- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

The golden frog — known as the cultural symbol of Panama — is being saved from extinction in the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

“The Maryland Zoo was the first to breed Panamanian golden frogs in captivity and now has one-half of the North American population of the frogs,” said zoo spokesman Kerry Graves, adding that about 2,000 of the colorful amphibians hop and swim around at the zoo today.

“The only hope is for us to keep them going,” he said. “In a few years, we may actually go back to Panama to create a conservatory there.”

Global warming was recently blamed by a science journal for the killing of dozens of frog species in the past 30 years. Yet, it is only part of the reason for the disappearance of much of the already small population of the golden frog.

In its native home, the frog’s rain forest habitat is disappearing as trees are being cut down to clear land for farms and villages. The use of chemicals such as fertilizers are also deadly to golden frogs.

The colorful amphibians also have been illegally trapped and sold as pets. Adult frogs, which can grow up to several inches long, live about 10 years.

The golden frog is considered a good luck symbol. Jewelry has been created, with images of the tiny creatures, which are also known as harlequins because of their colorful skin.

Protecting the golden frog in zoos and aquariums might also save them from the Chytrid fungus, a disease that toughens the frogs’ skin, making it impermeable to water and oxygen. The disease can not be treated in the wild.

According to biologists at the St. Louis Zoo, golden frogs could become extinct in five years.

Golden frogs survive by eating small insects and other invertebrates. Females lay their eggs in water, where they hatch, usually within 24 hours. Adults have a poisonous chemical in their skin that protects them from predators.

Last year, the National Zoo in the District borrowed four males and four females from the Maryland Zoo. They laid a “clutch” of golden frog eggs, all of which hatched in just a few hours. Thirteen of the newborns were retained in a small private terrarium after their parents were returned to their home in Baltimore.

The Maryland Zoo, which is in Druid Hill Park in Baltimore, is one of the founding members of Project Golden Frog.

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