Newly Described Poison Dart Frog Hatched for the First Time in Captivity

The first captive-bred Andinobates geminisae at the Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation Center at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

The first captive-bred Andinobates geminisae at the Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation Center. Photo by Jorge Guerrel, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) scientists working as part of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project hatched the first Andinobates geminisae froglet born in captivity. The tiny dart frog species only grows to 14 millimeters and was first collected and described last year from a small area in central Panama. Scientists collected two adults to evaluate the potential for maintaining the species in captivity as an insurance population.

“There is a real art to learning about the natural history of an animal and finding the right set of environmental cues to stimulate successful captive breeding,” said Brian Gratwicke, amphibian conservation biologist at SCBI and director of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. “Not all amphibians are easy to breed in captivity, so when we do breed a species for the first time in captivity it is a real milestone for our project and a cause for celebration.”

Scientists simulated breeding conditions for the adult frogs in a small tank. The frogs laid an egg on a bromeliad leaf, which scientists transferred to a moist petri dish. After 14 days, the tadpole hatched. Scientists believe adult A. geminisae frogs may provide their eggs and tadpoles with parental care, which is not uncommon for dart frogs, but they have not been able to determine if that is the case. In the wild, one of the parents likely transports the tadpole on his or her back to a little pool of water, usually inside a tree or on a bromeliad leaf.

Andinobates geminisae egg

After the tadpole hatched, scientists moved it from the petri dish to a small cup of water, mimicking the small pools available in nature. On a diet of fish food, the tadpole successfully metamorphosed into a froglet after 75 days and is now the size of a mature adult.

Andinobates geminisae tadpole

Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project scientists are unsure if A. geminisae is susceptible to the amphibian-killing chytrid fungus. However, since it is only found in a small area of Panama and is dependent on primary rain forests, which are under pressure from agricultural conversion, they have identified it as a conservation-priority species.

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project breeds endangered species of frogs in Gamboa, Panama and El Valle, Panama. The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is a partnership between the Houston Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Zoo New England, SCBI and STRI. This study was supported by Minera Panama.

The Move to Gamboa

November was the culmination of a year of incredibly hard work for us in Panama. We finally moved into our beautiful our beautiful new frog conservation facility in Gamboa. Maersk Line generously donated 7 shipping containers that that once ferried ice cream and frozen vegetables around the world, but they now house a most precious collection of endangered Panamanian frogs. The new Gamboa ARC (Amphibian Rescue Center) is an incredible leap forward enabling us to more effectively tackle the amphibian conservation crisis in Panama.

We are incredibly grateful to the Summit Municipal Park, who have been our generous hosts for the first 4 years of our project, and to our project partners Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Houston Zoo, Zoo New England, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. We have relied intensively on each other for help over the last 4 years and it has truly been a team effort! Generous grants from USAID and Minera Panama were the primary source of funds used for the construction of phase I and thanks to them, we now have a world class amphibian conservation facility. We have essential back-up systems such as an emergency generator power, and backup air-conditioning so that frogs can be kept in simulated tropical montane forest environments, even in the event of a power failure. We are now getting ready to break ground on phase II, a new NSF-funded amphibian research lab, quarantine and office building that will be the hub of our new research facility for the conservation of endangered Panamanian amphibians.  

Amphibian Ark training workshop for Latin America

With the support from USAID and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Amphibian Ark held the Amphibian Conservation Training for Latin America’s workshop in Panama last April. Twenty seven participants from Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico and Panama shared experiences and information about design, implementation and husbandry of ex-situ amphibian conservation programs. The main goal was to guide amphibian conservation programs in Latin America to the next level by successfully caring for and breeding endangered species in captivity, population management and developing an exit plan with possible reintroduction methods.

Participants and instructors from throughout Latin America at the recent Amphibian Ark training workshop in Gamboa, Panama

Participants and instructors from throughout Latin America at the recent Amphibian Ark training workshop in Gamboa, Panama. Participants: Dalina del Carmen Cosme, Abbileth González, Diana Troetsch, Rigoberto Diaz, Lanki Cheucarama, Nahir Cabezón, Humberto Membache, Francis Torres, Javier Jara, Ana Gabriela Castillo, Maykell Morales, Mireya Dimas, Marta Torres, Erick López, Elida Leiva, Camilo Londoño. Jose Alfredo Hernández, Leiza Torres, Juan Daniel Jaramillo, Diorene Smith, Diego Villaquiran, Osvaldo Cabeza, Diego Medina, Didier Ramos, Andy Pascual, Marcos Ponce y Benjamin Walker.

Participants received intense theoretical and practical training from some of the best amphibian specialists in the region. Amphibian crisis, species status, medical issues and veterinary care, food culture, daily husbandry and biosecurity standards were some of the subject discussed, complemented with group projects and nocturnal field trips around Parque Nacional Soberania.

We thank Ron Gagliardo, Amphibian Ark Trainning Officer; Luis Carrillo, Diego Almeida Reinoso, Brian Kubicki, Brad Wilson VMD, Eric Baitchman VMD, Edgardo Griffith, Roberto Ibanez, Jorge Guerrel and Angie Estrada for donating their time and sharing all their knowledge and experience. And to all the participants for their interest, enthusiasm and work on amphibian conservation.

– Angie Estrada, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project