As the cultural symbol of the Republic of Panama, golden frogs are a national treasure, much like the bald eagle in the United States. In response to a dramatic population decline of the species, a cooperative program called “Project Golden Frog” was formed to assist with field research, captive propagation, habitat conservation and education of this critically endangered species. The Zoo is one of a few in North America who participate with national conservation and breeding efforts for these rare amphibians. We talked to the Zoo’s herpetologists to learn more about efforts to help conserve these fragile frogs.
The Zoo houses a small breeding group of Panamanian golden frogs in a dedicatedspace in the Discovery Center. As a species that is typically solitary in the wild, Zoo herpetologists first separated the frogs to mimic their native environment. Mating season is typically between November and January, at which time a male “attaches” himself tightly to the back of a female (piggyback style) for several days – or even weeks – until the female lays her eggs. The male will immediately fertilize the eggs, then separate from the female. About six days later, tadpoles hatch out. They are so small they look like little black dots! These tiny tadpoles cling to rocks and graze on algae for 180 days as they grow in preparation for metamorphosis into “froglets.”
In 2015, a very successful breeding season produced 90 froglets, who are growing alongside new tadpoles from this year’s breeding season. While it is nearly impossible to estimate just how many new tadpoles there are, the Zoo’s Herpetologyteam is optimistic for a comparable number to last year. Those who survive to adult-hood will transform into vibrant shades of yellow with black stripes and grow up to 2 inches in length.
For amphibians in peril like the Panamanian golden frog, successful breeding and management programs are critical to the perpetuation of the species. The conservation efforts by the Zoo’s herpetology team helps provide hope for this amphibian, and others, currently at risk of extinction. To learn more, visit http://www.projectgoldenfrog.org/. When you visit the Zoo, your paid admission, and purchases of food or gifts, contributes to animal care, global conservation and education programs.