With lidless, beady eyes, pale pink skin, feathery gills branching from its neck like soft coral, and a seemingly fixed, disconcertingly human-like smile, the axolotl looks more like an alien than your typical salamander. Unsurprisingly, this strange Mexican amphibian has intrigued and fascinated people for centuries, from the ancient Aztecs to modern-day scientists.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may know that for the past six months, we’ve been posting Freaky Frog articles every fortnight. During our journey through the weird and wonderful world of these amazing amphibians, we’ve looked at the delightfully named ‘scrotum frog’, we’ve examined the remarkable defensive mechanism of the ‘wolverine frog’, and we’ve marvelled at the cryogenic wood frog. There have been frogs that brood their young in their vocal sacs. Toads that brood their young inside pockets in their own skin. Frogs with moustaches. Frogs that practise ‘reproductive necrophilia’.
From the 1930s through to the 1960s, a small aquatic frog was used as a biological pregnancy test. This may sound suspiciously like one of those medieval folk remedies – in the same vein of shaving the rear end of a live chicken and holding it under your armpit to cure the plague – but this frog really could tell if you were pregnant or not.
Amphibians rely on water for a number of very important reasons. Firstly, although most modern amphibians possess lungs, many of them are extremely simple and are not completely sufficient for their needs. This means that oxygen intake is often supplemented by absorption through their thin, permeable skin – and this can only happen if it is suitably wet.
Perhaps I’m being a little unfair calling this series of articles ‘Freaky Frogs’. After all, the species that we’ve already looked at have certainly been bizarre or remarkable in one way or another, but are they freaky? That’s debatable. However, the focus of today’s post – the Surinam toad – is undeniably, unequivocally, unquestionably freaky. Case in point: the young of this species burst out from the back of their disfigured mother and then start eating one another.