A frog that can fit comfortably on a dime has been bred in captivity for the first time, researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) announced.
The poison dart frog Andinobates geminisae -- the moniker refers to toxins they secrete that some indigenous peoples have used to tip their blow darts -- only grows to 14 millimeters long and was first described last year after its discovery in Donoso, Panama. A pair of adult frogs collected at the time were used by SCBI and STRI scientists to initiate the successful breeding attempt.
In a small tank, the scientists created the best possible breeding conditions for the frogs. After an egg was laid and placed on a bromeliad leaf, the researchers collected it and placed it in a petri dish. Fourteen days later, a tadpole hatched.
Once hatched, the tadpole was moved from the petri dish into a cup of water meant to stand in for the kind of small pool of water that might be found in nature. (Though they're not yet certain of it, the Smithsonian scientists say it's likely that in the wild one of the parents will transport the tadpole on its back into a pool of water inside a tree or on a bromeliad leaf.)
The tadpole dined on fish food while in the cup, and in 75 days it metamorphosed into a froglet. Today, it's a full-fledged frog and represents quite an achievement.
"There is a real art to learning about the natural history of an animal and finding the right set of environmental cues to stimulate successful captive breeding," said Brian Gratwicke, amphibian conservation biologist at SCBI and director of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project.
"Not all amphibians are easy to breed in captivity, so when we do breed a species for the first time in captivity it is a real milestone for our project and a cause for celebration," Gratwicke noted.
The researchers said they are unsure at this time whether A. geminisae is susceptible to the chytrid fungus that has ravaged amphibian populations worldwide. Nonetheless, with its rain forest habitat under threat from development, they consider the frog a priority for conservation.