Dendrobates auratus

Girard, 1855

Dendrobates auratus caribe

Account by Thomas Ostrowski

This Central American species occurs from southeastern Nicaragua to northwestern Colombia. Though mostly distributed in humid lowlands and premontane rainforests from 0-800 m elevation, some montane morphs can be found up to 1200 m elevation. Type locality is the Pacific island of Taboga in the Bay of Panamá. In 1932, that morph was introduced to the Hawaiian Island of O’ahu.

Natural History
These frogs are mostly terrestrial, though some individuals were observed 50 m up in trees while transporting tadpoles to tree holes. Adult frogs are diurnal and active during the whole day. In the drier habitats of the Pacific versant, many morphs are inactive during the dry season and dwell the leaf litter only after rain showers. Both sexes tend to be territorial. Females try to monopolize strong males and are very aggressive towards female counterparts. Depositing of eggs and the larval development occurs in the leaf litter. Brood care is done in general by the male. Hatching tadpoles are transported separately by the male to small seasonal pools in tree holes, big leaves, or in small depressions of river rocks. Tadpoles feed mainly on arthropod larvae and tend towards cannibalism if other food is lacking.

Conservation Status
Thought assessed as “Least Concern” by IUCN, there are several Pacific morphs of D. auratus that are a conservation concern due to their small and fragmented ranges, nestled within the cleared agricultural landscape. Otherwise, the conservation status of the blue morph, which is believed to be threatened with extinction, is overvalued concerning the lack of detection. There is more than one location at the pacific versant of Panama where several blue morphs occur. In general, D. auratus is a synanthropic species that populates even secondary vegetations, parks, gardens, plantations, and even garbage dumps. Extensive captive breeding diminishes the demand for smuggled individuals.

Member of the tinctorius group. Crossbreeding with D. tinctorius and D. leucomelas results in infertile offspring.

Type Locality Map View Larger

Dendrobates auratus caribe
Alto de Piedra Morph

This highland morph is one of the biggest known. Adults reach a SVL of 38 to 42 mm. This morph can be found on the caribbean an pacific slopes of the continental divide near Santa Fé in the Province of Veraguas in Panama at altitudes of 700 to 1000 m. Temperature is quite moderate by 20° to 26° C by day and sometimes only 12° to 15° C by night. The frogs live in primary forest along streams. They often prefer to live in the leave litter near big tree trunks. The pattern consists of very metallic shiny green or bluish green bands or blotches on a black underground. The venter looks more bluish. It’s probably one of the most threatened populations. According to local people this frog could be found once in high densities but now it’s very rare. On our last visit in 2009 we were able to found only one adult male and one juvenile that looked diseased. It seems that a lot of frog populations in this premontane to montane area have decreased because of a Chytrid infection. The once very common Atelopus varius seems to be already gone from this area. For that reason this population of D. auratus is maybe in danger of extinction and should be in a special conservation concern. This morph seems not to be in captivity in Europe.

Taboga Morph

Populations of this morph can be found on the two small Islands Taboga and Taboguilla in the Bay of Panama, in sight of Panama City. This is one of the smallest morphs, with an SVL of 28 to 30 mm. The frogs show a pattern of metallic yellow-green bands, lines, spots, blotches, or reticulated ornaments on a bronze-brown background. Juveniles and young adults show a black base colour that lightens up with age. The Island of Taboga is the type locality of the species, therefore this is considered the ‘Nominal’ or ‘Nominat’ morph. 203 specimens of this morph were introduced in 1932 to Hawaii as a biological weapon against introduced mosquitos. The frogs became naturalized and propagated now to a stable population on the island of O’ahu.

Caldera Morph

This is a bigger blue morph with an SVL of 33 to 38 mm and can be found near Caldera in the Province of Chiriqui in Panama at altitudes of 300 to 500 m. These frogs inhabit humid forest patches in a very dry region along small streams as well as on shores of bigger rivers. Most individuals show a pattern of sky-blue or turquoise, but also light-green frogs seem rarely to occur. This morph is also being reported at localities nearby David.

Santa Maria Morph

This polymorphic population is found near Santa Fé in the province of Veraguas, Panama. The frogs have an SVL of 32 – 36 mm. The pattern consists of green, turquoise, or blue bands or blotches on a black background. In the mostly cleared, dry area of the Pacific site of Veraguas, the frogs depend on living in humid patches along rivers and streams of the Río Santa Maria drainage in altitudes of 50 to 500 m.

San Felix Morph

This is a medium-sized morph with an SVL of 30 to 32 mm and can be found along the Río San Felix in the Province of Chiriqui, Panama. This morph resembles frogs from the Canal Zone, but the ground colour is a light brown like milky coffee and not a dark brown or black. The pattern consists of green-yellow spots or rarely comma-like lines. This morph is found in a very dry area and during the dry season the frogs can be found in large numbers in humid pockets under rocks or roots beside the river banks.

Kuna Yala Morph

Another strange morph from the Caribbean lowlands in eastern Panama. This morph occurs at altitudes between 600 to 800 m at the Serrania de San Blas in the semi-autonomous territory of Kuna Yala. Medium sized morph with 32 to 35 mm SVL which shows an unusual pattern of white bands, reticulation, or even spots on a dark brown underground. Juveniles metamorphose with a uniform dark brown colour without pattern. The pattern lightens up during maturity and reach the clear cream-white tone only after several years. During their first years of life, the offspring of this morph could easily be mixed up with the very similar looking morph from Capira.

Caribe Morph

The morph with the largest distribution. It occurs along the Caribbean coastline from south-eastern Nicaragua to western Panama along the Province of Bocas del Toro. This morph is morphologically highly conserved throughout most of its range. Pattern consists of large blotches and bandings from yellow-green to turquoise-green on a black background. Green pattern takes up more than 50% of overall. It is one of the larger morphs, from 33 to 38 mm SVL. Females are slightly bigger whereas males show often broadened fingertips. This morph is often designated as ‘Nominal’ because of its ubiquity in terrariums, but actually the first described morph from Isla Taboga has to be correctly called ‘Nominal’.

Capira Morph

Along the Río Capira and adjacent streams at the foothills of the Altos de Campana National Park in Panama occurs a morph that resembles the Kuna Yala morph. But both populations are divided by more than 100 km distance. The Capira morph shows a cream or beige pattern with bands, blotches, or reticulated lines on reddish brown ground (white pattern on dark-brown ground on the Kuna Yala morph). This middle sized D. auratus has an SVL of 32 to 35 mm. This morph is also called ‘Campana’ or ‘Kaluah & Cream’. In contrast to the Kuna Yala morph, this morph is very shy and can be very inactive during the dry season. The frogs live mostly in woody areas along streams or between big volcanic rocks in small forest patches in mostly cleared areas at altitudes from 50 to 400 m. At higher altitudes in the National Park of Altos de Campana, a slightly smaller, different-colored morph with small blue-green lines on a dark-brown background is found. This morph extends along the Río Capira into the lowlands and interbreeds with the ‘Capira’ morph. In this interbreeding zone, frogs with mixed pattern are found. Captive frogs with origin of this area were often called ‘Camouflage’.

Canal Zone Morph

Another morph with a large range. The occurrence extends along both sites of the Panama Canal from the Pacific slope nearly to the Caribbean Sea. This morph is also morphological highly conserved although some slight variability occurs. On a black or dark brown background this morph shows usually small green or bluish green dots or seldomly lines. Very similar looking populations are known from different nearby localities like Santa Rita, Parque Nacional Soberania, Ancon Hill or Barro Colorado Island which were once divided by humans in the beginning of the last Century according to the creation of the Panama Canal.

Calobre Morph

Close to the Santa Maria morph a pure blue morph is found along smaller streams near the village of Calobre. Frogs of this population could be easily distinguished from other blue populations by smaller size of 30 to 33 mm SVL and the dark blue pattern of bands and blotches on a black background. This morph is the smallest blue morph and very common in terrarium keeping. This morph has been considered as in danger of extinction by Heselhaus. Actually, this morph lives in a dry and cleared area only in small patches along small streams, but the populations seems to be stable. Because of the shyness of this population and the hidden way of life, the number of individuals is probably underestimated. In our opinion this morph is vulnerable but not in danger of extinction.

Bronce Mroph

This Panamanian morph occurs at the Caribbean slopes of the Cordillera Central in the Province of Coclé. It’s a lowland morph with a vertical distribution from 500 to 700 m with current temperatures from 25 to 28° C. A medium sized morph with an SVL from 32 to 35 mm. One of the most beautiful morphs. Adult frogs show a variable pattern of metallic green, turquoise or blue bands, blotches, or spots (sometimes reticulated), surrounded by a dark brown border. Pattern is arranged on a light bronze or silvery-white underground with a metallic shimmer. In contrast, juveniles show a black base colour and the adult´s colour pattern lightens up after three years or more. Like many others, this is a highly variable polymorphic population where green, blue, and turquoise individuals occur sympatric in one location. Few individuals of this morph were legally imported from Panama to Germany for the first time in 1992 by Holger Birkhahn and Klaus Wassmann. Most frogs of this morph in Europe are descendants from this origin. Some of these frogs have been designated with different names like ‘Bronce blue’, ‘Bronce green’, ‘Microspots’, ‘Birkhahn Line’ or ‘Wassman Line’ or ‘Panama Special’. But all these frogs came from the same original breeding stock.

Pacifico Morph

Another widely distributed and morphologically highly conserved lowland morph from the Pacific side of the Isthmus. Frogs with this pattern occurs from the Province of Puntarenas in central Costa Rica to the Province of Chiriqui in southwestern Panama at altitudes from 5 to 600 m. The northern and southern borders of the distribution of this morph are marked by the distribution of dry-forest in northern Costa Rica and Central Panama. The most northern locality where we found D. auratus on the pacific versant is the semi-deciduous forest of Carara, Costa Rica. Frogs from populations of the Pacific morph are medium sized with an SVL of 30-32 mm. The pattern consists of metallic green or yellow-green bands and blotches on a black background. The green pattern mostly takes up less than 50% of overall. In contrast to the Caribe morph of D. auratus individuals of this morph are smaller and have less pattern with a more yellow-green coloration. Also, these frogs are shy and many populations are very inactive during the dry season from January to March.

Capurganá Morph

A beautiful, small morph from northern Colombia. Populations are known from the north-eastern Chocó along the border of Panama. This Caribbean morph reaches an SVL of 27 – 30 mm. The pattern consists of big yellow-green drop-like spots (seldom bands) on a black background. We found a population near the village of Capurganá. The frogs inhabited the hills around Capurganá which are covered with primary and secondary lowland rainforest. Many habitats are situated very closely to the Caribbean coastline (5 – 10 m). Population densities were very high and we could find more than 10 individuals in an area of 10 m². This morph is very bold and displays a very active way of life.