Golden arrow poison frog (Atelopus zeteki)

Also known as: Cerro Campana stubfoot toad, golden frog, Panamanian golden frog, Zetek’s frog, Zetek’s golden frog
Synonyms: Atelopus varius zeteki
Spanish: Rana Dorada
GenusAtelopus (1)
SizeMale snout-vent length: 3.5 - 4.8 cm (2)
Female snout-vent length: 4.5 - 6.3 cm (2)
Male weight: 3 - 12 g (2)
Female weight: 4 - 15 g (2)
Top facts

The golden arrow poison frog is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

The golden arrow poison frog (Atelopus zeteki) is a small, brightly coloured frog with distinctive black blotches on the upperside and sides of its body, as well as on its limbs (2) (4) (5). The colouration of this distinctive amphibian can vary between gold, pale yellow, bright yellow and green-yellow, and some individuals lack dark markings (2) (4). The head is long with a pointed, protruding snout, and the eyes have elliptical-shaped pupils (2).

The body of the golden arrow poison frog is slim and the skin on the upperside of the body has minute spikes on the surface. This species has elongated arms and legs and long, narrow fingers. The first and second fingers of the male are webbed (2).

Both sexes are similar in colouration (2), although they can be distinguished by size, as the male golden arrow poison frog is smaller than the female. The male also has noticeable dark brown areas on its first fingers during the breeding season, which are known as ‘nuptial pads’ and are used to grip the female during mating (2) (4) (5). The underside of the female’s body becomes paler when she is carrying eggs (2).

The size of the golden arrow poison frog can vary greatly between habitats, with individuals found in dry forests usually being smaller than those in wet forests (2) (4).

The larva of the golden arrow poison frog has an oval-shaped, somewhat flattened body and a rounded tail. The colouration of the larva is dark brown or black on the upperside with metallic gold specks and dark green markings. After the larva has metamorphosed into a young adult, it undergoes a colour change and obtains the characteristic bright colouration of the mature adult (2).

The golden arrow poison frog is endemic to Panama (1) (2) (5), where it occurs east of the Tabasará ridge in Provincias Coclé (1).

The golden arrow poison frog inhabits tropical montane forests in wet areas, where it is generally found around the banks of streams and waterfalls on large moss-covered boulders, as well as in dry areas where it is lives on the forest floor (1) (2) (4). It is able to climb trees and can be found up to three metres from the ground (4).

The golden arrow poison frog is found between elevations of 335 and 1,315 metres (1).

The diet of the golden arrow poison frog is mainly composed of a varied mixture of small invertebrates (2). To protect itself from predators this species secretes a poison from its skin which can affect nerve cell function if it is ingested (2) (5).

In the late rainy season and early dry season, between November and January, the female golden arrow poison frog moves to areas surrounding streams to reproduce (2). The male golden arrow poison frog is usually resident around the stream, establishing a territory and defending it from other males using a unique method of hand-waving and foot-raising known as ‘semaphoring’ (2) (4) (5). Wrestling is known to occur between territorial males (2).

After mating has occurred, the female deposits a single string of around 370 cream-coloured eggs into the water body. The eggs are looped, arranged into layers and attached to the substrate (2). After nine days the eggs hatch and the larvae begin to develop (6). An adhesive area on the underside of the body ensures that the larva remains attached to the substrate and prevents it from being swept away by the current (2) (5).

The biggest threat to the golden arrow poison frog is chytridiomycosis, an infectious fungal disease which has been responsible for the decline of many other Atelopus species (1) (2). The spread of this disease is thought to be escalated by increasing temperatures caused by global warming (7).

The amount of suitable habitat for the golden arrow poison frog has been greatly reduced due to deforestation and clearing for agriculture, resulting in a decrease in its population size. Local agriculture has also released pesticides and fertilisers into the water system, polluting the water this species uses for larval development. The attractive-looking golden arrow poison frog is also collected from the wild for the pet trade (1) (2). 

Find out more about the golden arrow poison frog and its conservation:

The golden arrow poison frog is protected by law in Panama and is found in many protected areas within its range (1). Captive breeding programmes in many zoos throughout the United States and at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Centre in Panama have been successful, although until certain threats have been addressed the captive-bred individuals cannot be safely returned to the wild (1) (2) (4).

The golden arrow poison frog is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), effectively banning its export from Panama and import into other countries (3). 

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2012)
  2. AmphibiaWeb - Atelopus zeteki (July, 2012)
  3. CITES (July, 2012)
  4. Project Golden Frog (July, 2012)
  5. Rafferty, J.P. (2011) Reptiles and Amphibians. Britannica Educational Publishing, New York.
  6. Grime, J.P. and Pierce, S. (2012) The Evolutionary Strategies That Shape Ecosystems. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.
  7. Gebelein, J. (2011) A Geographic Perspective of Cuban Landscapes. Springer, New York.