Long Live the Frog: The 2013 Golden Frog Festival

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

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.)


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
Times: 10:00 AM a 6:00 PM
Frog exhibit and fun activities for kids.
Contact: Puntaculebra@si.edu 212-8793

14 August
Time: 6:00 pm
PUBLIC FORUM. Presentations by Dr. Roberto Ibañez, Dr Justin Touchon and Lucrecia Arosemena.
Contact: FlorezNA@si.edu

15 August
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
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
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 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.


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.

A Successful Golden Frog Day in Panama

Golden frog parade

Part of National Golden Frog Day was a golden frog parade.

August 10th through August 13th marked the celebration of Golden Frog Day for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. The week prior, the entire staff worked hard to put together a unique experience for visitors in Panama. STRI researchers in nearby Gamboa captured túngara frogs, Savage’s thin-toed frog, gladiator frogs, leaf frogs and glass frogs for public display. Everyone took turns blowing up hundreds of yellow and black balloons. Without such team effort, we would not have been able to pull off this event.

The rescue project does not have any actual specimens of the golden frog, Atelopus zeteki, and because the species is extinct in the wild, we were repeatedly asked where the golden frogs are. This allowed for us to discuss the importance of amphibian conservation and of the rescue project, EVACC and other amphibian conservation efforts around the world. Staff members educated visitors about the frogs that were on display, and scientists studying tungara frogs in Gamboa set up a small exhibit to educate the public about the research being conducted by STRI scientists.

Seeing children become so enthused about frogs instills a wonderful feeling in a herpetologist. Over the course of the weekend, nearly 1,000 children visited the event. Every day there was an activity station set up for the kids to paint frog masks, and winners were selected from each group. On Saturday, we had use of a bouncy house and bungee race, which undoubtedly led to many tired kids (and grateful parents). But the highlight of the children’s day was always the frogs. Tiny faces lit up and smiled time and time again every time they saw the tadpoles swimming, the túngaras hopping, or even just the size of the sedentary Savage’s thin-toed frog.

Golden frog day

Children and adults alike dressed up in the frog

Events like the one held that weekend demonstrate the importance and effectiveness of educational outreach. 1,000 children over the course of three days (along with uncounted adults and family members) mean that the rescue project was able to spread the word out about the necessity of preserving biodiversity. The fact that this weekend was dedicated to the golden frog, a national symbol of Panama that now exists only in captivity, underscores the urgency to address worldwide amphibian declines.

We thanked MEDUCA (Ministry of Education) who made it possible for 310 students to visit; Aid4Aids staff; kids and parents who made our Saturday an unforgettable day; all the staff at Summit Municipal Park, especially to: Melgar, Itzel and Adalberto. Lastly, a special thanks to the volunteers (Ximena, Jesse, Laura, Kristen, Jennifer, Jose Maria, Meghan, Andrew, Kelsey, Shanta, Natalie, Ana, Giancarlo, Alexis, Sangie, Dania, Anayansi, Kristel, Digna and Katherine) who helped keep everything flowing in an orderly manner the entire weekend!

Norman Greenhawk, rescue project volunteer; and Angie Estrada, rescue project coordinator

Happy Third Annual Golden Frog Day!

Panamanian golden frogs

In 2010, the National Assembly of Panama passed a law that honors the significance of one of the most striking amphibian species, the Panamanian golden frog. That day is Aug. 14. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

It’s National Golden Frog Day in Panama today and we’re celebrating here on the blog with some thoughts from the rescue project’s partners and other stakeholders about what the golden frog means to each of us individually, to Panama’s culture, to the ecosystem and to the world:

Adrian Benedetti, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
“The golden frog was the first animal to capture my imagination when I returned to Panama after living abroad for 12 years. The fact that this little animal had such a grip on local myth and legend makes it almost magical.”

“La Rana Dorada fue el primer animal en capturar mi imaginación al regresar a Panamá después de 12 años de estar fuera del país. El hecho de que este animalito ha tenido un impacto tan grande en la mitología y leyenda local lo hace casi mágico.”

Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
“I actively search for a little glimmer of neon-yellow peeking out from behind a rock every time I hike up a river in El Valle de Anton, but I’m always disappointed. I guess I’m chasing that same ecstatic rush that people get when they twitch a new bird species, or see a grizzly bear catching a salmon in Alaska. I think anyone who has seen charismatic wildlife in wild, natural landscapes where they belong can understand why it would be so thrilling to play a small role in bringing golden frogs back from the brink.”

Golden frogs

In the market at El Valle de Antòn, you will see golden frogs by the thousands either as enamel-painted terracotta or on hand-carved tagua nuts. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

Edgardo Griffith, EVACC
“The only reason golden frogs and other species are going extinct is because of us. We are the ones that created the problems they and their habitats are facing, so we are the ones that have to find the solutions. It is our responsibility big-time, especially because the more responsible we are with the environment, plants and animals, the more chances of survival the future generations of our own kind will have. In my opinion, saving wildlife today is the only way we have to assure the survival of our very own species.”

“I recognize that not all amphibians are physically beautiful, but I love them all and consider all of them master pieces of DNA. However, the Panamanian golden frog is indeed colorful, elegant and very wise. Knowing a little bit about their natural behavior makes me appreciate them even more. I think they are one of those things where Mother Nature just went overboard.”

Heidi Ross and Edgardo Griffith, EVACC
“The golden frog is the most significant, important and charismatic amphibian in Panama. It is part of our culture and a very important member of the amphibian community. From an ecological point of view, it is one of those species that is extremely susceptible to even minimal environmental changes. It is also a species that has been used as a flagship to conserve other amphibian species.”

Panamanian golden frog

Panamanian golden frogs are extinct in the wild, but a number of zoos have successful breeding programs that aim to keep the species alive. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

“To witness an entire population disappear is just devastating, and heartbreaking. Now every time we go back to the sites where we used to work with golden frogs, all we do is remember where we used to find them and imagine what it would be like to hear their characteristic whistle-like call again. But after a few hours of not finding them, or hearing them at all, a horrible feeling of void and silence fills us up. This is the time to get out of there. In other words, it is sad, very sad to know that they are all gone now, just like living the worst day of your life over and over again. That is how it feels to go to the field now. They are some of the many ghosts of the stream now.”

Mason Ryan, University of New Mexico
“This frog is such an important symbol to Panama and now the entire conservation community that saving them is our responsibility. They are colorful, have neat behaviors, and are overall captivating. Future generations should have the joy and wonderment of seeing these frogs.”

“I spent five years looking for a closely related species in Costa Rica, the Harlequin frog, and never found one. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to see any frogs of the genus Atelopus. But then I started my first field season at El Cope with Karen Lips. Early in the season we were walking one of the main streams in the park and there it was. An adult golden frog hopping along the bank of the stream. It was a magical experience to see this golden frog with block spots in real life! I am pretty sure I was smiling the next two days. It was a dream come true to see one of these animals in its natural habitat. Over the years I saw dozens more and never tired of seeing them. I’ll never forget that first one.”

Matt Evans, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Happy First Annual National Golden Frog Day!

The Panamanian golden frog, now extinct in the wild, was once considered a token of good luck and is now a flagship species for frog conservation. (Photo by Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

The Panamanian golden frog, now extinct in the wild, was once considered a token of good luck and is now a flagship species for frog conservation. (Photo by Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Frog lovers (and anyone else who values the planet’s biodiversity) worldwide, rejoice! Last week the National Assembly of Panama passed a law that honors the significance of one of the most striking amphibian species, the Panamanian golden frog. The National Assembly declared August 14, today, National Golden Frog Day and we’re celebrating that important decision, both in the frogs’ native country and abroad.

We’ve written before about how beloved these animals are in Panama, where they appear on lottery tickets, t-shirts and decorative cloth molas made by the Kuna Indians. The overwhelming admiration of these animals has not abated since 2006, when the chytridomycosis disease swept through their home in western Panama, effectively annihilating the species. But all is not lost. Zoos and aquaria in the United States and Panama are carefully managing and breeding a captive population whose offspring will—we hope—be able to survive someday in their native home.

In Panama, golden frogs appear all over, including on lottery tickets, t-shirts and decorative cloth molas made by the Kuna Indians. The actual animals, however, are extinct in the wild. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project)

In Panama, golden frogs appear all over, including on lottery tickets, t-shirts and decorative cloth molas made by the Kuna Indians. The actual animals, however, are extinct in the wild. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project)

In addition to declaring August 14 National Golden Frog Day, the National Assembly passed a law on August 3 that makes the Panamanian golden frog one of Panama’s official cultural and ecological symbols. This flagship species for frog conservation is part of a narrative that is playing out now in eastern Panama, where we’re focusing our rescue efforts—and the Panamanian government is supporting that work, too. Last year the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente (ANAM), the Panamanian government agency charged with protecting its biodiversity, joined on as a full financial and logistical partner to our rescue project.

So how can you celebrate today? If you’re in the United States far from the festivities in Panama, head to one of the zoos and aquaria that house these golden treasures, including:

  • Smithsonian’s National Zoo
  • Buffalo Zoo
  • Central Park Zoo
  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • Cleveland Metro Parks
  • Dallas Zoo
  • Denver Zoo
  • Houston Zoo
  • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
  • Oakland Zoo
  • Philadelphia Zoo
  • Sedgwick County Zoo
  • Woodland Park Zoo
  • Zoo Atlanta
  • Zoo New England

Be sure to learn more about the Panamanian golden frog, whose beauty is only part of its charm:

  • Their skin secretions are the most toxic of all frogs in their taxonomic family, Bufonidae. Those bright colors you see are meant to warn predators that taking a bite out of the frog isn’t such a great idea.
  • In addition to a low whistling call, they can communicate by waving their hands to defend their territory or lure a potential mate. Some researchers believe they may even use this to greet one another.
  • Golden frog eggs are light-sensitive, so females lay their eggs in dark crevices to keep the light out.
  • The Panamanian golden frogs were thought to indicate good luck and would be gathered and placed in people’s homes to ensure the residents good fortune.
  • Tadpoles have several rows of teeth that they use primarily to hold on to rocks and a stream bottom when the water picks up after a heavy rain.

Of course, you could always make a donation, big or small, to our rescue project in honor of this day. We’re focused on saving more than 20 other Panamanian frog species that demand quick and careful action if we want to keep them on the planet.

And we most certainly do.

–Lindsay Renick Mayer, Smithsonian’s National Zoo