Harlequin Frog Breeding Project Has Some Success In Panama

Juvenile limosa harlequin frog atop a Panamanian dollar coin.

Photograph by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Conservation groups in Panama have successfully raised nine endangered limosa harlequin frogs (Atelopus limosus), from a single mating pair and announced that they have hundreds of tadpoles from a second mating pair. The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and other groups have been working on a captive breeding project of these amphibians and several other frogs, including the crowned treefrog (Anotheca spinosa) and the horned marsupial frog (Gastrotheca cornuta), according to a news release put out by the Smithsonian Institute.

harlequin frog

 Photograph by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Juvenile limosa harlequin frog atop a Panamanian dollar coin.


The conservation groups in Panama are collectively caring for 55 adult limosa frogs of the chevron pattern and 10 plain colored limosa frogs. The enclosures for these frogs are unique. The breeding enclosure features rocks arranged in a pattern to create submerged caves that the biologists believe are used by the frogs to deposit their eggs. The water is highly oxygenated and flowing gently at a temperature between 22 and 24 degrees Celsius. The tadpoles feed on algal film that grows on the enclosure's submerged rocks. This algae was recreated by conservation biologist Jorge Guerrel in a petri dish with a solution of powdered spirulina.

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The harlequin frog has disappeared due to chytridiomycosis, deforestation, water pollution, and stream sedimentation in their native Panama. One third of the world's amphibians are threatened with extinction.

 “These frogs represent the last hope for their species,” said Brian Gratwicke, international coordinator for the project and a research biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, one of six project partners. “This new generation is hugely inspiring to us as we work to conserve and care for this species and others.”

The harlequin frog was placed onto the IUCN Red List in 2004. Native to the eastern side of Panama, the frog is actually a species of toad of the Bufonidae family. It is a low altitude species that occurs at around 10 to 730 meters above sea level. The frog was first described in 1995 by Roberto Ibanez, Cesar A. Jaramillo, and Frank Solis. 

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