- Scientific name: Atelopus zeteki
- Habitat: The rainforests and cloud forests of Panama
- Lifespan: Estimated between 10 and 15 years
- Diet: Predominantly insectivorous but also eating other small invertebrates
- Conservation status: Likely extinct in the wild
- Cause of decline: Chytrid fungus Bd
- Fun fact: One single frog has enough toxins in its skin to kill 1200 mice!
Additional source: Smithsonian National Zoo,
Image Source: Maryland Zoo
Our chapter 1 cameo features this imperiled amphibian, the Panamanian Golden Frog. Kolbert introduces her book with these unlucky creatures for good reason: amphibians as a group are currently topping the charts for worldwide extinction rates. Why? A new species of Chytrid fungus has cropped up Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or Bd for short. Spreading at a terrifying rate and executing victims with swift lethality, oftentimes amphibian species are disappearing long before any scientist can find any specimens to rescue. Even sadder is that scientists also predict that there have been species that have gone extinct before humanity has even discovered them. Some species (with the Panamanian Golden Frog presumed to be one of them) are now extinct in the wild and exist only in the seclusion of centers such as the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC), where Kolbert sees species hanging on to existence by a thread. There is no better example of the extinction crisis we face than the predicament faced by the amphibian species of the world.
Kolbert chooses real world species, either extant or extinct, in order to illumine some of the many discoveries, both historical or modern, that indicate the world is experiencing an extinction event unlike it had experienced before. In this case, the discovery is the mankind is unwittingly altering the global ecosystem. Though there are a couple of differing hypotheses regarding Bd’s propagation, in each Bd’s rapid and global devastation of amphibian species can be traced back to receiving human assistance. International transport of amphibians via boat and plane has caused what Kolbert refers to as an “intercontinental reshuffling”, which is “probably unprecedented in the three-and-a-half-billion-year history of life” (19).
Read more about amphibians and Bd in this National Geographic article.