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Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Deadly Thumbs Of Frog-Fu

The animal kingdom is a strange and wonderful place. I know... I'm a part of it.

While I am a fan of mammals and reptiles and fish, I'm not enamored with amphibians or anything bug-like. In fact, if I wasn't aware of the importance of the food chain and how every little thing is linked to the survival of life on this planet, I would be okay with nuking every insect possessing more than six legs. I'm not afraid of them, they just give me the creeps.

Thanks to Julien, instead of bugs, I get to write about my next level of ickiness.

Meet the Otton Frog—a resident of some of Japan's Ryukyu Islands that actually flicks out a claw from within its thumb.


If you recognize that sound, you are a comic book fan who knows that's the sound Marvel Comics' Wolverine makes when he pops out his bone/adamantium (depends on the era) claws from within his hand. If you really thought about it, it's actually pretty gross, too.

Back to the frog. It doesn't really make that 'snickt!' sound, though it might make a 'brrrrrrrrp' one.

Known as Babina subaspera, the Otton Frog is native to the islands of Amami Ōshima and Kakeromajima in the Ryukyu Islands.

The species is found mostly in subtropical and tropical moist, lowland forests, freshwater marshes, and intermittent freshwater marshes.

The Otton frog is the largest Ranidae (true frogs - numbering 380 species in 23 genera) in Japan, with a body length of 9–14 cm, maturing in three years.

Apparently, both the males and females of this frog have this concealed weapon—a retractable claw that really does shoot out of its thumb when it's in the mood for loving' or fighting'.

All's Fair
While the male's spikes are larger than the females, researchers believe the spike itself was originally something that evolved to help the male grab hold of the female during mating.

What are the two types of honor? Get on 'er and stay on 'er. Sorry, yer honor.
If you didn't know better, you might think this was a monkey's paw... but no, it's the hand of an Otton Frog... pseudo spike splitting the lefthand thumb on the left of the image. I would imagine the photo was taken by Iwai Noriko, but I can't be sure.
I have no idea how frogs mate, but I assume its standard animal mating position, and the thumb spike gets embedded into the female's side.

I would imagine, however, that these frogs get downright dirty when using the pseudo thumb spike when fighting other males… something that I bet only occurs when fighting for females and territory—the age old reason.

The frogs face off wrestling with each other and while in the embrace (think a sumo wrestling lockup), they begin to jab each other with the spike.

We Hardly Knew Ya
The Otton Frog was once considered a source of food for the islanders (tastes like chicken, probably. I've eaten frog legs and didn't care for the slimy meat), but because of deforestation and habitat loss, the frog's population has seen a marked drop-off in recent years. There was also the introduction of 30 Indian mongoose (mongeese?) on the islands in 1979 the habu, a poisonous pit viper native to the island of Amami Oshima.

Of course the mongoose did its job of controlling the snake population, but 2000 estimates show there were around 6,800 mongooses… and that was 15 years ago. 
Anyone else recall Rikki-Tikki-Tavi?
Believe it or not, Japan did try and eradicate the mongoose (what did they do? Introduce King Cobras?), capturing (not killing - I think) some 20,000 through 2011, leaving a population estimated between 40 and 410.    Yes… I read a scientific paper - this one dedicated to the eradication of the mongoose on the island. You can read that HERE.

Whatever… get rid of the mongoose, and I am sure this frog will have a legitimate chance of survival. Apparently some research into the situation pegs the cost to capture even one mongoose to be Y650,000 - according to Japan's Ministry of Environment (circa 2012).

I believe the species is endangered at this point in time. I would imagine that the population is small, however, given the limited areas in which it was found anyway. I did read a research paper by Iwai Noriko, an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo—who said she tracked five frogs with radiotelemetry and marked an additional 316 during field examinations.
  • Females: 167; 
  • Males: 145; 
  • Juveniles (undetermined sex): 4.
Gods… I read another scientific article - HERE. (You know me... gotta catch all the information I can find on a topic!) 

What is particularly interesting (to me), is the evolution of the thumb. Most frogs have only four digits per hand, so finding one's with five, like the Otton Frog, is rare.

One might think that if this spike thumb was so great, other species would have evolved one, too…

Here's the really weird part… there is a second frog with a spike…. something called the Hairy Frog (Trichobatrachus robustus) that actually has hair… something that creeps me out far more than the spike.

Anyhow, it's hair-like… and you can research that yourself, as this frog is a denizen of the forests of Central Africa. But it has a spike, too. 

Africa. So very, very far away from Japan.

Somewhere wondering just how desperate a woman would have to be to ever want to kiss a frog,
Andrew "plucking his magic twanger" Joseph
PS: Should you wish, here is a free website where you can play the video game Frogger (フロッガー). It's as annoying as I remember it from 1981. HERE. It was designed by Japan's Konami and distributed in North America by Sega-Gremlin.

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