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Searching for Poison-dart Frogs on Panama's Atlantic Coast
by Joe McSharry

The rain hit hard, pounding my Gortex jacket, searching for a way in. I really wanted to find a warm, thatch-roofed hut to hide in until it subsided, but we needed to get back to the boat. We followed the trail through the village and into the marsh where we cautiously inched our way along submerged logs. The day before it was difficult to find the logs in the calf-deep, murky water, but now it was thigh-deep and almost black. The sound of the rain caused the living jewels we had collected to start chirping inside the clear, plastic bags.

Anthony Wisnieski in village on Bastimentos Island

The trail passed by a tin-roofed shack with a rickety, wood pigpen and continued on to the beach. When we walked the shore on our way in, the waves gently stirred the grains of sand. Now the shore had disappeared and the surf was ripping at the roots of the palms at the forest's edge, forcing us to make our way through the thick, forest undergrowth. We braved the rising waves and torrential downpour as we pushed our twelve-foot johnboat out into the swelling bay and started the engine. We road the swells, at times unable to see land because of the mounds of water around us. John eased the tension as he brought out his collapsible fishing rod and proceeded to catch dinner. Then gray slowly gave way to crimson and gold on the horizon, the rain subsided, and we were back in town enjoying a warm shower, dry clothes, and a fresh fish dinner.

 
  Our johnboat at dock. The structure at the end of the pier is an outhouse.

Our trip had started a couple of weeks earlier when Anthony Wisnieski, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at the Baltimore Zoo, and I left our homes in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, to drive to David, Panama. There we met Dr. John Daly, Chief of Bio Organic Chemistry at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States. The objective of the trip was to collect several morphs of the highly variable species of poison frog, Dendrobates pumilio. Our plan was to visit several locations where different populations of this species were known to exist. We wanted to collect specimens from these populations for several reasons. Some were to be used at NIH to study the differences in toxins of the various groups. Others were to go to a university to study their breeding habits. The majority was collected for breeding and display purposes at several zoos and aquariums.

Children on one of the islands show off their new baby brother.
Children happily playing with a nail and one another.
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