With over four thousand different types of frogs, it can be easy to forget about which frogs are in dire need of protection, and even harder to determine whether or not the species has become extinct. Among the many frog species that are on the verge of extinction, or already extinct, is the Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki), is one of the more rare species. The Panamanian golden frog inhabits the wet rain forests of the Cordilleran Mountains of Panama. Here the frog is viewed as a symbol of good luck and serves as a national icon. The Panamanian golden frog hunts for insect during the day. Although it appears very unwise for a bite-size amphibian to be hopping around in broad daylight, its brightly colored yellow exterior acts as a warning to advise potential predators that this frog is poisonous, therefore dangerous to consume. The nerve toxin produced by the Panamanian golden frog is called “zetekitoxin”. Along with the frog’s vibrant yellow/golden skin, there will often be black splotches on its back and legs. The adult female Panamanian golden frogs have similar skin coloring to the adult male frogs, but are a striking twenty-five percent larger and heavier to the male frogs.

Sadly, the Panamanian golden frog is in extreme peril. The specie’s probable extinction was caused by the chytrid fungus, a type of fungus that generates a deadly disease. The disease spreads through the water via pores and affects the frog’s skin by preventing it to breathe and drink. Consequently leading to cardiac arrest. The fungus kills off all types of amphibians (1/3 of the world’s population). Scientists have described the disease as “the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates in terms of the number of species impacted, and its propensity to drive them to extinction.” Many scientists believe that the disease may be exacerbated by climate change. Even with modern day technology, this disease proves to be inexorable and yields no cure. Without a current treatment for the disease, it has the potential to eradicate up to eighty percent of the native amphibians within the time span of a couple months.

The disease is spreading fast. Since 2005 it has traveled from El Copé nature reserve in western Panama, to El Valle, Panama, and in 2011 reached Central America. During the course of six years the disease terminated half of all the frog species. The Panamanian golden frog is also threatened by deforestation, water pollution, loss of habitat, and over collection. Project Golden Frog was founded that links conservation organizations in both Panama and the U.S. in a desperate attempt to save the Panamanian golden frog. The San Diego Zoo Global was also benevolent when it donated a significant amount of money to set up breeding facilities in the frog’s native country of Panama. Although the country has created national parks to conserve the species, the disease does not respect the set boundaries and continues to spread while simultaneously killing all amphibians.

The Panamanian golden frog has distant relatives with the poisonous South American frogs and the Mantellas of Madagascar. Although relatives, the Panamanian golden frog cannot be bred with these frogs to produce fertile off spring.

Only time will tell if these frogs can be saved and the disease stopped. With the accumulation of the major threats to the frog’s habitat, the biodiversity of Panama will continue to decrease. One can only hope scientists can obtain a cure to save the endangered Panamanian golden frog.