Hop to See Poisonous Golden Frog of Panama

The Golden Frog, symbol of Panama, is nearly extinct, making it that much more compelling for some to see. A current effort to revitalize the frog is being led by a Smithsonian research team based in the lovely mountain resort town of El Valle de Anton (El Valle for short) near to where the frog last had its natural habitat. The cumulative efforts to revive the frog are known as Project Golden Frog. In addition to Panama efforts, a major participant in the revitalization project is the San Diego zoo.

Tourists are able to spot the Golden Frogs (technically toads) inside a musty exhibition building that is part of the excellent Nispero Zoo in El Valle. The zoo started as a place to revitalize injured animals, so revitalization efforts for the Golden Frog are appropriately here. Even though there are Golden Frogs in the exhibit they are tiny and like to hide in leaves, so visitors may still not be able to find them. The exhibit center houses other frog species as well as the Golden Frog which you will be able to see.

The Golden Frog is no bigger than twice the size of a fingernail and it blends in with the exhibit’s natural habitat, full of yellow and green jungle plants in low lighting to imitate the dim light of the jungle.

Next to the exhibit space a greenhouse-like building contains the Smithsonian research team, working diligently to prevent the Golden Frog from becoming extinct. It’s a remarkable effort really when you consider that the frog that has no immediate need to exist. It is not another creature’s food and is not a necessary predator to harmful insects—the world would be fine without it. It serves no evolutionary purpose. Still seeing the effort is fascinating simply because it is a difficult task with a species’ survival at stake. The main obstacle to revitalization is a frog disease.

The Golden Frog has some unique characteristics, including an ability to wave at predators. Its wave attracts attention to its color which it uses to scare off predators, but if one manages to get hold of the frog, it is toxic to most creatures. Experiments with rats indicate it may be toxic to humans, too. So keep your distance.

The Golden Frog began vanishing in the 1990s and was filmed in the wild for the last time by a BBC team in 2006. The filming location has been kept secret to protect the frog from poachers.

Although research populations have thrived, efforts to reintroduce the frog into the wilderness have been unsuccessful because of disease.

In Panama, the Golden Frog appears on lottery tickets and in local mythology. It is said that when a frog dies, it brings gold and good luck to those who see it. In the distant past, native indigenous people used toxins from the frog on their arrows for poison.

In 2010, the Panamanian government passed legislation recognizing August 14 as Golden Frog Day, marked by an annual parade in El Valle. If you’re around for the parade, you’re in luck. Parades in Panama are over-the-top colorful and fun.

While in El Valle enjoy all the other activities this wonderful town has to offer: zip lining, natural hot thermal springs with mud baths, beautiful mansions, a butterfly exhibit, ancient petroglyphs, and an abundance of beautiful foliage. Its famous artisan and farmers’ market (pictured above) is worth a visit by itself. The climate is always cool, given its altitude, but you’re within just an hour from the popular beaches of the Dry Arch on the Pacific Ocean, home to many all-inclusive resorts, and about 90 minutes from Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport.