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The Nightmare Frog

Updated on October 26, 2010

So what should we do? LEAVE THEM ALONE!

What a cutie!  But don't let the looks fool you, this frog, the Phylobated Terribilis, may be the most poisonous vertebrate on the planet.
What a cutie! But don't let the looks fool you, this frog, the Phylobated Terribilis, may be the most poisonous vertebrate on the planet.

Catchy title, but the real nightmare, as always, is Man

The Nightmare Frog

There is a big difference, apart from the obvious, between a venomous and a poisonous creature. Dangerous plants, like some fungi, use poison to deter predation; few plants are venomous, and even the handful that are, aren’t actively so, their venom - so to speak - is sheathed in Trichomes, which can inject hystamine, such as stinging nettles, or in some similar system. But there are many truly venomous creatures on the planet, from the obvious - snakes - to the less so - the deadly box jellies, for example.

We know less about poisonous animals and fish, because we rarely come across them. Their poison is contained in body organs, such as the liver and other organs in Botete and other poisonous fish, or in the case of today’s protagonist, in the skin.

Phylobates Terribilis, our nightmare today, is the latest member to be discovered of the Golden Dart, or Golden Poison Frogs. It is now being considered as perhaps the most toxic vertebrate on the planet. The family are nearly all found in Colombia, and three can be lethally poisonous to man and nearly every other living creature, except themselves, and just one snake species, which is able to prey on them with little effect.

Terribilis, as the name suggests, has the strongest and most lethal poison of these beautiful but highly dangerous frogs. Just two grains of its poison - Batrachotoxin - is enough to kill a full grown man - with change. The average member of the species carries enough toxin on its skin to dispatch two bull elephants, or more than ten mere humans. And you only have to handle Terribilis to die, much less eat one. In fact, this toxin is so reactive, dogs which have only walked across a piece of tissue previously crossed by the frog have died.

The reality is the poor frog has no say in the matter over whom it kills. In fact, this is one reason poison can be worse than venom as the poisonous creature cannot control the effect of its defences and can only use bright colours, as in the case of the Dart Frogs, so they may be recognized next time you decide to handle, or pop one in your mouth. Of course, by then, you will be knocking on the pearly gates, or the furnace door in the other place, having suffered cardiac arrest from ingesting the deadly neurotoxin..

The threat to many members of this attractive frog’s family is that man wants them as pets. For fanciers to safely do this, they need to be born in captivity or kept in isolation for some time and their diet changed from the one found in the rainforest. This is because their deadly toxin is ingested and accumulated over time from an insect, which makes up a large part of their diet, the Choresine genus, a beetle, which may itself be easily the most poisonous creature on the planet! Not only frogs, but 3 species of birds in New Guinea which have this insect on their diet carry the poison to a lesser, but still dangerous degree. Both in the case of the frog species and the birds - the Pitohui - aposematism is common, that is, the creatures display bright colours as a warning; or mullerian mimicry, the harmless or much less dangerous imitating the colours and habits of their lethal brothers to lower their predation risk. Ain’t nature wonderful!?

The poison is used by the Colombian Embera Tribe to tip their blowgun darts, much as Curare is used elsewhere. They tether (carefully!) a Terribilis frog near hot embers to persuade the creature to release toxin as a kind of sweat, whereupon they twirl the point of the darts in the liquid and quickly cover the now lethal weapon until they next go hunting for birds and small mammals. (Batrachotoxin on this frog is more than ten times more potent than curare!).

The tiny frogs are all endemic to small areas of the tropical forests in South America, have gorgeous coloration of green, yellow and orange, and the “Ooooo” factor. Many people and their pets died until the truth got around to leave them alone or be extremely careful around them. Despite this, several of the species are threatened by being taken, dead or alive, for study by science, or by people who just have to possess a rare, lovely wild creature, perhaps to conceal their own ugliness of spirit, or lack of self-worth. (“Look at me, aren’t I the bee’s knees, look at the dangerous creature under my control that cost $10,000!”). Yes, but you’re as dumb as a brush and you can’t get an erection!

Again I must add that these fragile amphibians, poisonous though they may be, should be left to live out their life in the rainforests, or just possibly, be part of a natural exhibit in a large public zoo where they are among their own kind (they are not solitary by nature, but live in groups of about 2 to 6 members). To keep a creature like this, alone, in some prison of a tiny tank is to sentence it to a life worse than death. The sooner it is made illegal and these exotic pet traders and shops severely controlled, the better off all the world’s creatures will be.



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    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      I bet the frog wasn't so lucky!


    • profile image

      :} WOOO 5 years ago

      Go to ektones page and theres a guy who ate a poison dart frog and survived OMG

    • profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago

      Hi deepanjana. Glad you found it so...Bob

    • deepanjana profile image

      deepanjana 6 years ago

      wow this is one interesting hub..

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      PS thanks for that link. I just read the article and was very impressed. My articles, of course, just skim the surface of many subjects, as the technical depth would be indigestible to many readers.

      Thanks again for your interest and providing the fascinating follow up...Bob

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi DiamondRN. It appears the experts are still investigating the beetle to learn more about the toxin which may have medical uses. Thanks for your interest...Bob

    • DiamondRN profile image

      Bob Diamond RPh 7 years ago from Charlotte, NC USA

      More than interesting, Diogenes.

      As a pharmacist, I am intrigued by the little bug that is behind this and its alkaloidal poison