Date of Award

Spring 2004

Document Type



Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Erik Lindquist


Tucked away in the cloud forests of central Panama is one of the world's most unique creatures, Atelopus zeteki, the Panamanian Golden Frog. The mythology of the animal is grand and its characteristics strangely paradoxical. Much remains to be learned concerning its biology and ecology, but one thing is for certain, its future looks dim.

The unique nature of this animal and the imminent threats regarding its well being has sparked recent interest in the study and conservation of the Golden Frog. Perhaps the most significant development in this area is the creation of Proyecto Rana Dorada/ Project Golden Frog. The project is a consortium of US and Panamanian institutions "whose single simple goal is to ensure the survival of one of the most well known, culturally significant, and charismatic amphibians in the world" (Project Golden Frog 2003). Created in 1997 the project has made considerable progress in the way of education, financial support, captive breeding, research, and conservation. The research presented in this paper grows out of the foundational work of the Project Golden Frog and is intended to contribute to the knowledge base of this beautiful creature and assist in the effort to preserve its future.

In light of the significant contributions of taxonomy to species conservation, a morphological database was compiled in an attempt to more strictly define the taxonomic boundaries of what is now called Atelopus zeteki. External morphological characters of numerous frogs, both living and preserved and representing a variety of extant and extirpated populations, were measured and the subsequent data analyzed. Phylogenetic work, using mtDNA, suggested that A.zeteki might contain two distinct species, while observational analysis suggested there may be as many as four. The results presented here are incomplete but represent an important and noteworthy database for further study.


Written to fulfill Library Research Grant, Friends of Murray Library, Messiah College, 2004.