The Strange Tale of Greening’s Frog
What connects Warrington, the wire industry and a venomous frog from Brazil?
The answer is a Warrington man with the unlikely name of Linnaeus Greening (1855-1927).
Linnaeus’ grandfather, Nathaniel Greening, was the founder of one of the biggest wire manufacturing firms in Warrington in 1799 and his son Noah followed his father in running the family business. Away from their wire business Nathaniel and Noah were both enthusiasts of natural history and they hoped to pass a love of nature onto the latest in the Greening line by naming him “Linnaeus” after the Swedish natural historian Carl Linnaeus.
After Noah’s death Linnaeus became managing director of the Greening’s wire factory and then later the chairman of the board of directors. Like many local industrialists he also became involved in local politics, becoming a Councillor for Latchford and then for Orford.
However it was the natural world which was Linnaeus major passion and during the 1880s he made a pilgrimage to visit the now elderly Charles Darwin to discuss his theories on evolution and natural selection. Inspired by his natural studies Linnaeus late became editor the British Naturalist magazine, and was a simultaneously a Fellow of the Zoological and, appropriately, the Linnaean Societies of London.
Closer to home Linnaeus was a leading figure at Warrington Museum & Art Gallery for 47 years, serving on the Warrington Museum Committee and acting as Honorary Curator of Ornithology. In the 1920s he started a series of Saturday night lectures for children in the Museum and some of the more popular lectures, such as ‘What is a bird?’, were later rewritten and published as books.
His love of nature extended to his own household and throughout his lifetime he took delivery of specimens of unknown species of animal from around the globe, keeping them at his house in Bewsey Road. After moving to a new larger home – “Fairlight” in Grappenhall – he established an open- air enclosure for keeping animals (known as a vivarium) from which he sent specimens to the British Museum.
This is where the frog comes in – because Linnaeus was so well known internationally for his work on reptiles and amphibians his name is commemorated in a species of Brazilian frog – Corythomantis greeningi or Greening’s Frog.
These frogs live in holes on rocks or trees in an area known as the Caatinga in Northeastern Brazil. They close the holes with their head to maintain the humidity inside and reduce water loss from the body. Because the tops of their heads resemble tree bark this makes it very difficult for predators to see them and even if they are spotted it’s very hard to pull the frogs out of their shelter.
Greening’s Frog has another form of defence that didn’t come to light until 2015 when a naturalist called Carlos Jared picked one up with bare hands in 2015 and experienced an intense pain radiating up his arm for the next five hours as a result.
Researchers have now discovered that the head of Greening’s Frog is covered in deadly spines capable of injecting its victims with toxins twice as potent as that produced by a Brazilian Pitviper.
While there are several species of poisonous frogs which secrete toxins from their skin, Greening’s Frog is one of only two species of venomous frogs currently known to science.
The museum would like to thank multidisciplinary artist Ruby Tingle for alerting us to this story – find out more about Ruby’s work at https://paper-gallery.co.uk/ruby-tingle