Panamanian Golden Frog


In the Zoo

Scientific Information

Scientific Name: Atelopus zeteki
Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Family: Bufonidae
Genus: Atelopus




Length: 1.4-1.9 inches 1.7-2.5 inches
Weight: 3-12 grams 4-15 grams

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Diet: Carnivorous
Activity Timeframe: Diurnal
Interactivity: Social
Sexual Dimorphism: Yes
Lifespan in the Wild: Unknown
Lifespan in Captivity: 9 years

Geographic Range

South America, West-Central Panama, mountain slopes of the Central Cordilleran rainforests


Status in the Wild: Critically Endangered
Threats: Pollution


Slender, brightly colored frog of about one and a half inches in length. Gold in color with black markings on the back and legs. They crawl rather than hop when they move.This frog is a terrestrial species that lives in tropical montane forest, with breeding and larval development taking place in forest streams.

Species Specifics

Adult males and females have similar coloring: light yellowish green to bright gold. They usually also have one to several black splotches on their back and legs, though sometimes there is no black and frogs are solid yellow. The females are much larger than the males! They can be up to 25 percent longer and heavier!

Physical Characteristics

The bright color warns predators of their toxicity; there are potent neurotoxins in the skin secretions. Those of the Atelopus genera are part of the group called harlequin frogs, who with the true toads makeup the family Bufonidae. All members of this family have skin secretions of varying degrees of toxicity. - The frog’s diet helps enhance its toxicity. 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, but the Panamanian Golden Frog’s secretions are the most toxic of the entire group. - In addition to multiple neurotoxins and cardiotoxins, the Panamanian Golden Frog has two forms of zetekitoxin, a potent nerve poison. One individual Panamanian golden frog contains enough toxins to kill 1,200 mice. The frogs are aposematic, meaning the frog’s coloration signals a means of defense. Therefore, it is not surprising that these brilliantly hued frogs can be both terrestrial and diurnal, as they distinctively amble through their environment with a casual response to potential predators.



Tropical montane forests, near streams


South America, Central America, Panama. Mountain slopes of the Central Cordilleran rainforests of west-central Panama.


Insectivore. These frogs feed on a wide variety of small invertebrates (ants, beetles, flies, wasps, silverfish, spiders and caterpillars,) in the forests near streams.

Ecological Web

Insectivore. Secondary consumer. These frogs feed on a wide variety of small invertebrates (ants, beetles, flies, wasps, silverfish, spiders and caterpillars,) in the forests near streams.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern

Diurnal. These frogs do all of their hunting during the daytime.


Panamanian Golden Frogs use a form of sign language called ‘semaphore,’ to signal to each other. They will “wave” their hands or raise and move their feet to defend their territory, try to attract a mate or even greet one another. This remarkable behavior is quite unique- seen only in a few frog species! (Perhaps not surprisingly, all of these frog species live near mountain streams where the roar of rushing water drowns out most every other sound!) - Frogs also vocalize. The male frogs make a whistling noise and have at least two different kinds of calls. This is an especially interesting behavior, because the frogs have no external eardrums. Research think they might detect sound through their lungs, which are located right beneath the skin and vibrate when sounds hit them.

Social Behavior

Reproductive Behavior

Males attract females by display more than vocalizing. Panamanian Golden Frogs communicate with semaphores (visual signals,) a hand waving motion that is continuing to be researched. Once a male Panamanian golden frog has attracted a female's attention and she comes into his territory, he climbs onto her back and holds on tight (attaching himself to the female's forelimbs with a strong grasp.) She finds a shallow, shady place in a nearby stream and produces a long strand of cream-colored eggs, which she then affixes to a rock or pebbles to keep them from being washed downstream. (It is essential that the female finds a shady place to lay her eggs, as the developing eggs are extremely sensitive to light!) As she lays her eggs, the male fertilizes them; tadpoles hatch out about nine days later. A male can hang onto a female for several days (even up to a month) before she lays her eggs!


The female frog lays 200-600 eggs per clutch. Newly hatched tadpoles are white, and change to dark brown/black with gold flecks after just a few days. Tadpoles have a disk-shaped mouth with several rows of teeth that help them to hang on to stream-side rocks and eat algae. They spend 6-7 months this way, eating and growing.Young frogs are much more secretive than adults, hiding until their toxins are fully developed and they can protect themselves. Once tadpoles change into juvenile frogs, they eat to slowly enhance their skin toxicity, and their coloration changes to green with dark markings, matching the color of the mosses around them. They gradually change into the golden color of mature adults.



Considered Endangered by the USFWS, on Appendix I of CITES, and listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. (Most sources declare their extinction in the wild as of 2006!) Populations are currently threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation, stream toxification from agricultural chemicals, illegal collection for the pet trade and a fungal (chytridiomycosis) outbreak that is destroying many amphibian species in Central America. Project Golden Frog (a collaboration involving zoos, universities and government agencies) has been created to hopefully prevent extinction through population and habitat assessment, captive breeding programs and education initiatives in the range country.


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Fascinating Facts

Pre-Colombian indigenous peoples considered the frog as sacred and crafted talismans in their form. This frog is a now a cultural symbol of the Republic of Panama and its image is found on everything from t-shirts to lottery tickets.

The Panamanian Golden Frog's distant relatives, the poison frogs of South America and the mantellas of Madagascar, also use their bright colors to announce to predators that they are toxic!


Showler, Dave. Frogs and Toads. 2004.St.Martin's Press, New York, NY.

Stebbins, Robert and Cohen, Nathan. A Natural History of Amphibians. 1995, Princeton Press, Princeton, NJ.

Amphibians: Panamanian Golden Frog. San Diego Zoo Animals. (On-line.) Accessed September 24th, 2016 at

Panamanian Golden Frog. Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. (On-line.) Accessed September 24th, 2016 at

Atelopus zeteki. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. (On-line.) Accessed September 24th, 2016at

Panamanian Golden Frog. Zoo Atlanta. (On-line.) Accessed September 24th, 2016 at

Panamanian Frog. Woodland Park Zoo. (On-line). Accessed September 24th, 2016 at

Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki). World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). (On-line). Accessed September 24th, 2016 at

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