Panamanian golden frog – Atelopus zeteki

Panamanian golden frog in Buffalo Zoo, USA (image: wikimedia)

Alchemical amphibian communicates in stream-side semaphore

The Panamanian golden frog is native to Panama, living around mountainous streams in tropical forests. Like other frogs and toads, the golden frog is capable of secreting highly toxic poison through it’s skin to help protect itself from predators.

These frogs are highly unusual as they use a form of semaphore to communicate, waving at rivals and prospective mates. This adaptation is thought to have evolved in the golden frog because of the noise of their fast-moving streams habitat drowning out their calls. Below is a rare video of this behavior, filmed by the BBC One for the “Life in cold blood” in 2007:

Shortly after filming for the BBC series, these frogs had to be rescued from the wild, due to the threat of the suffocating chytrid fungus. The deforestation of their habitat, water pollution, and over collection for the pet trade are also responsible for the decline of their population.

A waving golden frog

A waving golden frog (image: wikimedia)

The Panamanian golden frog is something of a national symbol, appearing on state lottery tickets and in local mythology. Fascinatingly, it is thought that when the frog dies it turns to gold. It is also believed that the frog brings good luck to those fortunate enough to see it. In 2010 the Panamanian Government passed legislation recognizing August 14th as National Golden Frog Day.

The golden frog is on the IUCN Red List as a critically endangered species. Atelopus zeteki may have been extinct in the wild since 2007, date of the last wild sighting.
More information:

  • Project Golden Frog is an ongoing conservation project which connects the Republic of Panama and the United States, in an effort to ensure the survival of this species. Plans for captive breeding in Panama are being supported by Project Golden Frog.

Captive breeding programs for this species are already in place at a number of zoos, including:

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