Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014



Before humans arrived on the Caribbean island of Dominica, frogs were on top of the food pyramid. They ate everything. In addition to crickets, centipedes and flies, frogs also devoured snakes, birds and even other frogs. One species, the Leptodactylus Fallax, emerged as the ultimate predator on the small isle. With no competition in the rainforests, the gluttonous creature evolved into the largest species of frog on earth. It is a foot long and weighs up to three pounds. It is only found on the islands of Dominica and Montserrat.

Everything changed in the year 1493 when Christopher Columbus arrived. It was a Sunday, so the island was named 'Dominica' (Sunday in Latin). However, it would not be Europeans who would settle the idyllic isle. Rather, it was populated by African laborers who worked in the sugar plantations. These hungry people soon discovered the amazing frog. They called it "mountain chicken" because it was found in the high hills and tasted like...chicken! (Apparently, the frog's mating call also sounds like a chicken's cackle.) When the island became an independent nation, fried frog legs was proclaimed the national dish.

Interested? Here's how you make Mountain Chicken. First, remove the skin from the legs and toss the rest of the frog away. Then, wash with lime and season with garlic, pepper and thyme. After two hours, roll in flour and fry in vegetable oil until golden brown. Serve with white rice and peas. Two frog legs should be good for four people. Oops! We got ahead of ourselves. We forgot to mention that over-hunting of the species landed it on the endangered list. Hunting of the frog was banned on Dominica in 1993.

While the numbers stabilized, another threat to the Mountain Chicken Frog emerged in 2002. Chytridomycosis is a fungal disease that has decimated amphibians worldwide. Within a couple of years, the population of mountain chicken had dwindled to 8,000. That's when drastic measures were taken. A team from the Royal Zoological Society descended onto the island. They captured the frogs and took them to laboratories in London. For the last twelve years, they have been rehabilitated and regenerated. Most importantly, the amazing amphibians have built up a resistance to the deadly chytrid fungus.

Last Saturday, fifty-one frogs were flown from London to Dominica. They were carefully released into the wild and look forward to a long life. The residents of Dominica have been educated as to the plight of their national dish. The hunting of mountain chicken is no longer practiced. While the locals are saddened at the loss of their national dish, they understand the rationale. Hopefully, the Mountain Chicken can regroup and once again live on the top of the food chain in Dominica. And maybe they'll be enough frog legs to eat..

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