Cancer Curing Frogs and Coral Snakes

You know how they say “everything is bigger in Texas”? Well I have never been to Texas, but I can tell you with certainty that everything is bigger in the tropics.  I have seen beetles the size of sparrows, humming birds the size of  blue birds, bamboo trees as thick as midsize oaks, moths that could pass as bats, and spiders that are larger, harrier and just more intimidating looking than I ever wanted to see. Every day I encounter species of insects, birds, reptiles, flowers and trees that I had not seen the day before.

To relate this back to my project, over the last three weeks we have found around 30 different species of frogs. My favorite so far have been the three species of poison dart frogs we have captured. There are just over 50 known species of frogs in the area and my goal is to create the most complete as possible field guide of amphibians for the station before I leave. This will help future researchers have a better understanding of amphibian biodiversity in the area, as well as provide another resource the station can use to cater towards ecotourists. The reason I was so excited about the dart frogs, besides their amazing photogenicity, is because we are sending one preserved specimen of each species to a scientist researching the chemical compounds in their skin. He has been looking into using the toxins from frogs in cancer medications. The compounds in skins of Dentrobates, or poison dart frogs, have been under heavy investigation in recent years to determine if they may have medical uses. The genus Ameerega, which is found in this area, has not been studied for this purpose before and we are very excited to see if the frogs we collect could help further the development of cancer treatments.

Ameerega macero

Ameerega macero

To round off a very species rich few days, the other night as I was sitting in the lab, someone outside gives an alarmed cry of “SNAKE!!!” The computer room and laboratory empty out as everyone goes to check out the source of this commotion. And right there, slithering into the tortoise pen, was a 4.5-5 foot long coral snake. After telling everyone to keep their distance, I followed the snake at a “safe distance” and preceded to take as many pictures as possible and then make sure it meandered its way off of the path so it couldn’t hurt anyone. Coral snakes rarely cause fatalities due to their small mouths making it challenging for them to envenomate people. Still, locals often kill coral snakes and look alike harmless snakes on site out of fear and misunderstandings.

Coral snake: Micrurus obscurus

Coral snake: Micrurus obscurus

With several weeks left in the field, I cannot wait to see what the jungle has in store for me next!

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