Denver Zoo Map

Atelopus varius zeteki



Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Family: Bufonidae
Genus: Atelopus
Species: varius
Subspecies: zeteki

Fun Facts

  • The Panamanian golden frog is the national symbol of the Republic of Panama and it appears on everything from lottery tickets to T-shirts to tourist guides.
  • The Panamanian golden frog is believed to bring good luck to anyone fortunate enough to see it.
  • The pattern of spots on each frog is unique and like human fingerprints, can be used to identify individual frogs.
  • Denver Zoo participates in Project Golden Frog which was created to prevent total extinction of this species through population and habitat assessment, captive breeding programs and education initiatives.
  • The American Zoo and Aquarium Association declared 2008 “The Year of the Frog” to emphasize the global crisis affecting amphibians. One third of all amphibian species worldwide are threatened with extinction.



This species of frog is endemic (only found) in the mountain slopes of the Central Cordilleran rainforests of west-central Panama.


These terrestrial frogs are found in two types of habitat wet and dry tropical montane forests, with breeding and development occurring in forest streams.

Physical Description

  • Panamanian golden frogs are one to two inches long (2-5 cm).
  • Dry forest males weigh 0.11-0.18 ounces (3-5 gm); females weigh 0.14-0.25 ounces (4-7 gm).
  • Wet forest males weigh 0.28-0.42 ounces (8-12 gm); females weigh 0.35-0.53 ounces (10-15 gm).
  • Adults are gold in color with black markings on the back and legs.
  • They have elongated narrow fingers and toes with extensive webbing between most digits.


What Does It Eat?

In the wild: Insects and a variety of small invertebrates.
At the zoo: Crickets and fruit flies.

What Eats It?

Snakes prey on adult frogs.

Social Organization

Panamanian golden frogs are solitary except during breeding. Males are territorial and do not allow adults other than gravid females to approach their territory.

Life Cycle

Like all frogs, Panamanian golden frogs undergo a metamorphosis starting out as eggs that hatch into tadpoles that live in the water breathing oxygen through gills. The tadpoles slowly change into adult frogs growing legs, absorbing the tail, losing the gills and developing lungs enabling them to breathe oxygen in the air. Breeding occurs from November through January. Males establish territories – perching on rocks and defending territories using semaphores or hand signals to warn other males away. They also vocalize although it is hard to hear due to the water sounds in their habitat. Once the male attracts a receptive female, mating occurs. The female releases a single string of cream-colored fertilized eggs that attach to a boulder or bedrock. The average clutch size is 370 eggs. The tadpoles hatch from the eggs in seven to 11 days. The tadpoles are black or greenish to blend into their surroundings. They have a large sucker on the belly that helps them adhere to objects on the bottom of the stream so they don’t float away with the current. The tadpoles gradually change into juvenile frogs with vivid green and black markings providing camouflage against the moss and rocks in their habitat. They acquire their golden color once they reach the adult size. Lifespan is unknown in the wild but they have lived in captivity up to 5 years.


Poison Skin

The bright colors of these frogs serve as a warning to potential predators not to eat them. Toxic compounds are secreted by glands in the frog’s skin providing them with a powerful means of defense. The Panamanian golden frog produces a toxin called zetekitoxin which is capable of paralyzing or even killing potential predators. The toxins in the skin of these frogs are found in high concentrations in the prey they eat. In captivity, poison frogs lose their toxic properties due to the lack of toxic substances in the food they eat.

Hand Signals

Male golden frogs defend their territory by semaphoring – a form of hand and foot raising to signal rival frogs to stay away. The frogs can vocalize but noise of waterfalls and flowing water in their habitat makes hand signals a more effective form of communication.

Just Walking Around

Instead of hopping or leaping like most frogs, Panamanian golden frogs move around with a distinctive ambling walk.

Conservation Connection

IUCN Status – Critically Endangered.

Panamanian golden frogs are listed as critically endangered but may now be extinct in the wild. The rapid decline of this species is due mainly to the fungus chytridiomycosis. Loss of habitat due to logging and agriculture and capture of frogs for the illegal pet trade have also affected their survival. Captive breeding programs may help insure the survival of this unique species as well as other endangered frog species until populations can safely be reestablished in the wild.