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Panamanian Golden Frog Fact File

Atelopus zeteki

Credit: Brian Gratwicke, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Weight

3-15g

(0.1-0.5oz)

Length

3.5-6.3cm

(1.4-2.5in)

Lifespan

Wild 12 years

Captive 12 years

Diet

Carnivore

Invertebrates

Conservation Status

IUCN

Critically Endangered

The Panamanian golden frog was known exclusively from the country of Panama but is now considered to be extinct in the wild. They are know known only from captive populations.

Their decline was brought about by collection for display at hotels and tourist sites along with the pet trade. It was further affected by the introduction of the disease chytridiomycosis which has affected amphibians globally.

They are carnivores as adults and feed on insects but start their life as a tadpole which feeds on algae.

Their bright coloration serves as a warning that they possess one of the most serious toxins of any amphibian and make predators incredibly ill if consumed.

Read on to learn more about these amazing amphibians.

Appearance

What does the Panamanian Golden Frog look like?

Adult males and females have similar coloring. A light yellowish green to bright gold. They will also usually have several black splotches on their back and legs, although some of them have no black at all. No spots are present on the underside.

Each frog has an individual pattern which helps to tell them apart.

Although known as a frog and having the smooth skinned appearance and looking like a frog it is actually classified as a “true toad” (Bufonidae).

Like other frogs and toads, the golden frog is capable of secreting a poison to help protect themselves from predators.

The average body length of the male is 3.5-4.8cm (1.4-1.9in) with the average weight of the male being 3-12 grams (0.1-0.4oz). The average body length of the female is 4.5-6.3cm (1.7-2.5in) with the average weight being 4-15 grams (0.14-0.5oz).

The females are larger than the males, up to 25% longer and heavier. Animals found in areas of wet forest are typically larger than those in dry forest.

Diet

What does the Panamanian Golden Frog eat?


Panamanian golden frogs in the wild eat a wide variety of invertebrates such as beetles, flies, ants, springtails, caterpillars, wasps and spiders.

It is the frogs diet that help makes them toxic even to the touch. The more different kinds of invertebrates and insects that the frog eats, the more toxic its skin secretions get.

Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki)

Credit: RedGazelle123, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Range

Where can you find the Panamanian Golden Frog?

The Panamanian golden frog was found exclusively in Panama in South America. Their range was in the area of the volcanic caldera of El Valle de Antón and Cerro Campana.

Habitat

What kind of environment does the Panamanian Golden Frog live in?

These animals were found in areas of tropical montane forests. They were found near water courses with cool, flowing water.

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Reproduction

How does the Panamanian Golden Frog produce its young?

Between November and January female frogs will return from the forest to the streams where the males will have been marking out territory.

When a female crosses a males path the male will climb on her back, the female will then find a shallow place in a stream. She will lay a long strand of eggs (from about 200 to about 600 eggs) which are attached to a rock or pebble and sheltered from the sun. As she lays the eggs the male fertilizes them and after about 6-9 days later tadpoles will hatch out.

Their large clutch size helps to increase the chance that some will reach their adult size.

When they hatch they are a white or sandy color to match the bottom of the stream. They will stay as tadpoles for roughly four to eight months before they develop into frogs.

Tadpoles are equipped with a sucker on the abdomen which helps them to hold on to objects in fast moving water.

The juvenile frogs stay more hidden as they do not have the coloration to protect them from predators, as they eat insects and invertebrates they develop the yellow and black color and build up their toxin levels.

Sexual maturity is reached by two years old.

Behavior

What does the Panamanian Golden Frog do with its day?

These animals will be active during the day.

The male Panamanian golden frog is known to make a whistling sound and at least two different types of calls. These calls are loud enough to be heard from their home by the streams into the forest. This behavior seems odd because the frogs have no eardrums and the rivers near where they live can be very loud.

They do however use another form of communication similar to what is used by deaf humans. They use a form of sign language called semaphore in order to signal to each other. They appear to “wave” their hands or move their feet to greet each other, attract a mate or to defend their territory.

Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki)

Credit: Brian Gratwicke, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the Panamanian Golden Frog?

Natural predators of the Panamanian golden frog include birds, snakes and fish.

Most predators can not consume these animals due to the toxin they produce but some species appear to have developed a resistance to this.

The brightly colored skin serves to warn potential predators that the frog is very toxic and would be dangerous for them to eat.

The nerve toxin that they produce is called “zetekitoxin” after their scientific name. This blocks the sodium channels in the animal and affects potential predations. In captivity they do not produce this toxin.

In studies it has been shown that the toxins from their skin could kill over a 1,000 mice.

Their secretions are the most toxic of any member of the Bufonidae family.

The last record of a wild Panamanian golden frog was made in 2009. Since then they have only been known from captive individuals. A small population may still exist in the wild.

Their decline was brought about through over collection for the pet trade with chytridiomycosis proving the final blow to the population.

Other factors such as habitat loss and water pollution also affected the species.

A captive breeding program for the species has been established and is hoping to restore this species in the wild.

Quick facts

The Panamanian golden frog is Panama’s national animal. Its image can be found on many items including clothing, lottery tickets and magazines.

It is believed to bring good fortune to people and used to be taken in to people’s homes for luck.

Panamanian golden frogs are sexually dimorphic with the females of the species up to twice the size of the average male.

They are also known as golden arrow poison frog, golden frog, Cerro Campana Stubfoot Toad or zetek’s golden frog.

Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki)

Credit: Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz), CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group. 2019. Atelopus zeteki. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T54563A54341110. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T54563A54341110.en. Downloaded on 28 November 2020.

Smithsonian's National Zoo. 2021. Panamanian golden frog. [online] Available at: <https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/panamanian-golden-frog> [Accessed 29 November 2021].

Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2021. Panamanian Golden Frog | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/panamanian-golden-frog> [Accessed 29 November 2021].

The Maryland Zoo. 2021. Panamanian Golden Frog | The Maryland Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.marylandzoo.org/animal/panamanian-golden-frog/> [Accessed 29 November 2021].

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