Remember that scene from X-Men Origins: Wolverine showing a close up of Logan’s bones tearing through the skin on his knuckles, probably sending down a shiver down your spine and making you rub your own knuckles for solace? It made me ask two things – (a) Why wasn’t this mutant called Catman? (b) Is it possible for such traits (regular claws are different from bones ripping out of a body) to actually exist in any living being?
Turns out, it is.
In today’s edition of WTF Nature, I bring to you the animal Marvel’s Wolverine is actually based on – no, it’s not feline, and definitely not the real wolverine, also known as ‘glutton’ and ‘skunk bear’, smh. It’s a frog.
Trichobatrachus robustus – a species native to Cameroon – jumps high and far across the line separating fiction from fact.
The bizarre, hairy frog with extendable claws can break its own bones to produce talons that puncture their way out of the frog’s toe pads. And that’s not the only similarity it has with the Marvel superhero. Being amphibian, it also has the ability to self-heal and, it is speculated, to even regrow tissue or in layman’s term, a body part.
The mechanism that makes this freaky phenomenon possible is such: the claw stays nestled in a chunk of collagen in the hind legs of the frog. The pointy end is attached to a small bone beneath the tip of the toe. The other end of the claw is connected to a muscle. When the animal is under threat, it contracts this muscle, which pulls the claw downwards.
The sharp point then breaks away from the bony tip and cuts through the toe pad, emerging on the underside.
I love nature, but gross.
What’s the other noteworthy characteristic of Wolverine? His fancy facial hair, you say? T. robustus has that covered too. Males of the species, which grows to about 11 centimetres, also produce long hair-like strands of skin and arteries when they breed.
The ‘hairs’ allow them to take in more oxygen through their skin while they take care of their brood.
If you are hoping that like Logan this little frog is also an action hero who has survived against all odds in its cruel ecosystem, you are about to be disappointed. Unfortunately, T. robustus happens to frequently feature on the menu of the Bakossi people of Cameroon who traditionally believe that the frogs fall from the sky and, when eaten, bestow fertility on childless human couples.
I think I’ll reserve my compliments to the chef for now.