Rainforest Science: Researcher Licks Frogs to Tell if They're Poisonous

By Sarah Zhang | February 23, 2012 10:19 am

There’s a certain school of thought among wildlife biologists (Exhibit A) that you should eat any organism you study. Frog scientists—who study toxic frogs, mind you—have a similar habit: lick any frog you study. “Sometimes I just can’t wait till I get back to the lab to do the chemistry, and I want to get an idea if there is something nasty,” said frog scientist Valerie Clark to National Geographic. With limited equipment out in the rainforest, a taste test is the quickest way to tell whether a frog is poisonous. Most of them can’t kill a human, but the poison can make your throat burn and constrict.

While frog-licking works in a pinch out in the field, discussing how skin secretions tickle your palate isn’t going to pass the rigors of peer review. Clark’s new study used electrical stimulation to extract skin secretions from frogs and analyzed them in a mass spectrometer. Among the products: sucrose and a new bile acid called tauromantellic acid.

Why does the frog have a bile acid, usually found in the gut, on its skin? Poisonous frogs get their toxins from the insects they eat, and they need some kind of sequestering system so that they don’t poison themselves. Clark hypothesizes that tauromantellic acid is involved in transporting toxins from food the frog eats onto the frog’s skin. Humans haven’t evolved that system, so no, licking a lot of frogs will not make your skin secrete poisons. Depending on your feelings about hallucination, licking toads might be more up your alley.

[via National Geographic News]


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