Golden tree frog (Phytotriades auratus)

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Adult golden tree frog showing distinctive markings
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Golden tree frog fact file

Golden tree frog description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAmphibia
OrderAnura
FamilyHylidae
GenusPhytotriades (1)

The golden tree frog (Phytotriades auratus) is a Critically Endangered amphibian that is found only on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean (1). This remarkable frog resides within large, deep bromeliads; a behaviour alluded to by its flattened body shape and compressed head (2). In common with other tree frogs, the mouth is large and wide, and flexible limbs lead to long digits with enlarged, adhesive disc-shaped pads that allow the golden tree frog to cling to vegetation and climb with agility (3) (4) (5). This small to medium-sized species has a brown upperside with two iridescent golden stripes passing down the length of the body. The limbs are a transparent cream colour, and the eyes have golden irises (2)

The taxonomic relationship of the golden tree frog to other tree frogs is unclear. It was previously placed in the genus Phyllodytes, which contains a number of Brazilian species. However, recent genetic and behavioural evidence suggests that the golden tree frog is quite distinct from these frogs and should be placed it its own genus with the name Phytotriades (2).

Also known as
El Tucuche golden frog, Trinidad heart-tongued frog.
Synonyms
Phyllodytes auratus.
Size
Maximum length: 4 cm (2)
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Golden tree frog biology

Very little is known of the ecology of the golden tree frog. It has only ever been seen in the pools of rainwater that gather inside of the bromeliad Glomeropitcairnia erectiflora. The female is thought to lay the clutch of eggs, which are surrounded by an adhesive jelly, onto the leaves of the bromeliads. The five or six resulting tadpoles, which likely feed on the organic matter in the pool of water in which they live, will subsequently go through varying stages of metamorphosis to become adult frogs (2) (4)

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Golden tree frog range

The golden tree frog is endemic to the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where it is found only on the summits of El Tucuche and Cerro del Aripo (1) (2)

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Golden tree frog habitat

The golden tree frog inhabits montane rainforest and elfin woodland, where it requires the presence of the bromeliad Glomeropitcairnia erectiflora to survive (1) (2).

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Golden tree frog status

The golden tree frog is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered

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Golden tree frog threats

As there are just two known populations of the Critically Endangered golden tree frog in the world, it is extremely vulnerable to the degradation of what little habitat remains. This little-known frog is further threatened by the over-collecting of specimens and of bromeliads (1). In addition, declines in the population at Cerro del Aripo may be attributed to the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium, a disease causing fungi that is inflicting dramatic declines upon amphibian populations worldwide (2)

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Golden tree frog conservation

As this rare frog has an extremely limited range, there is a pressing need to protect the golden tree frog’s habitat. The importance of this is increased by the species’ specialisation upon a single bromeliad species (1). El Tucuche is managed as a game reserve, and access to the mountain requires government permission; however, policing this legislation has proved challenging (2). Consequently, in the absence of specific conservation measures, the extent and quality of its habitat is continuing to dwindle (1) (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the golden tree frog, see:

  • Jowers, M.J., Downie, J.R. and Cohen, B.L. (2008) The golden tree frog of Trinidad, Phyllodytes auratus (Anura: Hylidae): systematic and conservation status. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment, 43: 181-188.
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Authentication

Authenticated (07/07/2010) by Michael Jowers, CSIC (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas), Departamento de Etologia y Conservacion de la Biodiversidad, Estacion Biologica de Doñana, Sevilla.

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Glossary

Amphibian
A cold-blooded vertebrate of the class Amphibia, such as a frog or salamander, which characteristically hatches as an aquatic larva with gills. The larva then transforms into an adult with air-breathing lungs.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Metamorphosis
An abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
Taxonomic
Relating to taxonomy, the science of classifying organisms, grouping together animals which share common features and are thought to have a common ancestor.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Jowers, M.J., Downie, J.R. and Cohen, B.L. (2008) The golden tree frog of Trinidad, Phyllodytes auratus (Anura: Hylidae): systematic and conservation status. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment, 43: 181-188.
  3. Burnie, D. (2001). Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  4. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. AmphibiaWeb (May, 2010)
    http://amphibiaweb.org/lists/Hylidae.shtml
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Image credit

Adult golden tree frog showing distinctive markings  
Adult golden tree frog showing distinctive markings

© Dr Daniel G Thornham

Dr Daniel G Thornham
d.g.thornham@hotmail.com

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