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Fake News in the Animal Kingdom?

 Some animals conjure up negative emotions at the mere mention of their name. They are victims. That old Jim Stafford song “I don’t like spiders and snakes” was a hit for a reason!

These adverse feelings are mostly derived from fake news, reinforced in literature and media. Snakes and spiders are just unloved it seems, while other creatures, such as frogs, are universally liked. Why?

Many grew up watching a frog on Sesame Street playing the banjo and singing to a pig, lamenting how hard it is to be green. Children’s books show frogs sitting happily on a lily pad, smiling or lazily eating flies out of the air with their tongues. Then there are fables about frogs becoming handsome princes from a princess’ magical kiss. Stories about frogs are often upbeat and seem to end on a happy note.

Frogs must have a great PR department, because the truth is, they are not so innocent. Frogs are actually predators! They have teeth and will hunt and eat almost anything they can fit into their mouths, often swallowing prey with a single gulp. As a rule, they do not feed on just flies or shoot their tongues 10 feet in the air. Although I’ve never personally kissed one, I wouldn’t expect much magic to happen if I did.

Some frogs, like the poison dart frogs from South America, release toxins through their skin which, if ingested, cause sickness or death. How nice! These brightly colored “jewels of the rainforest” have long been utilized by native peoples who rub their wooden arrows or darts on the skin of the frog, turning their missiles into deadly weapons. Isn’t that cute?

These poisons aren’t natural to the frogs. They’re “manufactured” by the frog only after a series of food chain events involving fungus, ants and plants. That is, it’s not the frogs’ fault. Still, they get positive press. In captivity, they produce no toxins, as their food is from farm-produced insects. Somehow these frogs are among the most popular of terrarium subjects. Animated and bold, they quickly win over the hearts of their keepers, even with the “poison” moniker.

That frog’s spin doctors deserve a raise!

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