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Living dangerously

Last night I gave a talk at a Sci-Bar in Bollington, Cheshire. It seemed to go down pretty well, and I must admit that from my point of view it was fantastic to engage so positively with all who attended. One of the questions I was asked at the end of the talk was: how dangerous are poison-dart frogs?

In the answer, I refered to the Golden Poison-dart frog, Phyllobates terribilis,  the most dangerous of all amphibians and a frog with enough poisonous toxins in its skin to kill 20,000 mice or 8-10 humans. Is this frog dangerous? I should say so!

This species, which hails from a small area in Colombia is the most toxic frog known – wild-caught specimens are definately as deadly as any venomous snake. The frog, first described in the 1970’s, is quite large for a poison-dart frog, growing up to 50mm. The toxins in its skin, which it develops from it’s insect diet, acts as supreme defence from predators and is also used by indigenous people to treat the darts they use in hunting and warfare. Most other species of poison-dart frog are much less dangerous than P.terribilis, but there are similar species which live within the same area of South America which are also extremely toxic, such as P. bicolor and P.aurotaenia. These related species also look extremely alike.

In the Vivarium at the Manchester Museum we have integrated several collections, and one particular display highlights the use of poison-dart frogs by humans.  In the clip below you can see show how we display P.terribilis/bicolor specimens from our live collection alongside artefacts from our ethnology collection, and listen to Stephen Welsh, our Curator of Anthropology, clearly explaining how the related artefacts are used.

Stephen also has a great blog focusing on living cultures which you might find of great interest. Check out his latest related post – ‘Darts anyone?’ at: http://mancultural.wordpress.com/

3 Responses

  1. Really enjoyed last night’s SciBar talk, although you were clearly upstaged by the tree frog that you’d brought with you 😉

    I was amazed at how it was apparently unconcerned by the experience of being handled and displayed in what must be a seriously alien environment. (No offence intended to Bollington)
    Has it always been this contented, or has it gradually become more stoic as it has got older?

    Thanks again for such an entertaining talk.

    • Thanks for your kind comments and so pleased to hear you enjoyed the talk. I really enjoyed meeting everyone – a really great crowd. The red-eye I had with me has always been very tame to handle since it was reared. I guess they soon come to realise that they are safe from real predators. In the wild they are still easily handled, but can some can be quite jumpy as you can see here!:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7597115.stm

  2. I too attended the Scibar at Bollington on Monday and loved your talk about the Tree Frogs particularly to have the privilege of one sitting on my hand 🙂
    I am now arranging for my sister and her grandson to visit the Vivarium with me.
    I was so pleased to hear about your ‘discovery’ of an extinct frog and I hope that you are awarded a prestigious prize for finding it and also for bringing us a good news story for a change!

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