The Panamanian golden frog is a small, brightly colored and toad-like. The head is longer than it is broad with a pointed, protuberant snout. The body is slim with long limbs, and the upper surface is smooth with minute spicules. The sexes have similar coloration, which is usually uniform golden yellow with one to several large black dorsal spots. Normally, the abdomen is also yellow, but when carrying eggs, the female's ventral surface is a lighter color. The Panamanian golden frog is the most toxic species of Atelopus, with the skin of a single individual containing enough toxins to kill 1,200 mice. Its extremely bright coloration is adaptive to warning predators.
Adult males measure between 1.3 and 1.9 inches (35 to 48 millimeters) and weigh 0.1 to 0.4 ounces (3 to 12 grams); and females measure between 1.8 and 2.5 inches (45 and 63 millimeters) and weigh 0.1 to 0.5 ounces (4 to 15 grams). Wet forest males and females are larger than dry forest frogs.
This species inhabits streams along the slopes of the central rainforests and cloud forests of western-central Panama, from 1,100 to 4,300 feet (335 to 1,315 meters) above sea level. Panamanian golden frogs live in two types of habitats: wet forest streams and dry forest streams.
The Panamanian golden frog is predominantly an insectivore. Its diet consists mostly of insects and other small invertebrates. They use their eyes to find prey.
Adult Panamanian golden frogs at the Zoo receive a diet of bean beetles, fruit flies and crickets. In the early stages of development froglets are fed springtails.
Panamanian golden frogs reproduce mainly along streams and other sources of moving water. Males lack vocal sacs and attract females by visual displays that can include leg and head twitching, stamping the ground, and hopping in place. During mating, the female deposits 30 to 75 eggs in long strings in shallow water as the male fertilizes them.
Tadpoles have a flattened body and an abdominal sucker, which keeps them from being swept away in the current. Tadpoles are completely white for the first few days after hatching, developing their color after a few days.
Panama golden frogs are diurnal, or active during the day.
Little definitive information exists on the life span of the Panamanian golden frog but most estimates put life span between ten and 15 years.
The Panamanian golden frog's conservation status is Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There has been a drastic decline in population and they may be functionally extinct in the wild.
Threats include habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution from agrochemicals, over-collecting for the pet trade and most notably, the chytridiomycosis fungus.
Scientists at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute are working to save the Panamanian golden frog and other amphibians. The Panamanian Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is a multi-institutional breeding program aimed at maintaining a healthy and viable population of some of the world's most endangered frogs.