While these frogs were mentioned in the scientific literature on a few occasions from 1900 to 1925, they are generally little-known in the U.S., appearing in few museum collections. Even the handful of researchers who wrote about them a century ago often misinterpreted the piercing of the skin as damage incurred during preservation of specimens.
The frogs are widely roasted and eaten in Cameroon, where hunters -- evidently well aware of the risk of injury -- go to great lengths to avoid handling them when alive.
"Cameroonian hunters will use long spears or machetes to avoid touching these frogs," Blackburn says. "Some have even reported shooting the frogs."
Of more than 5,500 known frog species, Blackburn and his colleagues found just 11 with claws, and speculate there may be another couple of similarly equipped species.
Blackburn plans to study live specimens of the African frogs to determine whether retraction of the foot bones back into the body is an active or a passive process, and how the damaged skin regenerates after the claws are deployed.
"We suspect, since the frog does suffer a fairly traumatic wound, that they probably use these claws infrequently, and only when threatened," Blackburn says.
|Contact: Steve Bradt|