for National Geographic News
Edgardo Griffith knew the plague was closing in.
For the past two years the Panamanian biologist has been watching as a lethal fungus spread across Central America, wiping out entire populations of frogs.
The Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (BD) fungus is so deadly that within six months of arrival in a given country, about half of all amphibian species disappear and overall populations are reduced by 80 percent.
In March Griffith discovered the first evidence that the disease had arrived in the El Valle region of Panama, frog-rich mountains about 90 minutes southwest of Panama City (Panama map).
Dead frogs, including the golden frog—a symbol of good luck in Panama—have been found scattered throughout the area.
So researchers have implemented an unusual rescue plan: creating a fungus-free "frog hotel."
Dozens of scientists volunteered to fly to Panama and tromp through the swampy forest at night to capture male and female members of every possible frog species.
Now about 300 amphibians representing more than 20 species are being housed at the Hotel Campestre in El Valle, where the animals are treated to daily cage cleaning and hand-captured insect meals.
Pruning the Tree of Life
Central America is particularly susceptible to the BD fungus. In Panama, for example, an estimated 40 species of frogs are already reaching critically low populations.
At-risk varieties include translucent-skinned glass frogs and the iconic golden frog, with its bright orange skin and black leopardlike markings (photos: frogs as environmental indicators).
Scientists tracking the spread of BD have reported seeing infected frogs with muted reflexes and their skin falling off.
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