Using "Frog Juice" to Enhance Racehorse Performance

According to a recent New York Times article, frogs and horses have recently been linked in a bizarre—and illegal—way. Evidently a compound found in the secretions of the waxy monkey tree frog (Phyllomedusa sauvagei) is being used to enhance the performance of racehorses.

The waxy monkey tree frog is native to South America. While most frogs like cool and moist places, waxy monkey frogs live in the Chaco (dry prairie) of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. They seal in moisture with a waxy substance secreted through their skin glands. Living in trees, they draw in their arms and legs and sleep in the sun. At night, they awaken and hunt when the air temperature and the rate of water loss are lower.

Waxy monkey tree frog. Photo by Mary Jo Rhodes (from exhibit Frogs: A Chorus of Colors, NYC)

The waxy substance in their skin contains a natural opioid called dermorphin, which is a more powerful painkiller than morphine. When injected into horses, it helps them run faster by dulling the pain from injuries. The substance has been found in more than 30 racehorses. According to the article, it is unclear where the substance is obtained, but it is probably artificially synthesized.

Abuse of horses seems to be rampant in horse racing. This use of “frog juice” is simply the most recent atrocity. In March, the New York Times ran another article titled “Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys.

And, of course, this isn’t good news for the waxy monkey tree frog either.