Saving the Smallest Species

Your contributions help Como Zoo protect and save some of the earth’s smallest –and most vulnerable– animals


At first glance, the Wyoming toad on display in Como’s “Ribbit Zibbit” may not appear as dazzling as the colorful poison dart frogs nearby, but to zookeepers committed to amphibian survival, it may be even more beautiful.

Declared extinct in the wild in the 1990s, this critically endangered species is coming back from the brink thanks, in part, to an aggressive species preservation project taking place in the basement of Como’s Visitor Center. There, in a behind-the-scenes bio-secure room, several breeding pairs of Anaxyrus baxter are producing tadpoles and toadlets that are released every summer in the Laramie Basin.

“It’s a slow process, but it’s had some successes,” says John Dee, animal curator at Como Zoo, one of several partner institutions involved in saving the Wyoming toad and several other amphibian species. While amphibians don’t command headlines like Kemala the orangutan, Prince the giraffe, or other furry zoo babies do, their survival is just as important. “Every animal plays an important role in the ecosystem, and big animals can’t exist without small animals,” says Dee. “Small animals can be difficult to take care of, but we like the challenge of it, and Como has a lot of institutional knowledge that has value in the zoo community.”

In fact, as nearly half of all known amphibian species now face the risk of extinction, zoos like Como are playing a growing role in preserving and protecting some of the earth’s smallest animals. Here’s a look:


Poison dart frogs:
With their brilliant day-glo colors, Dee describes Como’s poison darts as “frog jewelry—they come in flashy colors, which makes them great animal ambassadors.” Like all amphibians, they’re considered an “environmental indicator species” because their permeable skin makes them particularly vulnerable to water pollution and environmental changes.


Dusky gopher frogs:
 Commonly referred to as the Mississippi Gopher Frog, scientists estimate there are fewer than 250 mature animals left in the wild, making the frog one of the top 100 most endangered animals in the world. Last year, Como Zoo became just the fourth zoo in the country to successfully breed Lithobates sevosus through in vitro fertilization.

Did You Know?

  • Environmental changes affecting toads, frogs and other “indicator species” can affect other animals higher up the food chain—humans included.
  • Every summer, one of Como Zoo’s trained keepers travels to the Laramie Basin to assist researchers working to repatriate Wyoming toads to their native habitat. The toadlets arrive by FedEx.
  • Como Friends’ Animal Sponsorship program is a great way to help Como Zoo continue its conservation efforts for endangered amphibians.


Panamanian golden frogs:
Como Zoo has been the home to a Panamanian golden frog breeding program for more than a decade, since the animals were wiped out in the wild by the spread of chytrid fungus—a disease that threatens many amphibian species. While the smaller breeding species live behind-the-scenes in Como’s Animal Support Building, the larger variety are on display in the “Ribbit Zibbit” in the Leonard Wilkening Children’s Gallery.


Red-eyed tree frogs:
As a long-time leader in amphibian breeding, Como Zoo often sends amphibian offspring to Association of Zoos and Aquariums partners to augment collections around the country. In fact, Como Zoo’s most recent red-eyed tree frog offspring already have a waiting list of zoos eager to welcome the tadpoles once they’re fully grown. Como Zoo’s animal registrar packs and ships more than a thousand amphibians every year.

Wyoming toads: Como Friends’ contributions made it possible to purchase a “hibernaculum,” a state-of-the-art refrigeration system that recreates the just-right climate conditions and dormancy period that Wyoming toads need to breed successfully.

Get Involved

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