Panamanian Golden Frog

The Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki), is an endangered frog which was endemic to Panama. While the IUCN lists this species as “critically endangered”, it may have become extinct in the wild since 2006. Individuals have been collected for breeding in captivity to try to preserve the species. The species was filmed for the very last time in the wild in 2007 by the BBC Natural History Unit for the series Life in Cold Blood by David Attenborough. The remaining few specimens were taken into captivity and the location of filming was kept secret to protect them from potential poachers.

In dry habitat, the adult male measures about 1.5 inches and weighs less than ¼ ounce. The adult female ranges from 1.75 to 2.25 inches and weighs about ¼ ounce. In wet forests both sexes grow larger. They inhabit tropical forest regions, particularly on mountains, near streams. Populations of amphibians, including the golden frog, suffered major declines possibly due to the fungal infection, Chytridiomycosis, which eventually suffocates them. Additional factors, such as habitat loss and pollution, may have also played a role.

These frogs are unusual in that they communicate by a form of semaphore, waving at rivals and prospective mates. Since frogs usually communicate by croaking, this is thought to have developed in the golden frog because of the noise of the fast-moving streams which formed their natural habitat. Like other frogs and toads, the golden frog is capable of secreting poison to help protect themselves from predators. In the case of the golden frog, this is a water-soluble neurotoxin called zetekitoxin.

The Golden Frog appears to socialize with other frogs using throatal sounds and hand waving. This hand waving was investigated by a group of amphibian experts and appears to be used for a variety of social situations, from friendly waves to signals to back off. A fake frog with a moving hand was used, and after repeated hand waving, the authentic frog attacked.

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