Scientific name: Atelopus zeteki
Conservation status: Critically Endangered
Adult males and females have similar colouring a light yellowish green to bright gold. They will also usually have several black splotches on their back and legs, although some of them have no black at all. Although known as a frog and having the smooth skinned appearance and looking like a frog it is actually classified as a “true toad” (Bufonidae). Like other frogs and toads, the golden frog is capable of secreting a poison to help protect themselves from predators.
The average body length of the male is 3.5 to 4.8 cms (1.4 to 1.9 in) with the average weight of the male being 3 to 12 grams (0.1 to 0.4 ounces). The average body length of the female is 4.5 to 6.3 cms (1.7 to 2.5 in) with the average weight being 4 to 15 grams (0.14 to 0.5 ounces). The females are larger than the males, up to 25% longer and heavier.
There is little known about the lifespan of the golden panamanian frog in the wild but they may live up to 12 years.
Panamanian golden frogs in the wild eat a wide variety of invertebrates such as beetles, flies, ants, springtails, caterpillars, wasps and spiders.
It is the frogs diet that help makes them toxic even to the touch. The more different kinds of invertebrates and insects that the frog eats, the more toxic its skin secretions get.
The Panamanian golden frog was native to Panama in Central America. Although they are classified as critically endangered it is believed that the species may have been extinct in the wild since 2007.
They would have been found in rain forests and cloud forest streams.
Some individuals of the species were taken into managed care facilities in North America with the hope to keep the species alive.
Between November to January female frogs will return from the forest to the streams where the males will have been marking out territory. When a female crosses a males path the male will climb on her back, the female will then find a shallow place in a stream. She will lay a long strand of eggs (from about 200 to about 600 eggs) which are attached to a rock or pebble and sheltered from the sun. As she lays the eggs the male fertilises them and after about 6-9 days later tadpoles will hatch out. When they hatch they are a white or sandy colour to match the bottom of the stream. They will stay as tadpoles for roughly four to eight months before they develop into frogs. The juvenile frogs stay more hidden as they do not have the colouration to protect them from predators, as they eat insects and invertebrates they develop the yellow and black colour and build up their toxin levels.
The male Panamanian golden frog are known to make a whistling sound and at least two different types of calls. These calls are loud enough to be heard from their home by the streams into the forest. This behaviour seems odd because the frogs have no eardrums and the rivers near where they live can be very loud.
They do however use another form of communication similar to what is used by deaf humans. They use a form of sign language called semaphore in order to signal to each other. They appear to “wave” their hands or move their feet to greet each other, attract a mate or to defend their territory.
The brightly coloured skin serves to warn potential predators that the frog is very toxic and would be dangerous for them to eat.
The Panamanian golden frog is Panama’s national animal. Its image can be found on many things such as t-shirts, lottery tickets and magazines. It is believed to bring good fortune to people and used to be taken in to people’s homes for luck.
The nerve toxin that they produce is called “zetekitoxin” after their scientific name.
Panamanian golden frogs are sexually dimorphic with the females of the species up to twice the size of the average male.
They are also known as golden arrow poison frog, golden frog or zetek’s golden frog.