Emmett R. Dunn, an early 20th century herpetologist, described the animals found in the mid-montane rainforests of El Valle de Anton in the Coclé Province of Panama as a subspecies of Atelopus varius (Holotype: MCZ 16018, Harvard University, Massachusetts). In 1940, Dunn reported the same animals to be found near Cerro Campana, in the Panama province, a range extension of 40 miles. Jay Savage, in 1972, performed extensive systematic work on the Atelopus of Costa Rica and western Panama in which maintaining the golden frog as a sub-species within the A. varius-complex was suggested. A group of biochemists later isolated unique neurosensitive tetrodotoxins in the golden frog: zetekitoxin AB and zetekitoxin C (Brown, et al, 1977). The presence of these unique tetrodotoxins has been used as evidence for distinguishing one species from another and, in part, has resulted in the elevation of Atelopus zeteki to full species status.
An account on Central American Atelopus that included A. zeteki was completed by Miller, who made some observations and notes on spatial interspersal patterns and provided a non-technical census in a remote population of golden frogs (1987).
In addition to vocalizing, golden frogs communicate through the use of semaphores, a hand-waving phenomonon. Erik Lindquist (1995) compared bioacoustics of two known call types given by A. zeteki using audiospectrograms and waveforms, and along with Thomas Hetherington, offered insight that A. zeteki might be a different species from the similar A. varius-complex due to differences in call-frequency, temporal structure, and the unique semaphoring behavior (1996; 1998).
Since its inception, Project Golden Frog/Proyecto Rana Dorada (PGF/PRD) has continued to be committed to filling in the gaps in our knowledge of the natural history of this and similar species. Field studies performed by PGF/PRD personnel prior to any collection of wild specimens allowed for the best possible management of the species in captivity, which resulted in the Panamanian Golden Frog, Atelopus zeteki, Husbandry Manual (Poole, 2006). Population genetic assessments allowed PGF/PRD to help identify and divide all A. zeteki into Evolutionarily Siginificant Units (ESU) (Zippel, et al, 2007), which was further distinguished between A. zeteki and visibly-similar "golden frogs" of A. varius by Richards and Knowles (2007). Research into the dispersal of male and juvenile frogs at night took place using glow-in-the-dark powder, discovering that male golden frogs climb higher and move farther than juvenile frogs (Lindquist, et al, 2007).
Many of the current projects supported by PGF/PRD seek to answer questions about the impacts of the amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; B.d.) on Atelopusand species worldwide, as well as focusing on species preservation by advancing technologies such as artificial reproduction (ART), gamete cryopreservation, and cell banking.
And finally, if golden frogs are truly extinct in the wild as predicted, it will require an array of projects to hopefully return golden frogs to the wilds of Panama in the future. Habitat preservation must be of the highest priority. Field surveys for the species must be performed to validate the species wild status, and a captive breeding colony in Panama is established as a disease-free pre-release site (PGF/PRD POD - LINK to EVACC page). And finally, ongoing refinements to animal husbandry, health, and reproductive methods for the captive population allow us to provide the highest level of animal care to the golden treasures entrusted to PGF/PRD.