It’s fascinating how nature has a way of solving complex problems to survive and thrive. Large beasts have teeth, claws and muscles. Snakes have venom. Tiny bacteria make you sneeze. Onions have odor. Killer whales work in teams while hunting. What do frogs have? Poison. In fact, Batrachotoxin is from frogs and it’s the most poisonous potent non-peptide based poison known to man. And there’s no antidote.
We’ve all heard of poisonous frogs. Maybe you’ve also heard of poison darts being made with poison from frogs. Poison frogs are often very bright in color, making them “aposematic”, which is another way to say “I’m bright for a reason. Screw off. You will die if you eat me.”
I’d hate to be the first person to discover that poison dart frogs are so poisonous that they can be used for taking down wild bush animals. I imagine some poor tribesman stuck in a hut for two weeks, vomiting his brains out. Poor dude.
Fun Fact: Poison darts are still used in some parts of the world for hunting, namely indigenous tribes of South America and Africa.
So what is this powerful poison?
Batrachotoxin is the name of the poison, or toxin in more scientific terms. It’s alkaloid, which is similar to the construct found in poisonous plants. Once removed from the frog, the poison stays active for up to a year. Additionally, only one small frog provides enough skin secreting poison to cover the head of approximately 40 darts. Researchers have found this frog’s toxins to be 200 times more potent than morphine.
The Choco people of western Colombia use the poison of one species, the golden poison frog, which is no larger than the size of a bottle cap. They specifically use the darts for hunting birds and small game.
Where does the worlds most powerful poison come from?
We already know that it comes from frogs. But how do the frogs create it? Interestingly enough, the poisons in these little hoppers come from their tasty rain forest diet: mostly termites, ants, centipedes and beetles. This diet gives the frogs the necessary diversity of food that is required to create the chemical toxins. Specific toxins are passed from insect to the frog when eaten, which then collect in glands in the frog’s skin.
Seeing as these frogs eat poisonous insects, it makes sense that frogs at zoos aren’t poisonous. Zoo frogs don’t eat the same poisonous insects as their wild counterparts. However, we can’t speak for all Zoos. Maybe some zoos harvest their frog food from more natural sources.
Poison dart frogs also taste terrible to predators
Apparently, these tiny frogs also intentionally taste bad to predators, as part of their survival mechanism. We tasted one and we died. But no, seriously, not all poison frogs only secrete poison, they also have varying distasteful flavors and scents on their skin in order to sway potential predators.
Finally, if a predator decides to take a risk and take a bite out of one of these little guys, the poison can cause serious swelling, nausea, and muscular paralysis. And the muscle paralysis is exactly why the poison is helpful in hunting, it just disables the animals from running away. Usually it doesn’t cause fatalities, but it can, depending on the size of the predator.