Location in Zoo
Lifestyle and Lifespan
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. Breeding and larval development take place in forest streams.
Adult males and females have similar coloring: light yellowish-green to bright gold. They usually have one to several black splotches on their back and legs, though sometimes frogs are solid yellow with no black. The females are much larger than the males! They can be up to 25 percent longer and heavier!
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 greater the variety of insect invertebrate species 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. The Panamanian Golden Frog has multiple cardiotoxins and neurotoxins, including 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.
In 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.
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 to greet one another. This remarkable behavior is quite unique - seen only in a few frog species! All of these frog species live near mountain streams where the roar of rushing water drowns out almost 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. Researchers think they might detect sound through their lungs, which are located right beneath the skin and vibrate when sounds hit them.
Males attract females by displaying more than vocalization. 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. She then affixes the egg strand 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 onto 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. 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.
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!