For Frog-Licking Scientist, the Tongue Says It All

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
February 29, 2008

Valerie Clark licks frogs because she loves them.

"Sometimes I just can't wait till I get back to the lab to do the chemistry, and I want to get an idea if there is something nasty," she said.

Clark's habit isn't quite as rare, or as crazy, as it may sound.

Research opportunities in remote tropical forests are often limited, and only so many specimens can be taken back to the lab for detailed chemical analysis.

"[But] I don't recommend this," the biologist cautioned, "because if you lick the wrong frog it can be very bad."

(See pictures of Clark and toxic frogs.)

Clark, 28, who recently earned her master's degree at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, studies the ecology and evolution of frog chemical defenses.

Her research comes at a critical time, when many frog species are in worldwide decline, victims of habitat destruction and a deadly fungus called chytrid.

(Related: "Frog, Lizard Extinctions Caused by Climate, Not Fungus, Study Suggests" [April 17, 2007].)

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) estimates that one-third of all amphibian species are currently threatened with extinction.

Toxin Taste Test

Clark's research methods are not for the inexperienced.

Continued on Next Page >>


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