This species is endemic to Panama, occurring east of the main Tabasará ridge in Provincias Coclé and Panamá at 335-1,315m asl.
Habitat and Ecology
It is a terrestrial species of tropical montane forest, with breeding and larval development taking place in forest streams.
This species was reasonably common at a number of localities, and has been recorded as recently as 2005, but it is apparently less abundant north of El Copé, in comparison with observations in 1980. It is very rare or extinct on Cerro Campana. It has been extinct in the El Valle de Antón for approximately 40 years. In recent years, populations have been declining catastrophically due to chytridiomycosis, and the well-known El Copé population collapsed and disappeared over the course of a few months in late 2004 (K. Lips pers. comm.). The chytridiomycosis epidemic appears to be spreading from west to east through Panama, and populations in the eastern part of its range are now at severe risk of disappearing.
The major threat is likely to be chytridiomycosis, which has led to catastrophic population declines in many other species of montane Atelopus. The deforestation of habitat for both agriculture and general infrastructure development, water pollution, and over collection for the pet trade are also threats to this species. In 2003, a road from Sorá to El Valle was opened along the ridge of the Cordillera Central, resulting in heavy sedimentation of most streams on the Pacific and Caribbean slopes, which has negatively affected a significant portion of the habitat used by this species (R. Ibañez, in litt. to E. La Marca).
This species is protected in Panama by national legislation (as Atelopus varius zeteki) decree No. 23 of January 30, 1967. It has been recorded from the protected areas of Parque Nacional Altos de Campana and Parque Nacional Omar Torrijos Herrera. A successful captive-breeding programme involving many zoos in North America is in place, although no re-introductions will be made until existing threats can be addressed. An ex-situ population of this species is held at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in Panama; eggs and/or larvae have been produced to date (Edgardo Griffith pers. comm. September 2007).
Molecular data and morphological, ecological, and demographic analyses suggest that the Panamanian golden frogs and their kin (the Atelopus varius-zeteki clade) are comprised of five distinct forms (Zippel et al. 2006). Additional analyses identify phenotypic and genetic differentiation consistent with proposed Evolutionarily Significant Units (ESUs), and support the status of Atelopus varius and Atelopus zeteki as separate species (Richards and Knowles 2007).
Karen Lips, Frank Solís, Roberto Ibáñez, César Jaramillo, Querube Fuenmayor 2010. Atelopus zeteki. In: IUCN 2014