Are we clowns?
32% of amphibians; 24% of birds and 12% of mammals are in threat of extinction. Hundreds of these offer potential in medical science and in food improvements but even with that going for them we are still not unduly exercised by this reality. We are indeed fools.
Bushmaster snakes from South America kill in an interesting manner – their venom drops the blood pressure of their victims to zero. But the same venom hold potential in the manufacture of blood pressure medication.
The poison in Panamanian Poison Frogs offer possibility in alleviating heart conditions. One scorpion may prove useful in the production of molecules to fight brain tumours.
There are about 600 species of cone snails. Only six have been studied in any detail. Those who suffer from epilepsy should know that the poison in the dart that they inject into their prey offers hope for this ailment. Yet we destroy the mangrove swamps that they need: why do we destroy them? We do it to create shrimp farms.
Yes we are indeed clowns.
At this stage we need nothing less than a world conservation ethic that millions of people in dozens of countries would experience a wake-up call that all of us need to come together to stem this loss of species – even if it is only for our own selfish reasons.
We are indeed fools if we continue to allow this draining away of potential into extinction.
In a rainforest in Queensland, Australia, in about 1980 a small frog sat on a stone in a wet place. She had conspicuously protruding eyes. At a casual glance there was little beyond that that would catch the interest of a passer-by. Except for one thing. She had been given the extraordinary name of gastric-brooding frog. How could anyone conjure-up such a name! Come on!
This frog, with no notable colouration, however, had one little trick that said she was important.
Frog’s eggs, tadpoles and babies suffer from high predation. So what is a frog to do to protect her brood? This species evolved an astonishing process to give her youngsters their best chance of survival. She laid her eggs and the male fertilized them in the normal way of frogs. Then she did an unbelievable thing – she ate them all up – like Goldilocks eating the baby bear’s porridge.
So where’s the great plan in all of that? Eating your own eggs to prevent Great Diving Beetles from doing the same seems – well – a bit dumb. It’s as though mum hadn’t quite joined up all the dotted lines to come up with a workable solution.
When food slips down into the stomach – acids break it up into nutrients – but in this frog’s case the eggs secrete a chemical that protects them from the corrosive digestive juices. The developing tadpoles and the resultant baby frogs, still in the mother’s stomach, also produce the same protective shield. And when mum frog judges the time to be right she regurgitates and spits out her brood of tiny children, one by one, to take their chances in the great world outside.
And there is another consideration here – usefulness – to us. In the USA alone up to 25 million Americans suffer from peptic ulcers; a painful condition. Could the chemical shield produced by the eggs of this frog lead to the discovery of a drug that would be a cure for this painful human condition? Scientists started to work on this possibility. Then all research stopped. Why? Because sometime in the early 1980s the gastric-brooding frog became extinct. It had taken millions of years of evolution to create this chemical – and now it had disappeared with the disappearance of this frog.
There were two different species of gastric-brooding frog. Both have become extinct. the reason is not clear. Fungal infection and damage to the bits of rainforest they needed may have been part of the cause.
That a small frog managed to evolve such a process is far beyond our understanding. We can only drop down into silence at the mystery of it all.
In her going we have lost one more wonder from our world.
The air was particularly fragrant that morning. the scent of the lily pads across the entire pond was never finer. It was a good place to be a frog.
He sat on a half-submerged leaf with the sun full on his face and thought, with particular satisfaction, of the three lady frogs he had covered the evening before. Many tadpoles would issue as a result of that profligate dalliance with those notable dainty strumpets.
Then his patch of sunlight suddenly darkened. A large princess, notable for her extreme ugliness and gross weight, sat herself down without invitation on the very edge of the frog pond. It was clear to the frog that she intended to sit there for a considerable time blocking his place in the sun.
He said to her: “If you kiss me I will turn you into a beautiful creature.”
The princess was not to pass up such a tempting offer. She got down on her fat hands and broad knees and leaning out over the pond kissed the frog – and was immediately turned into a beautiful butterfly.
The frog ate the butterfly and the sun shone down on his pond as before.
(More from the book Planet Dancing.)
Going to the dentist used to be a thing of dread until pain killers arrived. Recently it has been discovered that Ecuadorian Poison Frogs have a chemical in their venom that may result in even more powerful pain killers. So, in the future, the demand by your dentist to ‘open wide’ may produce even less concern – provided these frogs don’t become extinct in the mean time.
Panamanian Poison Frogs have a flag to wave too. Their toxin has the potential to produce new heart drugs.
Even the little Mexican Leaf Frogs should be given a cheer. It appears that chemicals in their skin are useful against harmful bacteria. Such chemicals may also prove useful to us.
It is estimated that one in three frog species are threatened with extinction. We don’t know the potential benefits to us of many of these. We are therefore fools not to protect all of them.