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Panamanian golden frog

Scientific name: Atelopus varius zeteki

CLASS: Amphibia
ORDER: Anura
FAMILY: Bufonidae 

FEEDING TYPE: Insectivore
STATISTICS: Weight: .15 -.53 ounces; Length: 1.8 -2 in

The Panamanian golden frog is small and its coloration is bright yellow to orange with black spots or splotches on its back. It has long limbs on a slender body with smooth skin. The males and females have the same coloration except when the female is carrying eggs, in which case her stomach is a lighter color. The females tend to be larger than the males.

Western to central Panama

Tropical cloud forests and fast-flowing forest streams.

The Panamanian golden frog is diurnal and terrestrial. The males keep small territories along forest streams and when they encounter each other they show signs of aggression and defense by waving their forefeet at each other. It is believed that this adaptation developed so the frogs could communicate with each other near loud waterfalls where vocalizations could not be heard.

Its best defense is its skin because it contains a potent toxin called zetekitoxin. This toxin affects the nerve cells when ingested, keeping the frog safe from predators. This skin toxin is unique and helped reclassify the golden frog as its own species.

The females travel to the streams where the males have set up their territories for breeding, which takes place in the late rainy and early dry season (November-January). The males will communicate with the females acoustically, emitting a very soft and trilled mating call, or by waving their forefeet.

The eggs are laid in strings attached to the rocks at the bottom of fast-flowing streams, with a clutch ranging from 202 to 623 eggs. . Embryonic development takes seven to 11 days. The tadpoles will develop and grow at the bottoms of the streams. They have ventral suckers that help attach them to the rocks in the water, and their coloration is similar to the color of sand. The juvenile frogs will disperse as soon as there is a significant amount of rainfall.

Prey to birds and mammals
Predator to small insects

Small invertebrates

The Panamanian golden frog is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List with the biggest threat likely being chytridiomycosis, loss of habitat, and water pollution. It is also listed as CITES appendix I.

One type of the chytridiomycosis fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, known as BD, is lethal to amphibians. This fungus causes a thickening and sluffing of the frogs’ skin. It can also infect the mouthparts of tadpoles, causing starvation.


  • This frog is a national symbol in Panama dating back to the Mayan civilization, and represents good fortune. It was revered by the indigenous peoples of Panama before the discovery of the Americas; the people would make clay and gold talismans called huacas. There is a myth that the golden frog transforms into gold huacas once it has died.
  • Today, the golden frog is often captured and used to promote hotels, restaurants, and tourism. Seeing or possessing a live golden frog is thought to bring good fortune.


  1. Lips, K., Solís, F., Ibáñez, R., Jaramillo, C. & Fuenmayor, Q. 2006. Atelopus zeteki. In: IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 29 July 2008.
  2. Project Golden Frog. Accessed 29 July 2008.
  3. Information on amphibian biology and conservation. Accessed: July 29, Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb.

Published: July 2, 2009

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