Class: Amphibia (Amphibians)
Body length: males—1.4 to 1.9 inches (3.5 to 4.8 centimeters); females—1.7 to 2.5 inches (4.5 to 6.3 centimeters)
Weight: males—0.1 to 0.4 ounces (3 to 12 grams); females—0.14 to 0.5 ounces (4 to 15 grams)
Life span: over 12 years
Incubation: about 9 days to hatch into tadpoles
Number of eggs laid: 200 to 620 eggs per clutch
Length at metamorphosis: about 0.2 inches (6 millimeters)
Age at maturity: about 2 years
Conservation status: critical risk, probably extinct in the wild
The nerve toxin produced by the Panamanian golden frog is called "zetekitoxin” after the frog’s scientific name!
Native peoples form small frog objects called huacas of gold and clay to resemble and honor the golden frogs.
San Diego Zoo Global has donated money to help establish a breeding facility for these frogs in their native country of Panama.
Project Golden Frog connects conservation organizations in both Panama and the United States in an effort to help these amazing little frogs.
Amphibians: Panamanian Golden Frog
A bright spot among the forest leaves, this endangered frog is in the spotlight of global conservation efforts.
Once upon a time...
Not so long ago, on a mountain, in a forest, on a small spit of land, there lived a beautiful little frog. The frog was bright golden yellow with inky black patches and lived near a swiftly flowing river. He spent his days climbing trees or ambling to the water’s edge and waving to his friends. Even though he was brightly colored, the frog was well hidden in his forest home.
The people who shared the frog’s forest believed him to be a sign of good luck, so if they spotted the little frog crawling along the riverbank, they took him home with them. But one day, the people noticed that the little frog had gone. They looked and they looked, but they found only silence. The good luck charm of the forest had disappeared.…
Warning: This frog is dangerous to the touch!
The real scoop
Panamanian golden frogs are at home in both wet rain forests and dry cloud forests in the Cordilleran Mountains of Panama. A fast-flowing stream suits them best. They are out and about during the day, hunting for small insects to eat. You might think it would be dangerous to be a bite-sized animal parading about in the sunlight, but the Panamanian golden frog is brightly colored to warn potential predators that it is very toxic and would be dangerous to eat. Its distant relatives, the poison frogs of South America and the mantellas of Madagascar, also use their bright colors to announce to the world that they are toxic.
Poison can keep the Panamanian golden frog safe, and its diet helps make the animal toxic even to the touch. In fact, the more different kinds of insects and invertebrates the frog eats, the more toxic its skin secretions become. All animals in the golden frog's taxonomic family, Bufonidae, have toxic skin secretions for protection, but the Panamanian golden frog's secretions are the most toxic of the entire group. In fact, the frog’s toxins are so unique that scientists define the Panamanian golden frog as a distinct species!
Sometimes a male golden frog will hang on to a female for several days until she lays her eggs.
Helloooo over there!
Male Panamanian golden frogs make a whistling sound and are known to make at least two different kinds of calls that are loud enough to carry into the forest from their home near the water's edge. This is a very interesting behavior, since the frogs have no eardrums and the rivers where they live can be very, very loud. So how do they communicate?
Like many humans who lack the ability to hear, golden frogs use a form of sign language, called semaphore, to signal to one another. They "wave" their hands or raise and move their feet to defend territory, try to attract a mate, or even to greet one another. Researchers continue to study and learn more about this unique method of frog communication.
A single string of cream-colored eggs is laid by the female Panamanian golden frog.
Growing up tadpole
Once a male Panamanian golden frog has attracted a female’s attention and she ambles into his territory, he climbs onto her back and holds on tight. She finds a shallow place in the nearby stream and produces a long strand of cream-colored eggs, which she attaches to a rock or pebbles that are sheltered from the sun. As she lays her eggs, the male fertilizes them and tadpoles hatch out about nine days later. Newly hatched tadpoles are white, changing to dark brown or black with golden flecks (which is great camouflage) after a few days.
A tadpole has a large, disk-shaped mouth with several rows of teeth that help it hang on to rocks when the stream picks up speed after a rainstorm. The tadpoles spend their early days eating algae from the rocks near their hatch site. They spend six to seven months eating and growing.
Tadpoles are white when they hatch, then their skin changes to dark brown with gold flecks after a few days.
Me and Mini-Me?
Adult males and females have similar coloring: light yellowish green to bright gold. They usually also have one to several black spotches on their backs and legs, though sometimes there is no black at all. The females are much larger than the males: up to 25 percent longer and heavier.
Youngsters are also much more secretive than the fully toxic adult, hiding until they can protect themselves with their skin secretions. Once the tadpoles change (a process called metamorphosis) into juvenile frogs, they eat and slowly build up their toxicity, their coloration changes to the more visible yellow and black patterning.
A national good luck charm?
The Panamanian golden frog is Panama’s national animal. Pictured on everything from T-shirts to lottery tickets to magazines, the tiny frog represents good fortune. For many years, the frogs were captured and taken into hotels and restaurants to promote tourism, as well as placed in people’s homes for good luck.
Young adults are green with dark markings, matching the color of mosses growing on stones in their watery habitat. They will gradually change into the golden colors of mature adults.
But the frog's good luck seems to have run out with the spread of a fungal disease called chytridiomycosis, or chytrid fungus, which has wiped out golden frog populations. Sadly, it is believed that the species is now extinct in the wild.
Leaping to the rescue
The tiny Panamanian golden frog may be gone from its native forests, but it is found in managed care facilties throughout North America that hope to keep the species alive and healthy. San Diego Zoo Global is working closely with the Panamanian government and other zoos to ensure the survival of this species. In fact, the Zoo has been so successful in its breeding efforts that we have been selected to house some extremely important “founders,” or wild-caught members, of the managed-care population. These frogs are of great importance genetically to the breeding program, and it is a great honor to be selected to work with them.