This marvellous muncher, filmed at lunchtime by the team at Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences, is the waxy monkey frog, a member of the Phyllomedusa genus.

Enjoy your lunch with our Waxy Monkey frog (Phyllomedusa sauvagii) #waxymonkeyfrog #calacademy @calacademy #Phyllomedusasauvagii #OldManphibians

Posted by Steinhart Aquarium Biologists on Thursday, August 27, 2015


The frogs owe their name to some awesome adaptations: while they're not that great at hopping, they do extremely well up in the trees, using opposable thumbs to pull their way around. They can also tough it out in very high temperatures (up to 41°C or 106°F), and hang out in direct sunlight, a behaviour that would dry out most other frogs.

And here’s where we find another nod to their name: glands behind the frogs' eyes produce a thick waxy secretion, which is then rubbed all over, in much the same way you or I would apply sunscreen. The wax seals in moisture and helps keep heat out, giving the frogs the highest temperature tolerance of any free-ranging amphibian. 

And that's not all, folks. The wax of the giant monkey frog (Phylomedusa bicolor) seen in the video above, has proven full of uses. In 1925, French missionary Constantin Tastevin observed hunters in the Amazon taking small smouldering twigs, burning themselves, and then placing the waxy frog secretions (which they called sapo) on the wounds. The sapo caused them to vomit, sweat profusely and even faint, but after those side effects wore off, it seemed the hunters became more alert and agile. Since that early observation, scientists have gotten their hands on the secretion to study its potential medical applications. The results? A painkiller 40 times more potent than morphine and microbicides that could help prevent HIV transmission.

While a third of all known amphibian species on the planet are now endangered, waxy monkey frogs seem to be holding up well for now (they're listed as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List). But increasing interest in their multi-purpose secretions could lead to over-harvesting in the wild in future, the IUCN notes. 

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Top header image: Joachim S. Müller, Flickr