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The Golden Frog’s Last Stand

ABQ BioPark helping to save Panama’s golden treasure


Panamanian golden frog at Zoo

Local species suffering same plight as golden frog

The leopard frog is a less exotic, yet nonetheless important species at the ABQ BioPark. Although leopard frogs were once common across the United States, several species are now in decline because of habitat loss and the same fungus (chytrid) that threatens the Panamanian golden frog in Central America. Five species of leopard frog can be found in the Land of Enchantment—the Northern, Rio Grande, plains, lowland and Chiricahua.

Panamanian golden frog at the ABQ BioPark Zoo

04/14/2016 - Frog species all over the world are declining—about one-third of frogs are threatened or extinct, according to a report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.  Threats include the pet trade, habitat destruction, and a deadly fungus called chytridiomycosis or “chytrid.”

“Although the future may look grim, we can still make a difference for these amphibians,” said Josh Davis, senior zookeeper at the ABQ BioPark Zoo. “The ABQ BioPark Zoo is doing its part to help protect a number of frog and toad species before it’s too late.”

For instance, the zoo participates in Project Golden Frog, a program striving to save the critically endangered Panamanian golden frog. The golden frog is a national treasure in Panama and even has its own national day of celebration. The zoo acts as a holding facility for the species.

Although the Panamanian golden frog is listed as critically endangered, evidence suggests that it has been extinct in the wild since 2007. Luckily, biologists in Panama and abroad have been holding and breeding captive populations, which they hope to eventually release back into their natural territory.  Habitat loss and the deadly fungus remain inhibiting factors, however.

With nine females and two males, the zoo’s herpetology department hopes to start breeding Panamanian golden frogs this fall as part of the program—this is dependent on an OK from the Panamanian golden frog Species Survival Plan (SSP) coordinators.

Breeding these amphibians is a numbers game, so when the time is right, the zoo’s two male golden frogs will get the opportunity to breed with each of the nine females. Each pair produces anywhere from 200-900 eggs (although some can produce more than 1000) and they have a high survival rate in a controlled environment like a zoo.

Panamanian golden frog 2So what does romance look like for Panamanian golden frogs? Females listen for special mating calls from males—if she likes what she hears, she will let the male hitchhike on her back as she goes about her business. This is called amplexus (Latin for “embrace”). When she is ready to produce eggs, she’ll lay them in a string and her mate will fertilize them simultaneously.  Males use their hands to “wave” at each other, not to say hi, but to defend their territory.

Although it is tiny, the Panamanian golden frog—and all frogs and toads—are an incredibly important part of their environments.

“If you have frogs in your ecosystem, it’s a good indication that you have a healthy ecosystem,” said Davis.

How You Can Help Frogs

Participate in Frog Watch

In addition to participating in Project Golden Frog, the ABQ BioPark will start a pilot program with Frog Watch, which gives community members the chance to take part in frog conservation as citizen scientists. Interested individuals will go into the field to listen for frog calls and report them to an international database. The project will help track the decline and increase of frogs in an area dependent on what’s going on in the habitat. The program will start with BioPark volunteers and eventually will be open to the general public.

“It’s exciting when you start to recognize individual frog calls,” said Davis. “You feel more in tune with your environment.”

Create Your Own Backyard Habitat

For those looking to help protect frogs, another option is creating your own frog-friendly backyard habitat. More information can be found here.

Learn more 

Come to our May 5 or May 7 Zoo Brown Bag, which will talk about amphibian decline. Learn more about the event here.