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Weird Career: Frog Licker

Weird Career: Frog Licker

Deep in the jungle one woman is tasting toads - all in the name of science. But what could possibly be important enough to make someone start picking up amphibians and giving them a damn good licking? Simon Davies clears his palate and goes in search of the truth.

Small girls grow up dreaming of that moment: their eyes close, lips pucker and come to rest on the head of a frog! Urrgh! In the dream the creature turns into a prince and most girls soon grow out of the idea, especially when they get up close to the slimy amphibians.

I said most girls. At least one girl never grew out of a fascination with frogs. In fact she readily admits to a love affair with them, especially the brightly coloured, highly poisonous varieties. Of course she doesn't bother kissing them any more, just a casual lick is all they can look forward to from this particular princess.

The tongue-clamper frog claims another victim.
Her name is Valerie Clark. You could say that Valerie, who has recently finished her masters degree at Cornell University, licks frogs for a living. She is actually researching the toxic chemicals that are found on the skin of certain frogs found in places such as Guyana and Madagascar. When she is out in the field, which is often a jungle miles from anywhere, there is no access to a fully equipped chemical lab, so she tests the skin of a new type of frog she has found by licking it.

Skin secretions from frogs can contain very important chemicals. A recent study on a chemical secreted by a South American “shrinking” frog has shown that it could be used to treat diabetes (see story on BBC). Many species of frog are endangered and little is known about the way their toxins are produced, so Clark's research is very important.

It is often very difficult, however, to obtain samples of skin secretions so they can be tested. Brightly coloured frogs are often very toxic, and give off a foul smell, but to Clark's expert tongue, important compounds can be detected.
Don't try this at home though, Valerie has this warning for us: “I don't recommend this, because if you lick the wrong frog it could be very bad!

Find out more about Valerie on her homepage. She is kindly supported by National Geographic.

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Your Say

I thought only chicken was finger-licking good.
Richie B

Do the green ones taste of lime?
J. Reaper

I thought I loved frogs but licking them is a tad too far for me, my pet tree frogs are safe for now.

Sophie M

Title Image: Adam L. Body image: Valerie Clark/National Geographic

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20 Jul 2011
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