Valley. I was lucky enough to be able to shadow leading herpetologists, Brian Gratwicke and Roberto Ibáñez, on one of their field expeditions to rescue endangered frogs.

One of the main objectives for our expedition to Mamoni Valley was to rescue a rapidly declining harlequin frog called Atelopus limosus and to launch the Global Amphibian Bioblitz, a citizen-science initiative to document as many amphibian species on the planet as possible. Hours of sweaty hiking up and down a mountain track in the dark brought us to a cool, clear stream where we began our search for frogs. After studying each passing leaf fruitlessly, and slipping and falling in the stream a few times, I found myself impressed at how much skill and patience it actually takes to capture frogs. But the numerous hours of careful searching in the streams both day and night turned out to be well worth the effort because we found some beautiful Atelopus limosus along with 13 other species of glass frogs, poison dart frogs, toads, rocket frogs and some spectacular snakes. We bagged each frog we collected and swabbed them individually. Each swab will be tested for the deadly amphibian chytrid fungus back at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute lab.

Each day when we returned from our 5-6 hour expeditions, there was always a feeling of success in the air, because we did find few Atelopus limosus, but it was always slightly reserved. Although I thought the number of frogs we had collected was fantastic, I learned quickly that the team had encountered many more frogs on previous visits to the site. It was extremely sobering for me to look at the worried faces of the experts sitting next to me as they explained that at current rates of decline it would be unlikely that we would find any more Atelopus limosus next year, and that I was in a very privileged position of being able to see a rapidly declining species in the wild, because few people will ever have that opportunity again.

This Amphibian Rescue Mission to Mamoni Valley not only taught me a great deal about the grave dangers that many amphibians face, but it also gave new perspective on how important it is to save these beautiful, endangered frogs before it’s too late. If you would like to help the global amphibian effort – try to mount your own amphibian expedition to a nearby park or pond and then share your photos on the Global Amphibian Blitz website!

Meryl Monfort is a volunteer for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project and is working on developing education and outreach for the project.

Brian Gratwicke: The Panamanian Golden Frog

Panamanian Golden Frogs in the market at El ValleKeep an open eye in Panama and you might just see a Panamanian Golden Frog. Local legend used to promise luck to anyone who spotted the frog in the wild and that when the frog died, it would turn into a gold talisman, known as a huaca. Nowadays, you’ll see the frogs on decorative cloth molas made by the Kuna Indians, on T-shirts, as inlaid design on a new overpass in Panama City and even on lottery tickets. In the market at El Valle de Antòn, you will see them by the thousands either as enamel-painted terracotta or on hand-carved tagua nuts. The one place you probably won’t see a Panamanian Golden Frog, however, is in their native home—the crystal clear streams of the ancient volcanic crater of El Valle de Antòn. In the mountain forests you may spot other similar-looking extant species such as Atelopus varius, but the only local and true Panamanian Golden Frogs Atelopus zeteki are those breeding in captivity at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) at the El Nispero Zoo.

Panamanian Golden Frog, Atelopus zeteki (in captivity)In the early 2000’s conservationists warned that this day-glo yellow emblem of Panama was in grave danger of extinction. In emergency response, Project Golden Frog was established to create captive assurance colonies of this species, just in case the scientists’ worst fears came to pass and the species went extinct in the wild. In 2006, just as the scientists had predicted, the chytridiomycosis disease hit El Valle. The Panamanian Golden Frog—whose populations were already under pressure due to collectors and habitat loss—was decimated. Suddenly, Panama’s unique harelquin frog species joined the ranks of at least 30 other harlequin frogs that are most likely extinct in the wild. Luckily, Panama’s charismatic namesake was part of an AZA Species Survival Plan. Today, the captive population is being carefully managed and bred for long-term survival by a number of zoos and aquaria in the United States and Panama. The animals in these assurance colonies have served their intended purpose and provide an insurance policy for the species, guaranteeing that this important Panamanian cultural symbol will never be lost all together.

amphibian_rescue_project-300x296A tragedy has thus been averted. Instead of a dire warning of the future fate of the planet, Panamanian Golden Frogs are now a symbol of hope. Exiled frogs are playing the role of a flagship species, bringing the story of global amphibian declines to world wide audiences in zoos and aquaria, magazines and films. As the logo of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, the Panamanian Golden Frog is a powerful symbol uniting 8 key institutions. Together, we have embarked on this ambitious national program to build capacity at the Summit Municipal Park in Panama and to create assurance colonies of other amphibian species from Eastern Panama before it is too late. We are also actively working with some of the world’s leading researchers like Reid Harris and Louise Rollins-Smith to develop a cure that will allow us to control the further spread of chytridiomycosis. Our great hope is that one day we may re-establish wild populations of Panamanian Golden Frogs back into their rightful home in the streams of El Valle. Until then, we embrace Panama’s living gold as a symbol of hope and achievement in showing us how we can preserve Panama’s amphibian biodiversity.

Della Garelle: Giant Frog Sited in Colorado Springs

Giant Golden frog Colorado Springs June 18th, 2009:  The rumor has been confirmed and in fact a giant Panamanian Golden Frog has taken up residence on the Chase Bank building located on the corner of Pikes Peak and Tejon – check it out! The frog will be up for three months.

We had a great media event earlier today, so watch for us on the news and in the paper. The event included the unveiling of the new Josh & John’s ice cream flavor, Panamanian Golden Fudge. They will rotate the flavor on their menu and 50% of the proceeds of this ice cream will be donated to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo!

Sean Anglum: Leaping to the Rescue!

That’s the name of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s new frog rescue exhibit, now open in the Zoo’s Aquatics building. The exhibit highlights our role in combatting global amphibian declines including the Zoo’s partnership in the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project.  Exhibit  highlights include African clawed frogs, Leopard frogs and Giant African bullfrogs and also features the zoo’s other amphibian conservation efforts including:

releasing wyoming toad tadpoles at bufordThe Wyoming Toad Project – Wyoming toads are the only North American amphibians listed as extinct in the wild. Found only in the 50 sq.mi. area of the Laramie Basin in Wyoming, these toads began a rapid decline in the 1970’s due to pollution, pesticide runoff, habitat destruction and fungal disease. In 1988, a few toads were caught and a captive breeding program started to protect against extinction. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo cares for a collection of these critically endangered toads in our off-exhibit Amphibian Conservation Center. In 2008 our toads produced over 3,000 tadpoles! 2,500 of those were released back into the wild. We are currently releasing tadpoles into the Laramie Basin and participating in survey studies to determine their population in the wild.

The Boreal Toad Project – Boreal toads are Colorado’s only Alpine toad and live above 8,000 feet. The populations located in the southern Rocky Mountains have experienced dramatic population declines over the past two decades from infection by the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo holds a captive population of Boreal toads in our Amphibian Conservation Center for scientific research. We have participated in a throat pattern identification study and are planning to conduct a health evaluation regarding diet and water quality, and the effect it has on spinal related deformities. Both of these studies help field biologists with boreal toads in the wild.

golden mantella frogConserving Mantella Frogs – There are five critically endangered Mantella frogs, native only to Madagascar, that are being over-collected for the pet trade. Habitat loss and disease also threaten the survival of those still in the wild. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has obtained a collection of Mantella frogs from a trusted captive breeding source and is now captive breeding mantilla frogs to support other AZA institutions and help avoid the collection of wild mantilla frogs in the future. In 2008-2009, the Zoo’s Quarter’s for Conservation program also supported Madagasikara Voakajy, a conservation and research program in Madagascar, which aims to protect Mantella frogs and their habitat through local community education. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff also developed a flash card game to help schools in Madagascar teach about their local frogs and the challenges they face in the wild. Through our support they will further their efforts in field research and community education.