Golden Frogs are a brilliantly-colored, unique bufonid from the cloud forests of Panama. Rana dorada, or the "golden frog" is culturally significant to the people of Panama. They are as revered as the bald eagle is in the United States, with a history dating back to the Mayan civilization. Golden or pottery replications, called huacas ("wa-cas") were symbols of good fortune and the frogs are still considered lucky to Panamanians. They are used to promote hotels and restaurants, and are such a part of the culture that they show up on their lottery tickets.
A National Symbol: Although known by all Panamanians, few have ever seen these living frogs and little is understood about its life history. Through its folklore and fame, the frog has become a national symbol of nature unique to Panama. Items from t-shirts to lottery tickets sports the frog.
Golden Frogs are unique members of the family Bufonidae (toads). Endemic to the cloud forests, the Panamanian Golden Frog (PGF), Atelopus zeteki, was originally described by Dunn in 1933 as a subspecies of A. varius. Atelopus zeteki were eventually recognized as a distinct species from the similar-looking golden harlequin frog, Atelopus varius, based on a unique skin toxin (zetekitoxin) and bioacoustical differences. In addition to vocalizing, PGFs communicate by semaphoring, a limb-waving behavior that is hypothesized to have arisen so that the frogs could locate mates near the deafening sounds of waterfalls, where their gentle vocalizations are inaudible. The Panamanian golden frogs, Atelopus zeteki, and the Golden Harlequin Frog, Atelopus varius, are both listed as Critically Endangered (CR) by IUCN in 2004 (www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/54563/0). The reality is that Atelopus zeteki has probably been extinct in the wild (EW) since 2008 due to the pathogenic amphibian chytrid fungus.
Amphibian chytridiomycosis (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; B.d.) was first observed in montane central Costa Rica, where it may have been the cause for extinction of their golden toad, Bufo periglenes. It has since become evident that this epizootic is advancing southeast through the cooler mid- to high-elevation mountain forests of Central America, decimating entire populations of amphibians, including Atelopus senex, and A. chiriquensis. As of 2007, the disease front was documented as far east as El Valle, Panama, the type locality of the Panamanian Golden Frog, Atelopus zeteki.