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Atelopus zeteki Dunn 1933

Critically Endangered (IUCN 3.1)
Atelopus zeteki
Three Atelopus zeteki frogs

Common name

Panamanian Golden Frog, Zetek's Frog, Golden Frog, Cerro Campana Stubfoot Toad


Golden frogs, which exist only in Panama, are a national symbol of this country.



The dorsal surface is bright golden yellow to yellow-orange with or without prominent spots or three irregular black bands.

Atelopus zeteki Dorsal 1 Atelopus zeteki Dorsal 2


Iris greenish-yellow. Pupil horizontal.


CO1, CytB

Life history

Breeding season

At one site in Panama, Karraker et al. (2006) found egg masses in December, during the transition from wet to dry season in Panama (Karraker et al 2006). Thus, this population appears to breed explosively, beginning in late November and ending in January (Karraker et al 2006). In other populations, breeding may occur year-round (Richards-Zawacki pers. comm.).


Cream-colored eggs are attached to rocky substrate in streams (Karraker et al 2006, includes a photograph). Clutch size ranges from about 200-600 eggs (Karraker et al 2006).


Tadpole bodies are dark brown to black with flecks of gold (Lindquist and Hetherington 1998). The ventral surface is grey or colorless (Lindquist and Hetherington 1998). Tadpoles have flattened bodies and a large ventral sucking disc for adhering to rocks in fast-moving streams (Lindquist and Hetherington 1998). An excellent description and illustration of the tadpole can be found in Lindquist and Hetherington (1998). Tadpoles are typically found motionless on rocks or gravelly substrate in shallow stream pools (Lindquist and Hetherington 1998).

Metamorph juvenile

Metamorphs are a shade of green similar to the moss covering stream side rocks (in El Cope) to bright yellow (in Campana), all with dark markings (Lindquist and Hetherington 1998). The dark markings sometimes contained brick red warts (Lindquist and Hetherington 1998). The ventral surface varies from white to yellow (Lindquist and Hetherington 1998). Metamorphs have been observed in April at one site (Karraker et al 2006), but may be found year-round at other localities (Richards-Zawacki pers. comm.).

Ecology behavior and evolution


Ranvestel et al (2004) showed that the abundance and diversity of basal resources (i.e. algae and sediment) and other primary consumers changed when tadpoles, including those of A. zeteki, were excluded from stream reaches. Thus, the loss of tadpoles from stream ecosystems is expected to lead to significant changes in stream characteristics, food web dynamics, and energy flow (Ranvestal et al 2004, Whiles et al 2006).

Behavior and communication

Atelopus zeteki uses thermoregulation to reduce chances of infection with chytrid fungus (Richards-Zawacki 2009). Adults were able to modify their behavior to elevate their body temperatures above normal and above levels generally tolerated by the fungus (Richards-Zawacki 2009). As in many species of Atelopus, A. zeteki does not have a middle ear. However, they do respond to playbacks of calls, which suggests that are able to hear (Lindquist and Hetherington 1996). Lindquist et al (1998) found that the body wall/lungs may serve as a route of sound transfer in these frogs. Male Panamanian Golden frogs wave their hands and feet at other males. These actions, combined with calling, are signals of aggression and territorial defense. The significance of hand and foot waving, along with calling, as a multimodal signal has been studied in detail by Criswell (2008). Lindquist et al (2007) explored the nocturnal movements of juveniles and adults by tracking them with flourescent dye. They found that adults move more and to higher resting spots than juveniles.


2N = 22 (Ramos et al 2002)


The status of Atelopus zeteki as a species separate from Atelopus varius has been questioned, but recent molecular work suggests that they are in fact distinct lineages (Richards and Knowles 2007).


The skin of Atelopus zeteki contains tetrodotoxin as well as the unique zetekitoxin (Kim et al 1975). This compound makes this species the most toxic of all the Atelopus (Kim et al. 1977, Pavelka et al. 1977). Juvenile A. zeteki are less conspicuously colored than adults, possibly because they have not yet developed the toxins in their skin (Lindquist and Hetherington 1998).

Taxonomy and systematics


  • Kingdom:Animalia


Dunn 1933


Atelopus varius zeteki

Type locality

El Valle

Habitat and distribution


Lowland rainforest [from sea level] to 1315 m.


This species is endemic to Panama.


Atelopus zeteki distribution
Distrubution map (IUCN)


Brown, GB, YH Kim, H Kuentzel, HS Mosher, GJ Fuhrman, and FA Fuhrman. 1977. Chemistry and pharmacology of skin toxins from the frog Atelopus zeteki (atelopidtoxin: zetekitoxin). Toxicon 15(2): 115-128.

Bustamente, HM, LJ Livo, and C Carey. 2010. Effects of temperature and hydric environment on survival of the Panamanian golden frog infected with pathogenic fungus. Integrative Zoology 5(2): 143-153.

Cocroft, RB, RW McDiarmid, AP Jaslow and PM Ruiz-Carranza. 1990. Vocalizations of eight species of Atelopus (Anura: Bufonidae) with comments on communication in the genus. Copeia 1990(3): 631-643.

Criswell, JMC. 2008. Multimodal communication in the Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki). PhD dissertation. Ohio State University, Ohio.

Crump, ML. 1988. Aggression in Harlequin frogs: male-male competition and a possible conflict of interest between the sexes. Animal Behaviour 36(4): 1064-1077.

Daly, JW, F Gusovsky, CW Myers, M Yotsu-Yamashita, and T Yasumoto. 1994. First occurrence of tetrodotoxin in a dendrobatid frog (Colostethus inguinalis), with further reports for the bufonid genus Atelopus. Toxicon 32(3): 279-85.

Daly, JW, SI Secunda, HM Garraffo, TF Spande, A Wisnieski and JF Cover, Jr. 1994. An uptake system for dietary alkaloids in poison frogs (Dendrobatidae). Toxicon 32(6) 657-663.

Dunn, ER. 1933. Amphibians and reptiles from El Valle de Anton, Panama. Occasional Papers of the Boston Society of Natural History 8: 65-79.

Furhman, FA, GJ Fuhrman, and HS Mosher. 1969. Toxin from skin of frogs of the genus Atelopus: differentiation from Dendrobatid toxins. Science 165(900):1376-7.

Ibáñez, R, F Solís, C Jaramillo, and AS Rand. 2000. An overwiew of the herpetology of Panama. In: Johnson, JD, RG Webb, and OA Flores-Villela. Eds. Mesoamerican Herpetology: Systematics, Zoogeography and Conservation, pp. 159-170. The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas.

Karraker, NE, CL Richards, and HL Ross. 2006. Reproductive ecology of Atelopus zeteki and comparisons to other members of the genus. Herpetological Review 37(3): 284-288.

Kim, YH, Y-B Kim, and M Yotsu-Yamashita. 2003. Potent neurotoxins: Tetrodotoxin, Chiriquitoxin, and Zetekitoxin from Atelopus frogs in Central America. Journal of Toxicology: Toxin Reviews 22(4): 521-532.

La Marca, E, KR Lips, S Lötters, R Puschendorf, R Ibáñez, JV Rueda-Almonacid, R Schulte, C Marty, F Castro, J Manzanilla-Puppo, JE Garcia-Perez, E Toral, F Bolaños, G Chaves, JA Pounds, and B Young. 2005. Catastrophic population declines and extinctions in Neotropical harlequin frogs (Bufonidae: Atelopus). Biotropica 37(2)190-201.

Lindquist, ED and TE Hetherington. 1996. Field studies on visual and acoustic signaling in the ''earless'' Panamanian Golden Frog, Atelopus zeteki. Journal of Herpetology 30(3): 347-354.

Lindquist, ED and TE Hetherington. 1998. Semaphoring in an earless frog: the origin of a novel visual signal. Animal Cognition 1: 83-87.

Lindquist, ED and TE Hetherington. 1998. Tadpoles and juveniles of the Panamanian Golden Frog, Atelopus zeteki (Bufonidae), with information on development of coloration and patterning. Herpetologica 54(3): 370-376.

Lindquist, ED, SA Sapoznick, EJ Griffith R, PB Johantgen, and JM Criswell. 2007. Nocturnal position in the Panamanian Golden Frog, Atelopus zeteki (Bufonidae), with notes on fluorescent pigment tracking. Phyllomedusa 6(1): 37-44.

Lindquist, ED, TE Hetherington, and DD Badgley. 1999. Atelopus zeteki (Panamanian golden frog). Attempted predation. Herpetological Review 30: 36.

Lindquist, ED, TE Hetherington, and SF Volman. 1998. Biomechanical and neurophysiological studies on audition in eared and earless harlequin frogs (Atelopus). Journal of Comparative Physiology A 183(2): 265-71.

Lindquist, ED. 1995. Atelopus zeteki (Panamanian golden frog). Pure tonal vocalization. Herpetological Review 26(4): 200-201.

Lips, KR, FBrem, R Brenes, JD Reeve, RA Alford, J Voyles, C Carey, L Livo, AP Pessier and JP Collins. 2006. Emerging Infectious Disease and the Loss of Biodiversity in a Neotropical Amphibian Community. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103(9): 3165-3170.

Lötters, S. 1996. The Neotropical Toad Genus Atelopus. Checklist - Biology - Distribution. Vences, M and F Glaw. Eds. Verlags GbR, Köln, Germany.

Pounds, JA, MR Bustamante, LA Coloma, JA Consuegra, MPL Fogden, PN Foster, E La Marca, KL Masters, A Merino-Viteri, R Puschendorf, SR Ron, GA Sánchez-Azofeifa, CJ Still, and BE Young. 2006. Widespread amphibian extinctions from epidemic disease driven by global warming. Nature 439: 161-167.

Ramos, CW, N Pimentel, and V Martinez-Cortes. 2002. Karyotype of the endemic golden frog Atelopus zeteki (Dunn) from Panama. Caribbean Journal of Science 38(3-4): 268-270.

Ranvestel, AW, KR Lips, CM Pringle, MR Whiles, and RJ Bixby. 2004. Neotropical tadpoles influence stream benthos: evidence for the ecological consequences of decline in amphibian populations. Freshwater Biology 49(3): 274-285.

Richards-Zawacki, CL. 2010. Thermoregulatory behaviour affects prevalence of chytrid fungal infection in a wild population of Panamanian golden frogs. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B Biological Sciences 277(1681): 519-528.

Richards, CL and LL Knowles. 2007. Tests of phenotypic and genetic concordance and their application to the conservation of Panamanian golden frogs (Anura, Bufonidae). Molecular Ecology 16(15): 3119-3133.

Richards, CL, NE Karraker, EJ Griffith, and RG Robbins. 2006. Atelopus varius (Variable harlequin frog) and Atelopus zeteki (Panamanian golden frog). Ectoparasites. Atelopus varius (Rana payaso variable) y Atelopus zeteki (Rana dorada panameña). Ectoparásitos. Herpetological Review 37(3): 332-333.

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Shindelman, J, HS Mosher, and FA Fuhrman. 1969. Atelopidtoxin from the Panamanian frog, Atelopus zeteki. Toxicon 7(4): 315-319.

Verburg, P, SS Kilham, CM Pringle, KR Lips and DL Drake. 2007. A stable isotope study of a neotropical stream food web prior to the extirpation of its large amphibian community. Journal of Tropical Ecology 23(6): 643-651.

Whiles, MR, KR Lips, CM Pringle, SS Kilham, RJ Bixby, R Brenes, S Connelly, JC Colon-Gaud, M Hunte-Brown, AD Huryn, C Montgomery, and S Peterson. 2006. The effects of amphibian population declines on the structure and function of Neotropical stream ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4(1): 27-34.

Yotsu-Tamashita, M. 2006. Spectroscopic Study of the Structure of Zetekitoxin AB. Topics in Heterocyclic chemistry 5: 53-63.

Yotsu-Yamashita, M, YH Kim, SC Dudley, Jr., G Choudhary, A Pfahnl, Y Oshima, and JW Daly. 2004. The structure of zetekitoxin AB, a saxitoxin analog from the Panamanian golden frog Atelopus zeteki: a potent sodium-channel blocker. PNAS 101(13): 4346-4351.

Zippel, K. 2002. Conserving the Panamanian golden frog: Proyecto Rana Dorada. Herpetological Review 33: 11-12.

Additional resources