But time is running out.
The frogs have been captives for five or six years, and frogs do not live forever.
The caretakers hope they will be able to encourage these finicky, exotic, mysterious captives to breed, and then return their progeny — somehow, someday, somewhere — to the wild.
It is much harder than you might think. Because the thing that is killing the frogs is still out there.
In what may be the greatest disease-driven loss of biodiversity in recorded history, hundreds of frog species around the world are facing extinction.
Far from being obscure, many of the frogs threatened at the checkout counter are Class A Number One amphibians — the kinds of jewel-colored frogs that adorn postage stamps and Smithsonian calendars and that biologists consider to be keystone species in their environments, no less important than otters or coral or bees, in their way.
Frogs in the western United States are threatened, and Australia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean have been especially hard hit. Central American countries such as Panama are suffering a catastrophic decline.
The villain is a rather extraordinary fungus, an amphibian version of a case of athlete’s foot from hell, with an impossible name,
, which scientists call “Bd,” a virulent, lethal fungus that has spread around the globe.
It is like a cheesy horror movie, but real.
The little victims? Their pores clog, and they die of a heart attack.
‘Nada. Zero. None’
In the pristine tropical forests of the world, the waters still run clear and clean, and the jungle is, as ever, a riot of green, grasping life.
But something is missing.
Where there was once a crazy cacophony of frog song, all day, all night, there is now a spooky quiet.
The streams have gone silent.
The frogs are gone. And they might not be coming back, unless scientists in extinction hot spots such as Panama succeed in their audacious bid to breed the rarest of the rare in captivity in amphibian arks.
In Panama, scientists are returning to sites where just a few years ago they observed frogs in abundance. They are searching for survivors. They are not finding many.
“This sure is depressing,” said Cori Richards-Zawacki, a professor from Tulane University who has logged months in the field here.
In rubber boots, carrying a backpack filled with gear to weigh, measure and swab for fungal infection any frog she finds, Richards-Zawacki slogged a few hundred meters down a narrow gorge of the Rio Farallon, peering at the banks covered in moss and fern, water dripping from springs and waterfalls.