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The Unique, Endangered Panamanian Golden Frog or Harlequin Toad – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article to learn about the natural history of the Panamanian Golden Frog , Atelopus zeteki, including it’s unique mode of communication.

Status of Wild Populations

Panamanian Golden Frog numbers are plummeting, most likely due to an epidemic of the largely incurable fungal infection
 Panamanian Golden Frog
Chitridiomycosis. The fungus responsible, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, has been implicated in the declines and extinctions of numerous amphibian species worldwide. This frog is also threatened by deforestation, stream siltation, pollution and collection for use as a promotional tool in Panama’s restaurant, hotel and tourism industries (this practice is illegal, but enforcement is often lax).

It is estimated that Golden Frog populations have declined by 80% in both numbers and extent of occurrence over a 10 year period. At least 2 distinct populations are extinct, with 1 such extinction occurring within the span of several months. Golden Frogs are designated as “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN and listed on Appendix I of CITES. They are legally protected by Panama and the subject of a cooperative rescue program, administered by the USA and the Republic of Panama, known as “Project Golden Frog”. Fortunately, the Golden Frog breeds well in captivity.

Unique Skin Toxins

This frog’s skin contains extremely virulent nerve toxins that differ from those produced by other amphibians. Known as “zetekitoxins”, the poison contained in the skin of a single 2-inch-long frog is sufficient to kill 1,200 mice! It is believed that these toxins are produced in association with symbiotic bacteria, but this has not yet been definitively documented.

Cultural Significance

The Panamanian Golden Frog is the national animal of the Republic of Panama, and has traditionally been associated with matters relating to good fortune. Pre-Columbian indigenous people molded its likeness in gold and clay talismans known as “huaces”.

Further Reading

You can learn more about Project Golden Frog by clicking here.


The Western Hognose Snake – a Toad Specialist That Can do without Toads

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. It’s hard for snake enthusiasts not to be taken in by the Eastern hognose snake, Heterodon platyrhinos. It puts on an incredible defensive display, it’s stout, viper-like body is variably patterned in many hues and its natural history is quite unique. However, a preferred diet of toads precludes it from becoming well-established in captivity. The Western hognose snake (H. nasicus), however, shares many of its eastern cousin’s outstanding qualities, yet has a wide appetite that is easily satisfied in captivity.

Physical Characteristics

Stoutly built with strongly keeled scales and an upturned snout; tan, brownish-yellow or grayish-yellow in color, with dark blotches; reaches 16-36 inches in length.


Central and western North America, from southern Canada through Arizona and Illinois to northern Mexico (San Luis Potosi).


Prairies, farms, sparsely wooded fields and semi-deserts, usually in areas of sandy soil suitable for burrowing. Western hog nose snakes spend much time below ground.


Mating occurs from March to May, with 9-25 eggs being laid in June –August. The young, 6-7 inches in length, hatch after an incubation period of 45-54 days.


In the wild, Western hog nose snakes take young ground nesting birds, mice, shrews, toads, lizards, snakes and reptile eggs. In one study, they were found to be a major predator on Pacific pond turtle nests.

Those I’ve kept have done very well on small mice and quail eggs.

Other Interesting Facts

This snake’s upturned snout (modified rostral scale) assists in digging for fossorial prey such as toads and the buried eggs of turtles and lizards. Specially modified teeth allow the hognose snake to puncture toads and defeat their defense mechanism of inflating themselves with air.

The western hognose puts on a less elaborate display when threatened than does its eastern relative. It will, however, spread the head in hood-like fashion and strike, and will sometimes play dead when this bluff fails. Animals feigning death roll onto their backs with the tongue lolling out, and will flip onto their backs if righted during the process!

Eastern Hog Nose Snake Conservation

I have been involved in a re-introduction program for the eastern hognose snake at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in NYC. In this area, it inhabits open beaches and sand dunes…please see the accompanying photo. I’ll write about this interesting program in the future.

Read more about Western hog nose snake care and natural history.

Please write in with your questions and comments.

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

Western Hognose Snake image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Dawson

Top 5 Turtle and Tortoise Care, Natural History and Conservation Websites

Turtles and tortoises are the most popular of all reptilian pets – even “non-herpers” like them – and this is reflected by the many websites devoted to Chelonian-related matters. Following are some that I have found to be especially valuable. This list is by no means exhaustive…I’ll cover others in future articles.

The New York Turtle and Tortoise Society

I’ve worked with the dedicated folks at NYTTS for many years, and they have been kind enough to feature my articles on their Florida Softshell Turtlewebsite. More important (infinitely more!) than my connection to NYTTS is their long standing relationship with legendary turtle biologist Peter Pritchard, who often speaks at the group’s day-long annual seminars. Rhom Whittaker, Mike Klemens, Roger Wood, Indraneil Das and numerous other notables have also participated in NYTTS sponsored programs.

NYTTS provides quality husbandry information and also gets involved in the hands-on work upon which the survival of so many turtle species depends. They have long provided support to Southeast Asian students studying turtle biology here in the USA and to the fine work of the Wetlands Institute and have helped in large scale rescues of confiscated turtles.

NYTTS conservation and trade issues expert Alan Salzberg publishes Herp Digest, a wonderful resource and the only free electronic herp conservation and natural history newsletter.

Tortoise Trust

Tortoise Trust is one of the reptile-world’s most highly-respected sources of information on turtle and tortoise husbandry, Geochelone pardalisconservation and natural history. Noted author and herpetologist Andy Highfield directs the organization, which is utilized by professionals and hobbyists alike.

Tortoise Trust is unique among turtle interest groups in the range of activities it sponsors – courses, field trips, political action, research efforts – and in the numerous top notch publications it has generated (in addition to online material).

Turtles of the World

It’s difficult to believe that a resource of this caliber is available without charge on the inter net. An updated version of Ernst and Barbour’s classic book Turtles of the World, this publication provides detailed accounts and photos of the 288 species of turtle and tortoise described at the time of publication. A “must read” for serious turtle enthusiasts.

Turtle Homes

Operated by volunteers throughout the USA, the UK and Canada, and with connections to similar organizations in Asia and elsewhere, Turtle Homes members seek to place un-releasable turtles and tortoises with people or organizations that can properly tend to their husbandry and veterinary needs. They also post accurate care sheets, answer questions and direct site visitors to appropriate sources of information.

The California Turtle and Tortoise Club

The husbandry articles drawn from CTTC’s magazine, Tortuga Gazette, and posted on the group’s website, offer Chelonian enthusiasts some of the best information available on the inter net. The printed version of the Tortuga Gazette, published since 1965, is a well-written, invaluable resource to hobbyists and herpetologists alike.

The group is also actively involved in conservation efforts and supportive of turtle-friendly legislation, and offers site users a Black-knobbed Sawback hatchlingsnumber of ways to participate in such. In addition to dozens of informative articles, one may also find photographs and even recordings of tortoise vocalizations on this most useful web site.


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