Why the golden toad is lost forever

Twenty years ago, this eye-catching amphibian was breeding efficiently and lived in abundance throughout its range; its sudden disappearance baffled experts


The golden toad disappeared not long after it was found. Herepetologist Jay Savage chanced upon the little neon orange amphibian in 1964, when it startled him with its bright skin and unique colouration. It was found to be an endemic species, living nowhere else in the world but the tropical cloud forests of the Reserva Biológica in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The males greatly outnumbered females, so competition for mating was fierce, and breeding seasons were frantic and violent. The golden amphibian was especially abundant in its range and thousands of individuals were recorded. In 1987 it was reported that they were breeding as expected; the golden toad was everywhere. Yet suddenly, out of nowhere, almost the entire population vanished. By 1988, after repeated visits to the frog’s forest habitat, only eight males and two females could be found. Thousands of frogs had seemingly disappeared at once, and scientists were puzzled as to what had caused this to happen. The sudden demise of the golden toad was an awakening and scientists all over the world began to research declining amphibian species, spawning a new branch of research.

The golden toad population crash has subsequently been attributed to a deadly fungus called the chytrid fungus, arguably the biggest threat known to the world’s frog species. The virus causes chytidiomycosis, an infectious disease capable of wiping out huge populations, spreading rapidly between frogs and causing devastation. In some species the disease has a 100 per cent mortality rate. There is no known cure, and scientists are still unsure how it is transmitted. Alongside the fungus it’s thought that the frog’s limited habitat, global warming, and air pollution also contributed to its catastrophic decline.

These brightly coloured toads had dry, warty skin


Last seen…

Date: 15 May 1989

Location: Monteverde, Costa Rica

The golden toad was formerly a common species and although they were severely restricted in range, no conservation plans were put in place due to the success of the species. The last known sighting of the golden toad was almost twenty years ago in 1989, when only one male was spotted. Experts carried out extensive searches hoping to find additional frogs, but to no avail. Thorough searches of the known habitat have so far failed to locate the species, but even today, there are still people who search in the hope of finding the golden toad.


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Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje