OurAmazingPlanet
updated 11/18/2010 6:21:43 PM ET 2010-11-18T23:21:43

Frog populations around the world have been falling victim to a deadly infection, but there may be a ray of hope for their future: For the first time Panama's La Loma tree frog has been bred in captivity.

The critically endangered La Loma tree frog (Hyloscirtus colymba) is notoriously difficult to care for in captivity, but scientists with the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project have successfully bred the species in their facility.

The rescue project has 28 adult La Loma tree frogs and the four tadpoles that have resulted from the program at the Summit Municipal Park outside of Panama City, Panama. Researchers have also successfully bred the endangered Limosa harlequin frog (Atelopus limosus).

"We are some of the first researchers to attempt to breed these animals [in] captivity, and we have very little information about how to care for them," said Brian Gratwicke, a research biologist at the Smithsonian National Zoo. "We were warned that we might not be able to keep these frogs alive, but through a little bit of guesswork, attention to detail and collaboration with other husbandry experts, we've managed to breed them."

Currently, almost one-third of the world's amphibian species are at risk of extinction. The amphibian rescue project aims to save more than 20 species of frogs in Panama, which is one of the world's last strongholds for amphibian biodiversity.

The project's efforts and expertise are focused on establishing captive populations that maintain enough of each species to repopulate in the wild if the need arises and developing ways to reduce the impact of the amphibian chytrid fungus so that one day captive amphibians may be reintroduced to the wild.

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While the global amphibian crisis is partly the result of habitat loss, climate change and pollution, the fungus called chytridiomycosis is likely also responsible for the disappearances of 94 of the 120 frog species thought to have gone extinct since 1980.

"Although the outlook for amphibians is grim, the rescue project's recent developments give us hope for these unique Panamanian species," said Roberto Ibáñez of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "We are creating what amounts to an ark for these animals so that their species may survive this deadly disease. We're also looking for a cure so that someday we can safely release the frogs back into the wild."

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Of Panama's six harlequin frog species, five are in collections at the Summit Zoological Park and the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in El Valle, Panama. One of these species, the Chiriqui harlequin frog (A. chiriquiensis) from western Panama, is likely extinct. The other species range from being endangered to being extinct in the wild.

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Photos: Top 10 ‘lost’ amphibians

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  1. Gold prize in the toad hunt

    Conservation International and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group are putting out an all points bulletin for the world's "lost" amphibians - including this golden toad, last seen in Costa Rica in 1989. The golden toad (Incilius periglenes), which is No. 1 on the amphibian-hunters' "Ten Most Wanted List," is arguably the most famous of the lost species. It went from abundant to seemingly extinct in a little over a year in the late 1980s. (Enrique La Marca) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Tiny target

    No. 2 on the top-ten list of lost amphibians is actually a double entry, featuring the only two members of the genus Rheobatrachus. This is R. vitellinus, which was discovered in 1984 in Australia's Clarke Range. It has not been seen since 1985 and is considered extinct. (Mike Tyler) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Bizarre births

    The other frog at the No. 2 spot on the lost-amphibian list is Rheobatrachus silus. Rheobatrachus frogs, also known as gastric brooding frogs, had an unusual mode of reproduction: The female would swallow her eggs and raise tadpoles in her stomach. Then she would give birth to the froglets through her mouth. Unfortunately, these frogs - like their cousins, R. vitellinus - have not been seen since 1985 and are thought to be extinct. (John Wombey) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Long-gone toad?

    The Mesopotamia beaked toad (Rhinella rostrata) is No. 3 on the top-ten list of lost amphibians. It was discovered near the Colombian village of Mesopotamia, but has not been seen since 1914. The toad was noted for its distinctive pyramid-shaped head. (Paula Andrea Romero Ardila) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Desperately seeking salamander

    Jackson's climbing salamander (Bolitoglossa jacksoni), which is No. 4 on the lost-amphibian list, was last seen in 1975. This stunning black-and-yellow creature was one of only two known specimens, and is believed to have been stolen from a California laboratory in the mid-1970s. (Dave Wake) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'Painted' but never photographed

    The African painted frog (Callixalus pictus), No. 5 on the top-ten list of lost amphibians, was last seen in 1950 in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Very little is known about this species, which has apparently never been photographed. (Reproduced in Evolution Vol 18) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Doomed by disease?

    The Rio Pescado stubfoot toad (Atelopus balios), No. 6 on the top-ten list, was last seen in Ecuador in 1995. The species may have been wiped out by chytridiomycosis, a devastating disease caused by a fungus. Some experts say chytridiomycosis may rank among the worst diseases in recorded history in terms of its effect on biodiversity. (Luis Coloma) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Exotic ... and extinct?

    The Turkestanian salamander (Hynobius turkestanicus), No. 7 on the top-ten list, was last seen in 1909. Only two specimens were ever collected, somewhere "between Pamir and Samarkand" in present-day Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. (Amphibians of the Former Soviet Union) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Vanished in Venezuela

    No. 8 on the top-ten list is the scarlet harlequin toad (Atelopus sorianoi), which was spotted in a single stream in an isolated cloud forest in Venezuela. The species, also known as the cloud forest stubfoot toad, has not been seen since 1990. (Enrique La Marca) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Species drained dry?

    The Hula painted frog (Discoglossus nigriventer), No. 9 on the top-ten list, is known only from a single adult specimen that was collected in Israel in 1955. Efforts to drain marshlands in Syria to eradicate malaria may have been responsible for the species' disappearance. (Heinrich Mendelssohn) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Lost due to logging?

    The Sambas stream toad (Ansonia latidisca), the final entry on the top-ten list of lost amphibians, was last seen on the island of Borneo in the 1950s. Increased sedimentation in streams after logging may have contributed to the species' decline. (Reproduced in Inger) Back to slideshow navigation
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