Monday, October 15, 2012

Dominican frogs and toads

I was recently asked to write about why Dominicans are scared of frogs. So here goes with all sorts of information about frogs in the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican word for frog is rana, and for toad it is sapo. To complicate matters, the word maco is also used for toad as that is the old Indian word. Most people can’t tell the difference between a frog and a toad, and will use the word sapito meaning little toad for a frog!

In fact, toads and frogs both belong to the animal group known as frogs.

Frogs are members of the family Ranidae, which has more than 400 species and have bulging eyes, strong, long, webbed hind feet that are adapted for leaping and swimming, smooth or slimy skin (generally, frogs tend to like wet or moist environments), and they tend to lay their eggs in clusters – frog spawn.


Toads on the other hand are members of the family Bufonidae, containing more than 300 species. They have stubby bodies with short hind legs (for walking instead of hopping), warty and dry skin preferring dryer climates, poison glands behind the eyes and they tend to lay their eggs in long chains. Most toads will emit poison when touched which will irritate the skin.


It is only the male frog who makes a noise and croaks, both to mark their territory and also as a mating call. The females stay silent (just like humans really).

In the Dominican Republic there are 74 species of frog. Most of them have voracious appetites eating bugs, mosquitoes and as such are great friends to farmers as a natural way to stop their crops being destroyed.

Cuban tree frog

However, many are under threat of extinction, often from their own kind. At the moment the country is on alert as there is a danger that the osteopilus septentrionalis, also known as the Cuban tree frog, may make its way here from Puerto Rico. All airports and the ferry are being checked – cars, luggage and people to make sure it doesn't enter. During the day the Cuban tree frogs will sleep in trees but at night they become indiscriminate predators and will eat anything they can overpower which fits into their mouths, including snails, spiders, insects, other frogs (even other Cuban tree frogs), snakes, lizards, small crustaceans, and baby birds in their nest.

bull frog

They are not the only ones who eat other frogs, so does the bull frog. Toro is the Spanish word for bull, and according to the dictionary it is a rana toro, but my husband calls it a maco toro and the man over the road a sapo toro.  It can grow up to 15 cm long and  can weigh around 2 pounds.

The less frogs there are, the more mosquitoes there will be, more chance of dengue and malaria, and more crop damage. Hence there are several projects underway to try and ensure that the frog population stays healthy.

Cane toad

There is one dangerous frog here, known as the cane toad or sapo de caña, which was introduced to this country from Australia, specifically to kill pests and bugs which were destroying crops. It is poisonous to animals and even occasionally humans, as when threatened it releases a white milky fluid known as bufotoxin. This contains a substance known as bufotenin which is a Class 1 drug in Australia alongside heroin and cocaine. People actually lick the toad to get high, although too much can result in death. The same substance in used in Japan as a hair restorer and aphrodisiac, in China during heart surgery as it slows the heart down, and here, in the DR, some unscrupulous cock fighters put the poison on the spurs of fighting cocks, or stick the spurs into the toad. This will render his opponent almost unconscious, thus ensuring a win.

World wide outbreaks of lymphatic filariasis

Frogs are apparently used here in the treatment of lymphatic filariasis, which is a tropical disease caused by parasites entering the lymphatic system via the bite of a mosquito or black fly. The parasites develop into worms inside the skin and as the disease advances, what is known as elephantiasis can develop where limbs or even testicles become hugely swollen. 120 million people worldwide are affected by this disease and the island of Hispaniola has 90% of all the cases in the Americas. Haiti has around 500,000 cases, but there are much fewer in the DR, and it is hoped to eradicate the disease in this country soon.

Apparently you take a frog, not sure if it matters which particular type, and rub it on the affected area. Somehow it can cure it they say. Maybe frog toxins enter the skin and kill the worms?
So even though frogs do good work in eating bugs and mosquitoes, and potentially curing elephantiasis, they are the number one most hated creature by Dominicans. Whilst researching this, I asked Dominicans why they disliked them so much, and the standard answer was “I just do!”

They are used in various forms in witchcraft, brujeria, which automatically makes people afraid of them. Also, if a frog urinates on you, apparently you will go blind. This may come from the fact that some, such as the Cuban tree frog and most toads, have a substance on their skin which causes severe itching if you rub your eyes after touching it.
Also if you touch a frog they say you will also develop an ‘ojo de pescado’ which literally means fish eye and is a type of yellow wart, or verruca apparently. That probably comes from the same source as the old wives tale in the UK that toads can give you warts either due to the fact that they have bumpy skin or the irritations that can be caused by touching toads.

ojo de pescado

So there are all sorts of reasons why Dominicans don’t like frogs, or toads, but it seems to me they do a pretty good job if they eat mosquitoes!


  1. The one you refer to as a cane toad is known in Florida as a bufo. The ones I have seen are big and if a dog picks it up the dog can die within a couple of hours. I have taken 3 dogs to vets for this over the years in Fla, none of them my dogs,and 2 died and the other survived. I've usully had big dogs over the years and they seem to have a big enuff brain box to know not to pick up these guys in their mouths, where as the little dogs don't seem to be that bright.

    1. Makes sense to call it a bufo given the name of its toxin. Yes lots of dogs die here too. Luckily I too have big dogs and I have never seen a cane toad although I know lots of people who have. How awful for the dog though.

    2. Bufo is the Latin name.
      Bufo bufo being the common toad.

  2. My mom hates frogs, they terrify her. Isn't it weird how the warts are called ojo de pescado, but frogs are the ones that supposedly give them to you?

    Have a great week Lindsay :)

    1. Thanks Mari! I thought the warts did look a bit like a fish eye though.

  3. eeww I am one of those people that absolutely can't stand those creatures! Hate them!

  4. I´m scared of frogs. Actually the cane toad is a pest in Australia, that was introduced from Hawaii in the 1930´s to help eradicate the beetles eating the sugarcane plantations in the state of Queensland. They didn´t help that much but have since greatly multiplied and are now found across the whole of Australia, and they cannot get rid of them!

    1. I read that Sami, and then someone brought them here from Australia! You can have them back!

  5. Hi! Found this page through Google. I was recently at the D.R. and noticed a neat chirping sound coming from one of the large bushes every night. I think it was some sort of frog, made a sort of high pitched sound like : woop...woop..woop..woop. Any idea what it could be? Thanks!

    1. Welcome to the blog. It could have been a tree frog - bit hard with your "woop woop wooop"! More likely to have been a type of cricket as we have loads of them and they chirrup all night long. They are supposed to be lucky as if they fly in the house then back out it means money is coming. They are known here as esperanza - hope. My cats always eat them when they fly in!