Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Poisonous as Hell, part one:

The Golden Poison Dart Frog

It’s happened to all of us. You find yourself walking around in western Colombia, enjoying the beautiful scenery and the magical freshness of the air. As you pass through the dense jungle, your eyes are drawn to a bright spot on a low branch. As you draw closer, you are struck by the brilliant colors of what turns out to be a small, placid frog. Where you come from, frogs are a dull brownish-green, so you cannot help be fascinated by this exotic, flamboyant amphibian. It’s so cute, with its blinking black eyes and its vivid, wildly-patterned skin. No one else knows this about you, but you’re sort of a frog fetishist. Nothing sick, of course: you simply enjoy the company of frogs. Seeing as this is so, it’s natural that you want to pick up this rare specimen of frogness, that you wish you could take him home and keep him shut-up like your own personal little treasure. Maybe you want to stroke him like the gentle, reptilian pet your mother never let you have. Maybe you even want to bend down and plant a kiss, a purely platonic kiss, on his trembling, gloriously-hued froggy back.

But you ought not do that. Because that harmless-looking creature’s flesh is coated with a batrachotoxin, a substance so potent that a mere 100 micrograms—the equivalent of two grains of table salt---would be enough to kill the average person. Fool around with that frog and before long several unpleasant things will start to happen. Your heart will beat out of rhythm, your cell membranes will depolarize, and your nerves will lose all control over your muscles—meaning that you’ll be paralyzed, but not just paralyzed in the “can’t move” sense, paralyzed in the sense that you can’t swallow, can’t breathe, can’t do anything but die a horrible death in the middle of the jungle. Sucks to be you, doesn’t it? Perhaps if you hadn’t been such a weird frog-loving nimrod, this never would have happened.

That’s why, when I’m traipsing around in unfamiliar ecosystems, I live by one simple rule: pretty frogs are evil. Heed this advice, and you greatly reduce the possibility that your relatives will be stifling giggles whenever they explain how you died.