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Varius views

Everyone is entitled to their own views, particularly if based on fact. Here are some Atelopus varius facts, as we currently know them.


Atelopus varius, Panama (c) Andrew Gray

Atelopus zeteki, Panama (c) Andrew Gray, Courtesy of The Vancouver Aquarium.


  • Atelopus varius and Atelopus zeteki have been confused for a long time, with Atelopus zeteki being previously considered to be a sub-species (Atelopus varius zeteki). Taxonomy of these is a tricky area. However, this was clarified by Kim, Brown and Mosher as far back as 1975, when the presence of distinct toxins in A. zeteki helped to differentiate it from the closely related but distinctly different A. varius. The two different species have been confirmed in subsequent publications by Savage (2002) and Richard and Knowles (2007), to name a couple of key references.

Kim, Y.H., Brown, G.B. and Mosher, F.A., 1975. Tetrodotoxin: Occurrence in atelopid frogs of Costa Rica. Science, 189(4197), pp.151-152.

Richards, C.L. and Knowles, L.L., 2007. Tests of phenotypic and genetic concordance and their application to the conservation of Panamanian golden frogs (Anura, Bufonidae). Molecular Ecology, 16 (15), pp.3119-3133.

Savage, J.M., 2002. The amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica: a herpetofauna between two continents, between two seas. University of Chicago press.



North American and Canadian collections have been working with A. zeteki since the early 2000’s and many institutions have successfully maintained and reproduced this critically endangered amphibian, which is a fantastic achievement that we are all very much aware of. These frogs have been successfully and professionally managed under the project ‘Golden Frog Project‘. We are also now aware that some of the animals exported to the USA from the El Cope region of Panama represented distinct evolutionary significant units that were certainly within the  genetic range of Atelopus varius. Some of the highly commendable work and captive breeding done with these frogs in US zoos, particularly by Detroit Zoo, deserves special mention.


  • Regarding work with A. varius already being done in Panama, this is well documented. Two noteworthy institutions include the Gamboa Amphibian Rescue Centre and El Valle Amphibian Conservation Centre, both of which are working with A. varius (amongst other species) and both conducting excellent work in captive breeding.


  • Manchester Museum do not claim to be the first in the world to reproduce A. varius from Santa Fe in captivity, just the first outside of Panama. It is important to highlight that the population Manchester Museum are working with is exclusively from Santa Fe National Park and that it represents a unique population. This population is facing several threats, including a road being built through the site and illegal deforestation and land clearances.


  • To our knowledge nobody else apart from Manchester Museum has been granted permission to collect and export A. varius from Santa Fe by the Panamanian Government. These populations were discovered 13 years ago (2008) by two Panamanian biologists and Dr Eric Flores.  Dr. Eric Flores is a Panamanian that as devoted his life to the study and conservation of endangered frogs in Santa Fe, Veraguas, Panama.  Specimens from this specific population were first introduced to EVACC by Dr. Flores, now a key collaborator with Manchester Museum and PWCC.


  • Manchester Museum are developing an important A. varius conservation project in collaboration with  the University of Panama and the NGO Panama Wildlife Conservation.  Together, they are directly supporting conservation and research activities inside Santa Fe National park. They are working directly with communities, monitoring local populations, developing Harlequin Frogs festivals, and environmental education workshops in Santa Fe, Panama.


  • Several important initiatives are trying to protect this species. The PWCC and Manchester Museum Atelopus varius Conservation Project believes in collaboration and supporting the work others, and although happy not to participate in the US led Atelopus varius initiatives we recognise that EVACC and the Smithsonian are conducting commendable work with this species in Panama, as are some collections involved in Project Golden Frog in the US.



We welcome your Varius views – comments are enabled

2 Responses

  1. As the lead author of the Richards & Knowles 2007 paper that you cite as evidence that “the only species (between A. varius and A. zeteki) being bred in North America is Atelopus zeteki” I would invite you to revisit that study (and our more recent one recently published in 2020 Global Change Biology which uses more recent genomic techniques but says the same thing) again. Some of the frogs that were bred in captivity in the US, starting in the early 2000s with work done at the Detroit Zoo, came from the El Cope Region of Panama (point “I” in the map figure in Richards & Knowles), which is well inside both the historic and genetic range of A. varius. I would agree that you are the first to breed Santa Fe A. varius outside of Panama, but not the species. Given that the El Cope and Santa Fe populations represent distinct “Evolutionary Significant Units”, I think it’s wonderful that both are being conserved. However, I think it is only fair to give credit to others who have, like you, worked hard to develop ex situ measures of conservation for this species, including the Detroit Zoo and other US institutions.

    • Hi Corinne, This is very interesting and good for us to know, thank you for writing and sharing this important information. This certainly helps in clarifying some of the confusion we have had about the recent press coverage. That some of the papers put out clear errors (and photos) that didn’t represent the information we actually put out didn’t help. We were totally unaware of what you have now told us and although we view all the conservation work people are doing with Atelopus as an international conservation effort for the frogs, we certainly do not want to put out any inaccurate information and always try to genuinely praise other people’s achievements in amphibian conservation at every opportunity. We had no idea about those “evolutionary significant units” so this is very good to be aware of. Thank you, this information is well-received and we much appreciate you sharing it with us.

      We will amend the information presented in light of your message and also ensure any press releases or further interviews reflect this. We did put out that it only the A. varius from Santa Fe we are working with so its good to support this population if its correct that no-one else is working with them outside of Panama, and the main reason we have them is to raise awareness and raise funds for our In-situ aspects. Again thank you for writing. Best wishes, Andrew and the Vivarium Team.

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