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

Celebrating tadpole diversity


The ability of certain Panamanian species to survive will depend on the ability of the rescue project to perfect specialized care for the individual species. (Photo by Lindsay Renick Mayer, Smithsonian

When we talk about frog diversity, we always mention how many species there are, or how they are found all over the world. We say how much frogs vary in size, or how colorful they can be. This is all true: there are more than 4,900 frog species, found on every continent, ranging from ½-inch long to more than a foot, that come in every color of the rainbow. It makes sense, then, that frogs are just as diverse during their other stages of the life cycle. Tadpoles, in fact, are among the most diverse vertebrates on Earth and are themselves morphologically and behaviorally unique from their adult counterparts.

Special Adaptations

Depending on the species, tadpoles can stay in the larval stage from eight days to two years, and vary in length from 1 to 4 inches. Overall, there is greater tadpole diversity in the tropics, but variations occur within habitats, as well. Even tadpoles with the same feeding habits can have diverse mouth shapes or behaviors. For example, tadpoles of the Asian horned frog (Megophrys montana) have an upturned mouth because they eat from the surface. Recently, however, scientists have observed a Honduran tadpole called Duellmanohyla soralia that also eats from the surface, but has a mouth in the more traditional spot. Instead, the Duellmanohyla soralia turns its body upside-down to reach the surface.

“We see tadpoles solving the same problems of survival in different ways,” says Dr. Roy McDiarmid, an amphibian zoologist and tadpole expert at the National Museum of Natural History. “This is where their diversity derives from.”

These variations show how tadpoles’ features are shaped largely by their surrounding environments. For example, tadpoles seem especially good at responding to strong predator presence. Over time tadpoles can grow their tails longer and deeper if there are numerous predators, allowing them to swim faster and look bigger. For European common frog (Rana temporaria) tadpoles, longer tails increase their chances of escape from predators up to 30 percent, according to the Institute of Zoology.

Like tail length, other adaptations can protect tadpoles from being eaten. While the majority of tadpole species have brown or faded coloration, several are multicolored. Contrary to its name, Cope’s gray tree frog (Hyla chrysoscelis) tadpoles grow red tails in response to the presence of dragonflies. Called aposematism, vibrant colors make these tadpoles appear larger or distasteful to their predators.

Researchers have only recently discovered other survival mechanisms that tadpoles have developed. In 2006, scientists discovered that if attacked, red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) embryos can hatch themselves within seconds and escape into the water below. These embryos can interpret vibrations on the water with astonishing precision.

“It turns out that when a snake bites into a gooey mass, all the embryos try to wiggle free,” Karen Warkentin, a biologist working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, told National Geographic.  “A wasp’s more focused attack prompts only neighboring eggs to hatch. And a rainstorm triggers nothing at all.”

Other recent research has looked at tadpole sensory input, such as smell and sound. In 2009, researchers at the University of California Davis determined that wood frog (Rana sylvatica) tadpoles can “smell” their primary predator, the salamander. The “odor” of a salamander in the water caused tadpoles to freeze. The strength of the scent determined how long the tadpoles remained still. In 2010, Dr. Guillermo Natale discovered the first evidence of aural larva communication. Natale heard tadpoles of the Bell’s horned frog (Ceratophrys ornate) “screaming” underwater when a threat was present.



The amount of tadpole diversity rivals that of their adult life forms. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

New and unpredictable tadpole discoveries continue to go on worldwide. For example, biologists at the Australian Museum in Sydney recently discovered that tadpoles of the vampire flying frog (Rhacophorus vampyrus) have small black fangs, instead of traditional mouthparts. In general, scientists estimate that more than 1,000 frog species have yet to be discovered, not to mention all the intricacies of their life stages.

Tadpoles are also essential for understanding the dramatic decline in frog populations. Chytrid, the epidemic that has affected 30 percent of the world’s amphibian population, is the lead cause of this decline. In tadpoles, chytrid only infects the keratin around their mouths. However, as they metamorphose into frogs, chytrid fatally spreads throughout their bodies. By studying tadpoles, we can better understand how frogs contract and carry chytrid.

“When frog species are disappearing like they are, you would want to know what’s going on at each stage of the life cycle, egg to larva to juvenile to adult–everything,” McDiarmid says.

The Challenges of Breeding

For the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, every tadpole means the chance for a species to survive. But because many of the rescue project’s priority species have never been kept or bred in captivity before, rearing tadpoles can mean a steep learning curve.

“Breeding frogs isn’t just about putting a male and female together and hoping for eggs,” said Lindsay Renick Mayer, spokesperson for the rescue project. “It’s about specialized husbandry for each individual species among a diverse array and unfortunately for some of these species we’re learning those skills even as the species dwindles down to just a few remaining individuals. Whether these species are one day returned to the wild depends on the rescue project’s success in perfecting the variety of care in a short period of time.”

Nadia Hlebowitsh, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

New experiment may offer hope for frogs facing chytrid

Probiotics bath

The golden frogs were given a bath in one of four probiotic solutions. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

We usually think of bacteria as bad for us, but that isn’t always the case. For us humans, the most common examples of helpful bacteria, or probiotics, live in yogurt. Now, scientists believe amphibian probiotics may be the key to fighting chytridiomycosis, the fungal disease devastating frogs around the world.

A few years ago, Reid Harris, a biology professor at James Madison University, discovered that local salamanders that could survive chytrid played host to bacteria in their skin. Now, Brian Gratwicke, a research biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, is collaborating with a team from Virginia Tech, James Madison, Villanova and Vanderbilt Universities in an experiment to see if similar bacteria can protect the Panamanian golden frog, which he calls “the poster-child for amphibian conservation.”

The first step is to find a probiotic that will stick to the golden frogs. In early December, the team began giving golden frogs baths using four different types of bacteria. Researchers gathered the potential probiotics from frogs in Panama in 2009. The finalists were chosen based on their ability to prevent chytrid growth in lab tests, with a preference for bacteria that are common in close relatives of Panamanian golden frogs.

Every two weeks, each frog is swabbed to check whether its probiotic has made itself at home. The tests take some time, so a month and a half in, the team is still waiting for results to see which probiotics are sticking. But they do have some good news already.

“The bacteria haven’t been causing any problems with the frogs and they all look healthy,” said Gratwicke, who emphasizes how important it is to use only beneficial bacteria. In addition to tracking weight gain and other visible characteristics, Shawna Cikanek, a student at Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine is using frog poop to study stress hormones to get a better picture of the animals’ overall health and whether the bacteria are causing any stress.

The probiotics that stick to the frogs for a full three months will move on to the next round of tests, when bacteria-shielded frogs will be infected with chytrid to check for any adverse effects.

“Hopefully, the bacteria are going to do their thing and protect these little guys,” said Matt Becker, a PhD candidate from Virginia Tech who is conducting the experiment. Whatever probiotics make the cut will be tested again on golden frogs bred in Panama before scientists develop a final plan.

So far, chytrid has defied attempts to stop it. Scientists may be able to selectively breed frogs resistant to chytrid, but there has been very little work done so far in that direction. But there are high hopes for probiotics’ potential to protect frogs. “It’s a long shot, but it’s our best shot,” said Gratwicke.

Becker hopes that one day, probiotics will allow Panamanian golden frogs to return to their homes. “These guys are really neat and it’s so sad not to see them in the wild,” he said. “We have a moral obligation since indicators are pointing to humans as major spreaders of the disease through the frog trade.”

Meghan Bartels, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Double Whammy: Snake carries killer fungus

blunt-headed tree snake

Researchers recently confirmed that the fungus causing the lethal disease chytridiomycosis is present on nonamphibian carriers, such as this blunt-headed tree snake, in natural environments. (Photo courtesy of STRI)

The blunt-headed tree snake (Imantodes cenchoa) not only eats frogs and their eggs, it also carries the killer fungus that has wiped out more than 100 amphibian species worldwide.

A new study by Vanessa Kilburn and David Green from Canada’s McGill University with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Roberto Ibáñez, in-country director of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, confirms for the first time that the fungus causing the lethal disease chytridiomycosis is present on nonamphibian carriers in natural environments.

The team surveyed 13 species of lizards and 8 species of snakes from sites across Panama using a genetic test to identify fungal DNA in samples taken from the reptiles’ skin with a cotton swab. They found evidence of the disease on up to 32 percent of lizards (Anolis humilis) and on three different species of snakes.

The irony of a frog-eating snake that carries a killer frog disease is that it may eliminate its own food supply, leading to its own demise.

Beth King, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

The Amphibian Pet Trade: Good for Business, Bad for Biomes?

Tree frogs are among the popular amphibian species kept as pets. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project)

How many times have you walked into a pet store and been surprised by the variety of amphibians available for purchase? I tend to gawk, awestruck, at these amazing creatures, just as though I’m admiring them during a visit to the zoo: Pacman frogs, White’s tree frogs, Malayan leaf frogs, powder blue poison arrow frogs, the list goes on…and all of these are available to buy. Many of these species are exquisite, exciting, beautiful and definitely non-native to the U.S. of A. But as much as we may love frogs and want to keep them as pets, we have to consider whether taking in such a pet has conservation implications.

The term “exotic” calls to mind word associations like “foreign” and “interesting,” which are not necessarily bad words, but certainly indicate something beyond the garden variety of whatever it is that we are comparing, be they automobiles, eggplants or footwear. With regards to organisms, however, “exotic” can mean something a little more problematic. Exotic, or introduced, species are defined by the National Park Service as “those that occur in a given place as a result of direct or indirect, deliberate or accidental actions by humans.”

If introduced to an environment, a non-native species can become an invasive species, outcompeting native species. For instance, it is quite likely that the Burmese pythons now prevalent in the Florida Everglades were initially kept as pets and became invasives upon their intended or accidental release, adapting quickly to environments similar to their own Amazon estuaries and southeast Asian swamps, respectively. Adaptations like high reproductive rates, longevity and the ability to consume large prey, combined with their misplacement, can allow them to outcompete and often consume native species like American alligators, opossums and even great blue herons, according to an article published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology.

A few particularly popular amphibian species that might not have quite the same effects as their serpentine kin–but are just as exotic—include the tomato frog and the well-known families of Dendrobatidae (poison dart frogs) and Hylidae (red-eyed tree frogs and spring peepers, to name two). These particular amphibians are regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, which establishes controls, protocol and limits for managing species that are endangered in the wild but for which there is high consumer demand. These frogs are listed among either the first or second appendices of CITES, meaning that they are restricted from being captured in the wild or are threatened in the wild, and their trade or sale may be regulated or restricted at any time. However, captive-bred individuals of these species are acceptable for trade and sale. Pets that are illegal to own generally depend on state laws, and many states have clear laws discussing what animals are illegal to be kept as pets and which animals require a permit to keep. For instance, the state of New Jersey requires a permit to own African clawed frogs, red-eyed tree frogs and a variety of other common pet trade frogs.

The quality and conduct of the facilities that breed and supply these amphibians should be assessed by the consumer prior to purchasing, according to Ed Smith, a biologist at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. The amphibian pet trade is thought to be contributing to declining amphibian populations in the wild by overharvesting wild rare species and may play a role in spreading diseases. While the over collection of restricted range amphibians has contributed greatly to population decreases, habitat destruction and a species’ natural confinements can also negatively affect its survival rates. If you are considering investing in an exotic species, please be sure of two things. First, that the amphibian you are purchasing is not an illegal species prohibited by CITES. Second, that the farm or source has raised or procured the frog sustainably and in accordance to the best husbandry practice. Simply because a species can be traded does not necessarily mean that it is okay to purchase one. Do some background research on the species that you plan to purchase, not only to determine what kind of care and conditions you will need to provide your amphibious friend, but also to determine if this is a species that you can own without adversely affecting wild populations.

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer

“The Salamander Room” by Anne Mazer discusses a young boy’s enthusiasm about keeping a salamander as a pet and how keeping the salamander changes his life literally and figuratively.

Smith advises that anyone interested in caring for amphibians read a book called “The Salamander Room” by Anne Mazer. This picture book discusses a young boy’s enthusiasm about keeping a salamander as a pet and how keeping the salamander changes his life literally and figuratively.

“Like the boy in the story who models his room after the salamander’s habitat, we often find that fascination with one thing becomes a window to a world of further amazement,” Smith said. “Wanting to provide his salamander with everything it needed, the boy in the story considered each element of its habitat, one clump of moss and decomposing log at a time, until he had re-created the forest itself. There is something about the keeping of an aquarium or terrarium that leads conscientious caretakers to appreciate the details of an ecosystem—the essence of such an enterprise, or hobby, is caring.”

So before you run down to the pet store or queue up that pet distributor’s website, consider these parting thoughts from Ed Smith:

Two basic questions to ask when purchasing an amphibian (or any pet): “Can you care for it well? Are you harming amphibians at large with this purchase?”

Should you buy captive-bred or wild-caught amphibians for pets? “Consider captive-bred first (meaning animals that are already acclimatized, disease-free and not diminishing wild populations).”

Motivation for investing in an amphibian: “The business of caring for living things hones our focus to allow us to appreciate their complexities and hopefully enables us to better appreciate the diversity of plants and animals in the wild.”

Phil Jaseph, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

REPORT from Defenders of Wildlife: Perils Of The Frog Leg Trade

American bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)

The frog leg market is systematically devastating frog populations throughout the world and, subsequently, causing severe environmental impacts to natural ecosystems. (Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

International wildlife conservation groups Pro Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Welfare Institute, issued a report in July titled Canapés to Extinction: The international trade in frogs’ legs and its ecological impact. The report is the first comprehensive study of the frog leg market ever conducted and reveals an industry that is systematically devastating frog populations throughout the world and, subsequently, causing severe environmental impacts to natural ecosystems.

“Humans have been eating frogs for ages. But today the practice is not sustainable on a global scale,” said Alejandra Goyenechea, acting director of international conservation programs for Defenders of Wildlife. “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.”

In recent years, the United States has imported an average of 2,280 tonnes (4.6 million pounds) of frog legs each year—the equivalent of 456 million to 1.1 billion frogs—and another 2,216 tonnes (4.4 million pounds) of live frogs for Asian-American markets. Most frog and frog leg imports to the United States come from China, Taiwan, Ecuador, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Mexico and Indonesia.

During the last decade, the European Union imported an average of 4,600 tonnes (9.2 million pounds) of frog legs each year—the equivalent of 1 to 2.3 billion frogs. Indonesia is the world’s leading supplier, providing 84 percent of total imports to the EU with the vast majority of frogs being caught in the wild. Belgium, France and the Netherlands are the top importers in the EU.

“The decline of many frog species is a global problem that is being greatly accelerated by just a handful of European nations,” said Sandra Altherr, director of wildlife programs for Pro Wildlife in Germany. “The capture and killing of native frogs is prohibited within the EU, so it is incomprehensible that we would be supporting environmentally disastrous practices abroad.”

Until the mid-1980s, India and Bangladesh dominated the international frog leg export market. Severe exploitation resulted in the collapse of many wild frog populations in those countries, including two of the most sought-after species, the green pond frog and the Indian bullfrog. In turn, the decline of those species resulted in a dramatic increase in the use of pesticides, due to an explosion of insects and other agricultural pests previously kept in check by frogs. In 1985, the two frog species were protected with an Appendix II listing under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). India and Bangladesh subsequently banned exports, their native species have since recovered and the use of pesticides has been reduced.

However, in recent years, other countries have stepped in to fill the void and their frog populations appear to be headed for a similar fate. Indonesia, where billions of frogs are taken from the wild annually, and to a lesser extent China, Taiwan and Vietnam, where frogs are farmed very intensively, have now taken over the export market.

“We must take immediate action to protect frog species from being exploited for international trade,” said D.J. Schubert, a wildlife biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute. “Wild populations across Asia are already in trouble, and unregulated trade puts native species in the U.S. at even greater risk from deadly diseases that have been wreaking havoc on amphibians worldwide. It will take a coordinated effort from governments and the world’s conservation community to prevent the extinction of imperiled frog species and to protect our native species from harmful invasives.”

The report will be distributed to key government decision-makers, including those responsible for the implementation of CITES, with a request that they take immediate action to bring this unregulated trade under control.  Considering that the frog species dominating the frog leg trade are not currently protected under CITES, there is an urgent need for governments to secure CITES protections for them.

Download the full report

Read Scientific American’s coverage of this report.

The Hidden Jewels of Appalachia


“The Hidden Jewels of Appalachia” is a short film that uses compelling imagery to showcase Appalachia and raise awareness for declining Appalachian salamanders.  The Appalachian region of the eastern United States features an ancient mountain chain that serves as the world’s epicenter for salamander biodiversity.  These secretive creatures, ranging in size from two inches to more than two feet, are a keystone species at risk from a perfect storm of threats, including: development, climate change, mountaintop mining, invasive species, disease, transportation corridors, acid rain, pollution, and more.  Learn what these declining “canaries in the coal mine” are telling us about the state of our environment.

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute is working to become a leader in salamander conservation through innovative research looking at Plethodon species competition and climate change affecting the eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiesis), as well as working to connect people to their local environment through public presentations, conducting field surveys and swabbing salamanders for disease.  For more information, please find Appalachian salamanders on Facebook.

–Joe Milmoe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Cute Frog of the Week to feature ARKive’s cutest frogs

Riobamba marsupial frog  (Gastrotheca riobambae)

This image of a Riobamba marsupial frog is ARKive Research Manager Dr. Verity Pitts' favorite frog photo in the ARKive collection. (© Pete Oxford / naturepl.com)

Every Monday morning we enjoy sharing with you a particularly adorable amphibian photo, complete with fun facts through our popular Cute Frog of the Week feature. Now, thanks to ARKive–a website containing an extensive collection of photos, videos, facts and updates about endangered species from all over the world–we’ll have even more diverse library of captivating images to share with you. We love that ARKive is helping educate individuals globally through images and wanted to share a Q&A we conducted with Dr. Verity Pitts, one of ARKive’s research managers a senior team member.

1. What was the primary objective for beginning ARKive? Now that it has become such a large site, has this objective changed?

ARKive was launched in 2003 and is an initiative of the international charity Wildscreen.

Wildscreen’s mission is to promote a greater understanding of the natural world, and the need for its conservation, using the emotive power of the very best wildlife films and photos.

A brainchild of the late Christopher Parsons OBE, former Head of the BBC Natural History Unit, and one of Wildscreen’s founders, ARKive was, and still is, a centralized multi-media library of the world’s endangered species.

ARKive not only communicates the wonders of the planet’s biodiversity, but it also provides a safe haven for almost 100,000 film clips and photos–for use by today’s generation and those of the future.

The ethos of ARKive remains true to its origins: providing unrivaled access for people from around the world to amazing imagery, unlocking the wonders of the natural world, in a bid to protect the planet’s precious flora and fauna.

2. What do you think that films and photos can uniquely do for conservation that other actions may not be able to accomplish?

Wildscreen’s Patrons have answered this question very eloquently:

“Natural history films are more than just entertainment. They provide a crucial insight into the world, from which so many of us are increasingly divorced. We cannot properly value what we do not know. I truly believe the films that Wildscreen cares for and promotes are major elements in the battle to protect our imperilled natural world.”
Sir David Attenborough, world-renowned naturalist and broadcaster

“Books and lectures can do a lot to explain the facts of life on this planet, but films and photographs are better at stirring the imagination.”
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh

3. What kind of audience does ARKive hope to reach? How does this affect the content that it hosts or shares?

Through ARKive, Wildscreen’s mission has always been to provide people from all walks of life free access to its amazing collection of educational and awe-inspiring content.

Wildlife imagery can be a powerful tool in the fight to combat biodiversity loss and to reconnect people with nature–no matter how young or old. ARKive reveals what species look like, what makes them special and why we should care. Whether in the classroom or lecture hall, at home or in the field, ARKive transcends boundaries, and can be used in numerous educational situations–both formal and informal.

We do tailor information for different audiences, and on ARKive visitors can explore content in lots of different ways–through scrolling galleries of stunning images; by habitats; countries and topics, such as climate change; to fun interactive games and activities.

The ARKive blog is a relatively new feature to ARKive, but it enables us to use the ARKive imagery in different ways, helping us: tell stories about threatened species in the news; publish featured articles; update our visitors with what’s new to ARKive; as well as entertain with quizzes and games.

4. We’re so grateful that you’re helping us out with our Cute Frog of the Week. How has ARKive been able to work with and promote conservation organizations like ours?

Wildscreen recognizes the importance and value of building relationships and works in partnership with organizations from around the world on many different levels.

We believe that heightened public awareness to conservation issues translates into action, campaigning, lobbying and fundraising–all vital for protecting our most endangered species and habitats.

Through ARKive, Wildscreen is able to promote and support the efforts of conservation organizations working on the ground in a bid to save a huge variety of species.

5. ARKive has worked in cooperation with the Smithsonian and Google Earth. What future projects or objectives does Wildscreen hope to accomplish?

Reaching new audiences and engaging more people with the importance of biodiversity is an ongoing priority, whether this is by developing new resources and activities, via outreach programmes and new technologies, or of course through partnership working.

Wildscreen will continue to build on current partnerships and encourage new collaborations to enable additional access to ARKive through multiple third party platforms to reach even greater audiences.

6. What type of reaction do you hope that visitors to ARKive’s site have when browsing through the images?

Wildscreen’s aim is to open the window onto the natural world through its ARKive project. The charity works with the world’s finest photographers, filmmakers, scientists and conservationists to bring scientific names to life.

By inspiring people to care for the natural world and its many wonders, Wildscreen hopes to motivate visitors to become involved in the conservation movement, whether on a local or global level.

7. What do you enjoy most about the work you do at ARKive?

There are now more than 75,000 photos on the ARKive website and each of these has been hand-picked by one of our researchers. We only select the ‘best’ images for each species, which are either engaging portrait shots or shots that tell the story of the species’ life history. However, for some species only a few images exist and tracking these down is a very rewarding task.

Having worked on the ARKive project for nearly eight years, I still enjoy learning about new species and seeing the stunning imagery that is pouring into the office from around the world.

Press release: Smithsonian Scientists Find Deadly Amphibian Disease in the Last Disease-free Region of Central America

Toad Mountain harlequin frog (Atelopus certus)

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project has established an assurance colony for two species endemic to the Darien, including the Toad Mountain harlequin frog (Atelopus certus), shown here. (Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

Smithsonian scientists have confirmed that chytridiomycosis, a rapidly spreading amphibian disease, has reached a site near Panama’s Darien region. This was the last area in the entire mountainous neotropics to be free of the disease. This is troubling news for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, a consortium of nine U.S. and Panamanian institutions that aims to rescue 20 species of frogs in imminent danger of extinction.

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.

“We would like to save all of the species in the Darien, but there isn’t time to do that now,” said Brian Gratwicke, biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and international coordinator for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. “Our project is one of a few to take an active stance against the probable extinction of these species. We have already succeeded in breeding three species in captivity. Time may be running out, but we are looking for more resources to take advantage of the time that remains.”

The Darien National Park is a World Heritage site and represents one of Central America’s largest remaining wilderness areas. In 2007, Doug Woodhams, a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, tested 49 frogs at a site bordering the Darien. At that time, none tested positive for the disease. In January 2010, however, Woodhams found that 2 percent of the 93 frogs he tested were infected.

“Finding chytridiomycosis on frogs at a site bordering the Darien happened much sooner than anyone predicted,” Woodhams said. “The unrelenting and extremely fast-paced spread of this fungus is alarming.”

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project has already established captive assurance colonies in Panama of two priority species endemic to the Darien—the Pirre harlequin frog (Atelopus glyphus) and the Toad Mountain harlequin frog (A. certus). In addition, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo maintains an active breeding program for the Panamanian golden frog, which is Panama’s national animal. The Panamanian golden frog is critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and researchers have not seen them in the wild since 2008.

Bd infection

Chytridiomycosis is a rapidly spreading amphibian disease that attacks the skin cells of amphibians (shown here) and is wiping out frog species worldwide. (Doug Woodhams, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)

“We would like to be moving faster to build capacity,” Gratwicke said. “One of our major hurdles is fundraising to build a facility to house these frogs. Until we jump that hurdle, we’re limited in our capacity to take in additional species.”

Nearly one-third of the world’s amphibian species are at risk of extinction. While the global amphibian crisis is the result of habitat loss, climate change and pollution, chytridiomycosis is at least partly responsible for the disappearances of 94 of the 120 frog species thought to have gone extinct since 1980.

“These animals that we are breeding in captivity will buy us some time as we find a way to control this disease in the wild and mitigate the threat directly,” said Woodhams, who was the lead author of a whitepaper Mitigating Amphibian Disease: strategies to maintain wild populations and control chytridiomycosis. This paper, published in Frontiers in Zoology, systematically reviews disease-control tools from other fields and examines how they might be deployed to fight chytrid in the wild. One particularly exciting lead in the effort to find a cure is that anti-chytrid bacteria living on frog skin may have probiotics properties that protect their amphibian host from chytrid by secreting anti-fungal chemicals. Woodhams recently discovered that some Panamanian species with anti-chytrid skin bacteria transmit beneficial skin chemicals and bacteria to their offspring. The paper, Social Immunity in Amphibians: Evidence for Vertical Transmission of Innate Defenses, was published in Biotropica in May.

“We are all working around the clock to find a cure,” Gratwicke said. “Woodhams’ discovery that defenses can indeed be transferred from parent to offspring gives us hope that if we are successful at developing a cure in the lab, we may find a way to use it to save wild amphibians.”

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute serves as an umbrella for the Smithsonian Institution’s global effort to understand and conserve species and train future generations of conservationists. Headquartered in Front Royal, Va., SCBI facilitates and promotes research programs based at Front Royal, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide.

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Media only: contact Lindsay Renick Mayer, Smithsonian’s National Zoo, 202-633-3081

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