Venomous Frogs Use Heads as Weapons

 Venomous Frogs Use Heads as Weapons

Carlos Jared, Pedro Luiz Mailho-Fontana, Pedro Luiz Mailho-Fontana, Marta Maria Antoniazzi, Vanessa Aparecida Mendes, Katia Cristina Barbaro, Miguel Trefaut Rodrigues, Edmund D. Brodie Jr.

Published: August 6, 2015
Publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof

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  • Two Brazilian frogs have bony spines around the margin of their skull
  • The spines penetrate the skin through beds of granular skin glands
  • The skin secretions are more toxic than the venom of the pitvipers, Bothrops
  • A delivery mechanism and toxic secretions make these frogs venomous


Venomous animals have toxins associated with delivery mechanisms that can introduce the toxins into another animal [ 1 ]. Although most amphibian species produce or sequester noxious or toxic secretions in the granular glands of the skin to use as antipredator mechanisms [ 2, 3 ], amphibians have been considered poisonous rather than venomous because delivery mechanisms are absent. The skin secretions of two Brazilian hylid frogs (Corythomantis greeningi [ 4 ] and Aparasphenodon brunoi) are more toxic than the venoms of deadly venomous Brazilian pitvipers, genus Bothrops [ 5 ]; C. greeningi secretion is 2-fold and A. brunoi secretion is 25-fold as lethal as Bothrops venom. Like the venoms of other animals, the skin secretions of these frogs show proteolytic and fibrinolytic activity and have hyaluronidase, which is nontoxic and nonproteolytic but promotes diffusion of toxins. These frogs have well-developed delivery mechanisms, utilizing bony spines on the skull that pierce the skin in areas with concentrations of skin glands. C. greeningi has greater development of head spines and enlarged skin glands producing a greater volume of secretion, while A. brunoi has more lethal venom. C. greeningi and A. brunoi have highly toxic skin secretions and an associated delivery mechanism; they are therefore venomous. Because even tiny amounts of these secretions introduced into a wound caused by the head spines could be dangerous, these frogs are capable of using their skin toxins as venoms against would-be predators. Read more.