They may look nice and colourful, but you certainly don’t want to lick an amphibian; toxins from a single frog can apparently kill between 130-1000 mice. Researchers recently compiled a bundle of the different chemicals that the little critters from the family Bufonidae produce.
But as unlickable as toads and frogs may be, their toxins and other body parts also have valuable uses in traditional medicine. Potentially, amphibians could hold the key to new drugs in their skin.
The infamous cane toad, invader of Australia and provider of cures for a wide range of illnesses.
Photo by Brian Gratwicke.
Some 15 out of 47 frog and toad species from Bufonidae are used as medicine. From curing infections to treating bites, from hemorrhages to inflammation and even treating cancer and AIDS. And it’s not only humans that benefit; Intestines from Rhinella schneideri are used to treat stomach bugs in horses in Brazil for instance and the ubiquitous European toad Bufo bufo is used by the Spanish to conquer hoof rot in livestock.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, the scientists who conducted the review say, as relatively few of the 580 plus species in Bufonidae have been subjected to rigorous testing. Many more cures may be out there, hopping around the rainforests as you read this.
Atelopus zeteki, is extinct in the wild and found only in captivity. Toxins secreted by Panama's national treasure may well hold medicinal secrets. Photo by Brian Gratwicke.
Worryingly however, amphibians raised in captivity might not secrete the same toxins as those in the wild. The toxins are built up through a combination of diet, the amphibian’s skin glands and stuff stuff they hijack from microorganisms. Toads from the Melanophyrniscus family need to soak up their deadly lipophilic alkaloid’s from munching on mites and ants.
Right now the loss of amphibian habitat is rampant across the world and coupled with the decimation of populations due to chytrid fungus, the secrets of many amphibians could be lost for ever within our lifetime. According to Amphibiaweb, 168 species of amphibians have gone extinct in the last two decades alone, and populations of at least another 2,469 are declining.
So the next time you get the urge to lick a toad or frog, stop and put the little fella back down. Let it go, because who knows, that slimey, toxin-producing little guy may just save your life further down the line.