What exactly is a “spicy” frog?
A spicy frog is one that is poisonous, or toxic. In the wild, some frogs acquire their toxins from the food they eat, including ants, termites and mites. They can consume these insects because they have unique genetic mutations that prevent the toxins from harming them.
As the frogs digest their meal, the toxins aren’t broken down. Rather, they wind up in the granular glands just below the surface of their skin. When a frog feels threatened, its back secretes a milky white substance containing these toxins.
This study looks at two species that store alkaloidal toxins: the Geminis’ dart frog and the Vicente’s dart frog. Many of the frogs’ predators—birds, snakes, scorpions and spiders—don’t have resistance to these toxins. So, when they try to eat a poisonous frog, it’s going to taste just awful to them. Depending on what the toxin is, it could also make the predator sick, or even cause its death in rare cases. Many poisonous frogs have bright colors—yellow, red or blue—that warn predators that they might be harmful to eat.
Why don’t the frogs in human care contain these toxins?
It all boils down to the food they eat. Although the insects we feed our frogs are similar nutritionally speaking, they don’t contain the toxins that would make them poisonous.
What insects do our frogs eat?
Because we breed frogs at the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, we need to have live prey on hand for every stage of a frog’s development, from tiny tadpoles and froglets to adults. We have a team of keepers who care for these insects, which include flightless fruit flies and crickets that are no bigger than a pinhead. Before we feed the frogs, we sprinkle their prey with vitamins and minerals for some added nutrition.