Research Article
Research Article
Of people and toads: Local knowledge about amphibians around a protected area in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest
Sobre gente e sapos: conhecimento local sobre anfíbios dos arredores de uma unidade de conservação na Mata Atlântica brasileira
expand article infoKarin Regina Seger, Mirco Solé§, Romari A. Martinez§, Alexandre Schiavetti§
‡ Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, Brazil
§ Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Ilhéus, Brazil
Open Access


This study aimed to identify ethnozoological knowledge about amphibians of people living around a protected area, the Wildlife Refuge of Una (REVIS), located in the Atlantic Forest, in southern Bahia, Brazil. Semi-structured interviews were performed on a random sample of residents right outside the REVIS limits. Photos of several amphibians that live in the REVIS were also shown for recognition of the regional species. We analysed the use value (VU) of each species, calculating the ratio between the number of times that each species was mentioned and the total number of interviews. Biophilic relationships, using Kellert´s (1993) classification, were inferred from their statements. We interviewed 40 individuals (22 males and 18 females) with ages between 10 and 82 years. There was a gender-related bias regarding the recognised species (Chi Sq = 0.013, p < 0.05) with men having more knowledge than women. The Butter Frog, Leptodactylus latrans, had the highest VU of 0.73 and was the most mentioned overall, but especially amongst women. The most mentioned species amongst men was Burmeister’s Frog (Phyllomedusa burmeisteri). We identified 18 biophilic comments, classified as moralistic, symbolic, negativistic or utilitarian. It was possible to note that, in this community, the knowledge and use of amphibians is not deep, purely cognitive and without any direct utilitarian purpose (medicine or cooking, for example). This study can build a bridge between traditional anurofauna knowledge of the Una region and modern environmental education, by demystifying existing information and incorporating it in local conservation actions, becoming especially relevant in rural areas, such as this protected area.


O objetivo desta pesquisa foi identificar conhecimento etnozoológico acerca dos anfíbios dos moradores das vizinhanças de uma unidade de conservação, o Refúgio de Vida Silvestre (REVIS) de Una, situada em área de Floresta Atlântica, no sul da Bahia, Brasil. Foram realizadas entrevistas semi-estruturadas a um grupo aleatório de residentes nas imediações do REVIS. Foram mostradas imagens correspondentes aos anfíbios que habitam no REVIS para reconhecimento. Foi calculado o Valor de Uso (VU) para cada espécie dividindo o número de vezes que uma espécie foi mencionada pela quantidade total de entrevistas. A partir das declarações nas entrevistas, foram inferidas as relações biofílicas segundo Kellert (1993). Foram entrevistadas 40 pessoas (22 homens e 18 mulheres) com idades entre 10 e 82 anos. Houve um viés de gênero nas respostas (Chi Sq = 0.013, p < 0.05), com os homens detendo mais conhecimento que as mulheres. A rã manteiga, Leptodactylus latrans, obteve o maior VU (0.73), tendo sido a mais mencionada, especialmente pelas mulheres. A espécie mais mencionada pelos homens foi a rã-de-Burmeister, (Phyllomedusa burmeisteri). Identificamos 18 comentários biofílicos, classificados como moralísticos, utilitários, moralísticos e negativísticos. O conhecimento sobre os anuros não é aprofundado, tem caráter cognitivo e não possui uma relação utilitária direta (como alimentação ou remédio, por exemplo). Este estudo pode diminuir a brecha entre o conhecimento tradicional e a educação formal ocidental, o que se torna especialmente relevante em regiões rurais como a dessa unidade de conservação.


Anura, ethnozoology, local ecological knowledge


anurofauna, etnozoologia, conhecimento ecológico local


Ethnobiology is an interdisciplinary field that studies the knowledge of human populations about the processes of nature (Diegues 2000). It seeks to understand how natural resources are perceived, classified and used by people, which classification systems are used by certain cultures and which processes determine them (Begossi et al. 2004).Communities outside urban areas create a dynamic body of knowledge on the animals and plants they encounter daily and this information is useful for their survival and well-being. Most of this information is orally transmitted and subject to specific feelings, customs, practices and beliefs (Marques 2001). When communities are engaged with resource-use over time, this knowledge becomes part of what defines them as a cultural group and can be described as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). This wisdom evolves as people build on their experiences and observations, experiment, interact with other knowledge systems and adapt to changing environmental conditions over time (Berkes et al. 2000). However, since it is difficult to assess TEK, we subscribe to the concept of Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK), as being the information, practices and beliefs on ecological relationships that are gathered by members of a community through observations and experiences that could eventually become TEK (Charnley et al. 2008). The way humans see and classify their surroundings and eventually interact with them, leading to economical exploitation, seem to have a common ground for all societies and cultures (Berlin 1992). Obviously, there will be a variety of specific classifications, names or complexities, but things, such as inclusive categories and hierarchies, seem to be a background form of grouping similar things and are something in common between folk and scientific taxonomies and systematics (Berlin 1973). This is how Berlinean classification emerges, common in many ethnobiological approaches although scarcely explored by mainstream science, by classifying living organisms using inclusive categories defined by LEK.

It is widely accepted that traditional and local ecological knowledge provide valuable input for resource management and conservation (Berkes et al. 2000), being a source of important data for policy-makers and researchers (Braga and Schiavetti 2013). Local communities inside protected areas, policy-makers and managers must equally understand the relevance of the taxonomic groups they live with, in order to preserve both habitats and their biodiversity (Alves 2012). This involves a fusion between LEK and what could be called “western scientific knowledge”. We do not wish to create a false dichotomy, since these concepts are not opposites, but it is true that, although both are valuable sources of information, they have different core origins. “Western scientific knowledge” usually tests hypotheses and is generated using the scientific method. Traditional and local ecological knowledge usually have a utilitarian nature and are generated through practical experiences (Ellen and Harris 2000; Charnley et al. 2008).

Amphibians have been widely used as indicators of local diversity, especially in areas like the Brazilian Atlantic forest, considered one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots (Mittermeier et al. 2005), with approximately 7% remaining from its original area (Ribeiro et al. 2009). Brazil has 1026 described amphibians, with most of the endangered species living in this ecosystem (Frost 2019). From these, 543 are endemic to the Atlantic Forest (Haddad et al. 2013). The main threats are anthropogenic-derived habitat destruction, conversion into agricultural areas and urbanisation (Campos et al. 2014).

Most of the remaining Atlantic Forest exists in small fragments (< 100 ha), isolated from each other and composed by second-growth forests in early to medium stages of succession (Ribeiro et al. 2009). In southern Bahia, the current landscape is a mosaic composed mainly of small forest fragments immersed in a matrix of shaded cocoa plantations, called “cabrucas” (Gouvêa et al. 1976; Sambuichi et al. 2012).The Atlantic Forest of southern Bahia is highly biodiverse and has several records of endemic species. Many taxa have been described in the last 10 years, including amphibians (e.g. Recoder et al. 2010; Lourenço-de-Moraes et al. 2012; Vörös et al. 2017; Lourenço-de-Moraes et al. 2018), plants (e.g. Aona et al. 2016) and invertebrates with special public health interest, such as Diptera (e.g. Catenacci et al. 2017).

As a hotspot, the Atlantic Forest depends heavily on protected areas for its survival as an ecosystem (Tabarelli et al. 2005). A Wildlife Refuge (REVIS, in Portuguese) is a type of protected area defined in the Brazilian legislation, which allows only indirect uses of all natural resources within their established perimeter. The region of Una, in coastal southern Bahia, has three other protected areas, with different levels of protection: the National Park Serra das Lontras, the Biological Reserve of Una, for which the REVIS acts as a buffer zone and the Marine Extractive Reserve of Canavieiras (Solberg et al. 2014; Castilho et al. 2017; Cardozo et al. 2018; Castilho et al. 2018). The REVIS of Una concentrates a major part of the amphibians from southern Bahia. There are not many inventory studies in the area, however the most found amphibians would be Leptodactylus latrans, Boana faber, Stereocyclops incrassatus, Pipa carvalhoi, Physalaemus camacan, Dendropsophus elegans, Phyllodytes melanomystax, Haddadus binotatus, Rhinella hoogmoedi and Rhinella granulosa (Aguiar et al. 2003; Silvano and Pimenta 2003; Dias et al. 2014). Most of them are in the status of “least concern” in the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2019). An important case would be that of Allobates olfersioides, registered as “data deficient”, but considered vulnerable because of its alarmingly decreasing population numbers.

Herpetofauna, in general, is mostly rejected by society, being associated with negative reactions of disgust and fear because of myths, legends and beliefs that are transmitted from generation to generation (Ceríaco 2012). Much of the population has a misconception regarding these organisms and, as a result, many of them are killed or mutilated.

A new approach to the management of natural resources includes informing and empowering local communities, who become decision-makers, along with governmental and non-governmental institutions. This strategy is based on valuing social and cultural incentives beyond financial activities and accepting the contribution of folk knowledge to natural resource management and, ultimately, to science as a whole (Berkes 2004; Horwich and Lyon 2007).

Wildlife is used for a variety of purposes, such as cooking, medicinal and recreational (Chakravorty et al. 2011). Amphibians are, on one hand, commonly regarded as distasteful animals (Ceríaco 2012). On the other hand, their ecological relevance is often acknowledged (Gardner et al. 2007; Campos et al. 2013, 2014). In this study, we aim to describe the ethnobiological relationships of a community living within a protected area with the amphibians that surround them: what are their principles and values regarding amphibians? Are there any ethnobiological uses, such as medicinal or religious? Are there any links to myths or beliefs? By assessing the local ecological knowledge on this often threatened taxonomical group, we intend to glimpse a phenomenological construction of their world view and insert it into more efficient management plans for this protected area.

Materials and methods

Study area

The Wildlife Refuge (REVIS) of Una was established by a Federal Act in 2007 and has an area of 23404 ha. The area is located in southern Bahia, in the county of Una, with a small portion entering the county of Ilhéus, in north-eastern Brazil. (Figure 1). Current estimated population is around 24 thousand people, with a human density of 20.48 inhabitants/km2.

Figure 1. 

Map of the study area, highlighting the different protected zones around the REVIS-UNA, north-eastern Brazil.

Traditional dwellers include people of Tupinambá ethnicity, combined with some of the first Portuguese and African descent people arriving to Brazil. The first Portuguese people arrived at an area 200 km south of Una; Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, was the first and most important African slave port of entry (Walker 2007). Agriculture, the main regional commodity, is mostly cacao, with sparse plantations of rubber and african palm (Elaeis guineensis) (Walker 2007; IBGE 2010).

The county of Una is part of the cacao region of southern Bahia. This area has been historically linked to cacao exportation, which brought an exceptional economic growth to this region, especially in the 20th century, until the 80s (Menezes and Carmo-Neto 1993; Johns 1999).

Ethnozoological data collection

Data was collected from owners or residents of 34 out of the 290 properties within the REVIS (mapped by the local manager (ICMBio 2014). Interviews (20–30 minutes long) were conducted in their houses or near them, from January to June 2011. The main researcher (KS) headed the interviews, with occasional presence and help from other researchers working in parallel projects. Properties were randomly chosen out of a grid divided into three strata: neighbouring the REBIO, close to it or far away, according to their distance to the Una Biosphere Reserve (REBIO-Una). Geographical coordinates of the interview location and the property it represented were marked with a GPS at the time of each interview.

A script, composed of closed and open questions, was used to standardise the interview process. However, the order of each question was decided each time, according to the flow of the conversation or the reactions of the interviewees (Dencker 1998). During field trips, the main researcher (KS) kept an ethnographic journal of observations and interviews. Both adults and children were interviewed. Photos of amphibians registered for the area (Figure 2), were shown, along with questions about visualisation and use of frogs. This data gathering belongs to a greater project on regional knowledge of management and governance of natural reserves and has authorisation from the local ethics committee derived from this umbrella research.

Figure 2. 

Amphibian photo board used during the interviews, for species recognition by the residents of the surroundings of a protected area in the Atlantic Forest, north-eastern Brazil. (1) Leptodactylus latrans; (2) Boana faber; (3) Stereocyclops incrassatus; (4) Pipa carvalhoi; (5) Physalaemus camacan; (6) Physalaemus cf. camacan; (7) Dendropsophus elegans; (8) Frostius erythrophthalmus; (9) Phyllodytes melanomystax; (10) Allobates olfersioides; (11) Rhinella granulosa; (12) Rhinella hoogmoedi; (13) Haddadus binotatus; (14) Siphonops sp.; (15) Proceratophrys renalis; (16) Rhinella crucifer; (17) Phyllomedusa burmeisteri.

Data analysis

All data was analysed by pursuing two approaches: a gender-orientated bias in species detection and use and an age-related knowledge (with an associated gender-bias). Gender and age-associated biases were assessed by using a Chi-Square Test. The present study aimed to describe folk knowledge, using the model of total union of Marques (1991), meaning that all available information on the subject was considered without a clear distinction between what was local culture, popular knowledge or western scientific knowledge that could come from the interviewees. It was, up to certain point, analogous to Geertz’s “thick description” (Geertz 1973) with the intention of understanding the relationship of the community with their surroundings.

A collector’s curve (Garcia and Lobo 2007) was used to determine optimal sample size. We calculated the use value (VU) for the observed species, using a variation of Phillips et al. (1994):

VU = (∑ U) / n

VU = Use value of the species

U = number of times the species was mentioned by the interviewee

n = number of interviews

Interviews were transcribed and analysed for discourses pointing towards biophillic categories following Kellert (1993) (Table 1).

Table 1.

A typology of biophillic values, according to Kellert (1993).

Term Definition Function
Utilitarian Practical and Material exploration of Nature Physical sustenance/security
Moralistic Strong affinity, spiritual, reverence, ethical concern for nature Order and meaning in life, kinship and affiliation ties
Negativistic Fear, aversion, alienation Security, protection, safety
Symbolic Use of nature for metaphorical expressions Communication, mental development
Aesthetic Physical appeal and beauty of nature Inspiration, harmony, peace, security
Dominionistic Mastery, physical control, dominance of nature Mechanical skills, physical prowess, ability to subdue
Naturalistic Satisfaction from direct experience/contact with nature Curiosity, outdoor skills, mental/physical development
Humanistic Strong affection, emotional attachment, love for nature Group bonding, sharing, cooperation, companionship
Ecologistic-scientific Systematic study of structure, function and relationship in nature Knowledge, understanding, observational skills


We interviewed 40 people of ages between 10 and 82 years, those being 22 males and 18 females. Almost half of the interviewed people (43.8%) have, as a main income, rural/agricultural activities and no form of formal schooling (48.2%), with men slightly above women in this aspect. Most women were of domestic occupation. More species were recognised by men than by women (Chi Sq = 0.013, p < 0.05). We cannot relate recognition directly to age, although there is a tendency amongst people older than 40 years old to recognise more species than younger men or women. Amongst men, there is a certain tendency for older men to recognise more species than younger ones. Additionally, species recognised by women differ from those identified by men. A comment made by interviewee N° 15 (woman, 42 years old) contributes to the understanding of this observation: “Men and older folk know more because they spend more time of the day in the field”. It does not mean that they “know more”, but it is believed that men recognise species inhabiting the area more easily because they spend more time in the field while women stay more frequently within their homes and, thus, are more familiar with species living in areas surrounding their residences (Castilho et al. 2018).

The most commonly observed species overall was Leptodactylus latrans with a VU = 0.73. This species was also the most mentioned amongst women (VU = 0.67). The toad Rhinella granulosa was the second most mentioned amongst women (VU = 0.66). Phyllomedusa burmeisteri was the most frequently mentioned by men (VU = 0.91); however, amongst all residents, this species presented a VU of 0.65 (Figure 3). We did not have enough data from children to assess whether their knowledge was significantly different from women or not, but both women and children were clearly separated from men’s knowledge on amphibians.

Figure 3. 

Use value for men and women of all ages, residents in and around a protected area in southern Bahia Atlantic Forest. (1) Leptodactylus latrans; (2) Boana faber; (3) Stereocyclops incrassatus; (4) Pipa carvalhoi; (5) Physalaemus camacan; (6) Physalaemus cf. camacan; (7) Dendropsophus elegans; (8) Frostius erythrophthalmus; (9) Phyllodytes melanomystax; (10) Allobates olfersioides; (11) Rhinella granulosa; (12) Rhinella hoogmoedi; (13) Haddadus binotatus; (14) Siphonops sp.; (15) Proceratophrys renalis; (16) Rhinella crucifer; (17) Phyllomedusa burmeisteri.

All interviewees showed partial or complete knowledge of the species shown on the board. The group is generically known as “sapos” (toads). Interviewees were able to separate the species using their shapes, colours and habitats into inclusive groups, showing traces of a Berlinean classification reaching a “species” level at some points. For example, two main groups within the Order Anura were distinguished: “rãs” (frogs, in Portuguese) grouping families Hylidae and Leptodactylidae (commonly known as tree-frogs) and “sapos” (toads, in Portuguese), corresponding to Bufonidae (Frost 2019). “Rãs” were divided in “rã cinzenta” (grey frog in Portuguese), identified as the largest one and corresponding to the genus Boanas and “rã verde” (green frog in Portuguese) as those living on leaves and belonging to the genus Phyllomedusa. Within Bufonidae, the folk classification did not distinguish between species n° 3 and 4, grouping them as “sapos molinhos e chatos” (soft and squishy toads). During the interviews, many popular names were mentioned by the residents. The only member of Order Gymnophiona, the caecilian Siphonops sp. was systematically separated from the Anura and received the largest number of folk names (Table 2).

Table 2.

Popular names and habitats given to amphibians by residents of the surroundings of a protected area in the Atlantic Forest, north-eastern Brazil. ID *: Identification number of the species on Figure 2; F2**: Number of times when each common name was mentioned or no name was given.

Scientific name Common name ID * F2** Habitat
Leptodactylus latrans Gia 1 13 Water
Caçote 6 Ponds
Cururu 1 Wetlands
1 Rivers
No name 8
Physalaemus camacan 5
No name 5
Physalaemus cf. camacan Perereca 6 1
No name 2
Boana faber 2 17 Trees
Perereca 1 Bromeliads
Rã cinzenta 1 Leaves
No name 3
Phyllomedusa burmeisteri 17 17 comes with the flood
Perereca 1 Trees
Rã verde 3 Cocoa
Gia 2 Leaves, branches
No name 3
Dendropsophus elegans 7 3
Stereocyclops incrassatus Sapinho mole 3 1
No name 6
Pipa carvalhoi 4
No name 3
Frostius erythrophthalmus 8
No name 1
Rhinella granulosa Sapo 11 4 Holes
Cururu 2
Gia 1
Sapo-boi 1
No name 13
Rhinella hoogmoedi 12
No name 5
Rinella crucifer Sapo cururu 16 4
Sapo 1
No name 6
Phyllodytes melanomystax 9 1
Gia 1
No name 2
Allobates olfersioides Perereca 10 1
No name 3
Haddadus binotatus Gia 13 1 Clean water
Caçote 1
No name 2
Proceratophrys renalis Sapo-boi 15 17 Cocoa leaf litter
Minisapo-boi 1
Siphonops sp. Cobra-de-duas-cabeças 14 8
Cobra do chão 2
Cecília 1
Iscaçú 1
Iscuçú 1
Muçum 1
cobra-preta 1
Cobra-cega 1
No name 4

In addition to the systematic recognition, we also analysed the popular sayings related to the amphibians shown in the questionnaire. All of the identified myths correspond to the generic group “sapos” (toads), the most common being that “every toad drops milk that can blind someone if it touches the eyes” and “if you catch a toad with your hand, you get shingles” which leads to the situation that the majority of respondents have avoided touching them. However, no specific myth or tale was identified for any given species.

Four of the nine categories described by Kellert (1993) (Table 1) were identified: symbolic, moralistic, utilitarian and negativistic (Table 3) and when asked where they had heard such comments, the answer was unanimous: everyone said that they heard them from the older people with some mentioning also neighbours or parents.

Table 3.

Phrases or behaviour regarding the anurans in the photos, by residents of the surroundings of a protected area in the Atlantic Forest, north-eastern Brazil. F1* = Number of times the reaction or comment was made; ** classification in biophillic categories according to Kellert (1993).

ID* Comments Classification**
10 People showed disgust while looking at the photos on the board Negativistic
6 Unleashes a milk or pees and, if this liquid reaches the eyes, it blinds Negativistic
4 Has “milk”, if thrown at a person, it gives shingles Negativistic
1 “If you walk on the eggs, you get chilblains” Negativistic
1 “Pees on someone and the spot itches” Negativistic
1 “Toads are poisonous” Negativistic
7 “Killing means bad luck, they feed on insects” Moralistic
3 “If you put someone’s name in the mouth of a toad and sow it, the person gets ill” Moralistic
1 “If it appears, it means rain” Moralistic
1 “If a guy kills a toad when he is building a house and the dead toad stays there (at the construction site), the house owner dies” Moralistic
1 “If you want to get married, you have to unravel the mouth of a toad and you can’t let him die” Moralistic
2 “Those who kill toads don’t raise chickens” Symbolic
9 “You can eat “gia”, but I don’t know which one it is” (sp. N° 1 Leptodactylus latrans) Utilitarian
3 “Cut a piece of the skin, roast it, grind it and put the powder on a wound (gangrene or diabetes), while the toads’ wound heals so does the persons’” (Leptodactylus latrans) Utilitarian
1 “Cut the belly and take the lard, fry it and take the droplets as a medicine. It’s good for fatigue (asthma)” Utilitarian
1 Spit into its mouth and release it, cures fatigue, asthma. Utilitarian
1 Serves as a toad vaccine (Phyllomedusa burmeisteri) Utilitarian
1 “Put it in cachaça to preserve it” Utilitarian


Traditionally, scholars have attempted to understand the principles underlying ethnoclassifications, including different ways of organising categories of living things in the natural world. Does classification serve cognitive or utilitarian ends, a mix of both or neither? (Dwyer 2005). The ethnobiological information collected throughout this study allowed the identification of a somehow distant relationship of the residents with amphibians, despite the registration of a certain level of ecological awareness, evident when residents declared not killing frogs because they eat bugs or are associated with bad luck. A similar attitude (not killing frogs because they are good for the environment) was registered for residents neighbouring the Adolpho Ducke reserve, in Manaus (AM), northern Brazil by Pontes da Silva et al. (2016), although their study differs from ours in showing a strongly negative perception of frogs. Ceríaco (2012) states that amphibians are valued less negatively than reptiles in Portugal. We cannot assess this statement with our current data, but our perception is that the mildly negative attitude towards amphibians shown in this study could be contrasted with a strongly negative attitude towards reptiles, especially snakes. Although the people from Una understand, to a certain point, the ecological function and importance of amphibians, even assuming a significant ethic position of not killing them, they rarely mentioned information on myths and did not have a clear identification for most species. The population of Una classifies the group generically as “sapos” (toads) and “rãs” (frogs) and characteristics such as colour, shape and patterns have been used to separate some of the different species.

During our interviews, the use of a Berlinean classification system by the residents of the REVIS was evident. According to Berlin (1992), the way that humans see and classify the world or interact with available natural resources even exploring them economically, seems to be common to all societies and cultures. The forms and grades of classification differ between regions, but some features are commonly shared and therefore similar to those used by taxonomists to group living beings (Berlin 1973). Berlin (1992) defends the premise that human minds are inclined to recognise ‘natural discontinuities’ in plant and animal domains, whereby ambient flora and fauna are recognised, named and classified according to easily perceptible morphological cues. The Berlinean system has been interpreted as largely functional and utilitarian in construction and design, however, predicated on the culturally-constructed “use value” attached to living things (Hunn 1982). Our data indicate that men seem to have more knowledge on potential uses for amphibians than women. This seems plausible because men (as mentioned by themselves) have more frequent contact with their natural surroundings in low-income rural societies in the region, as they have to walk to their working places every day, when they need to deal with the forest tasks, whereas women and children mostly pass their days near their homes due to domestic affairs (Castilho et al. 2013). Despite this, both groups mentioned almost the same species.

Although interviewees contemplated almost all species shown in the photos, two of them, Leptodactylus latrans (Leptodactylidae) and Phyllomedusa burmeisteri (Hylidae), were consistently identified and used for food (the former) and medicine (the latter). Although open ponds are the preferred habitat for both species, P. burmeisteri is arboreal and commonly found in scrub vegetation, preferring ponds surrounded by vegetation, while L. latrans lives on the ground and shows more vagility (Portela and Santos 2016). Therefore, it makes sense that people, who are not in constant movement to and from the forest, encounter L. latrans more often, since the frog itself moves more and it lives well in man-disturbed habitats. All men interviewed are frequently shifting from one place to another and transiting throughout the forest more than women, as has already been reported elsewhere (Castilho et al. 2013), thereby increasing the probability of observing species with a smaller home range, such as P. burmeisteri. Fernandes-Ferreira et al. (2013) also identified two species used for these purposes by a community from the same region: Leptodactylus vastus (Leptodactylidae) for food, which happened to be the genus reported for this same use in the present study and Rhinella jimi (Bufonidae). Amphibians are also used for food and medicine in cultures from distant parts of the world, such as the Nepalese (Shrestha and Shah 2017). Traditional Indonesian tribes also eat some frogs, but not as a preferred food item (Ellen et al. 1976).

Due to the significant amphibian diversity known for the Atlantic Forest of southern Bahia, specifically in Cacao – Cabruca systems (Silvano and Pimenta 2003), such as the REVIS-Una (Sambuichi et al. 2012), we expected a list of used species and a more complex relationship of the community with them. Although only two species were classified as utilitarian, all species shown were mentioned at least once by the respondents, meaning that the 17 different species have already been observed by the community of the REVIS Una. It is important to note that, although there is a perception of high amphibian diversity, people´s knowledge about the biology and ecological importance of amphibians still seems superficial and any comment was merely described as a statement from ancestors or neighbours. The one consistent fact amongst all interviewees was that they do not interact with amphibians for fear of being burnt or having bad luck. There is also an aesthetic factor to consider, for it has been shown elsewhere that aesthetics is an important determinant of public support for species protection (Knight 2008). In our study, we did not examine this aesthetics factor, but we revealed mildly negative values towards amphibians. Kellert (1993) states that a negative value is indicated when people show feelings of fear, aversion and dislike for some species of animals. We argue that some part of these negative values could be based on aesthetic arguments, so when exploring the negative values, we may also be exploring aesthetics.

Beliefs often serve as a frame of reference for our lives. Although they can be changed, it often takes time or strong evidence to persuade someone to do so and these are considered deeply rooted in our cultural and family world perspective. Values are core concepts and ideas of what we consider good or bad, right or wrong or what is worth the sacrifice. Attitudes are how we conduct our everyday life and are based on beliefs and values (McLean 2003). Ancestral discourses shape beliefs and values and have an impact towards people’s attitudes towards frogs and toads. When concerning health issues, for example, such as the possibility of poisoning by touching a toad, all interviewees learned from their elders that toads allegedly release a certain dangerous substance at the slightest touch and, therefore, nobody touches them or gets close to the animals. Attitudes and views of reptiles and amphibians are influenced by negativistic values and folk knowledge, with a sociodemographic factor also playing an important role in the understanding of these feelings and attitudes (Ellen et al. 1976; Ceríaco 2012). Rural people, such as out interviewees, have traditionally little access to formal education and therefore traditional knowledge and myths about animals can be perpetuated and assumed as truth, due to a lack of scientific information. Toads (genus Bufo) do secrete a creamy substance from their parotid glands, this being considered a protection mechanism against predators, for they lack spines, nails or sharp teeth as protective tools. This substance has an increased toxicity when in contact with oral mucosa of mammals, being able to severely poison or even kill dogs or other mammals of small size (Sakate et al. 2000). Although some Neotropical toads are known to shoot poison from their parotid gland (Toledo et al. 1992; Jared et al. 2009), there is no report of human poisoning or death by toad secretions from any of the species from southern Bahia. More environmental education and demystification by NGOs or academic-orientated groups are needed, because killing or hunting frogs and toads is still common, simply because of fear and a lack of information on actual risks.

Our study registered some aspects of local ecological knowledge regarding amphibians that have consistency with reported literature and which prevents the community from killing the amphibians that they see. For example, the potential to affect wound healing, reported by our interviewees, has been suggested elsewhere (Toledo and Jared 1989). Those toxins are produced to grant the toads protection against predators or skin infections and local community should be made aware of this information, to diminish their fear for these gentle animals. Myths, sayings and beliefs and the relationship between humans and amphibians were classified according to Kellert’s (1993) categories for biophilic values. Symbolic values arise in the form of metaphors, such as in the popular saying: “Those who kill toads don’t raise chickens”, meaning the same as the direct belief that “Killing toads leads to bad luck”, which was classified as amoralistic/spiritual. There are also negativistic attitudes, revealed when respondents show disgust or repulsion when looking at the amphibian images shown for this study. The identification of these statements is crucial to understand the co-existence of this community with the amphibian fauna and consequently serve as support for future interventions through institutions engaged with improving the quality of life for the residents of this protected area.

It is worth mentioning that sayings and reflections on the amphibian role within the community’s vision of nature came from the “elders”, who are represented by (mostly but not exclusively) men carrying a knowledge that might or might not have scientific correspondence. Such knowledge was brought to them by their ancestors, who in turn may or may not have had access to systematic knowledge and creating some type of “myth” which ends up not being questioned. To update the community’s knowledge, therefore demystifying amphibians and creating a healthy relationship with this group, any approach must consider these elders and the respect they inspire in their surroundings. Appreciation for the knowledge of the elder goes hand in hand with respect for the local culture. Environments, where younger generations respect the knowledge of the elder, have lesser degrees of family conflicts and even generate prejudice towards the rural environment.

A crucial issue in the development and implementation of conservation strategies is the appropriate dialogue with local communities. The lack of dialogue and enforcement of management rules, without a mutual understanding, leads to conflicts, which may reflect in ineffective management and may even lead to opposite effects (Lopes et al. 2010). Ethnobiological studies are necessary to better understand the relationship between communities and natural resources and consequently improve the dialogue between all actors involved in their progress, as well as in biodiversity conservation. Migration, resettlement and economic change are likely combined in this region (Johns 1999; Walker 2007) and this surely alters the cultural significance of amphibians and many other species in southern Bahia. Ethnobiological research can provide subsidies for managers and decision-makers to deal with these kinds of dialogues (Cardozo et al. 2018).


The authors would like to thank UESC and Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa da Bahia (FAPESB). The Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) is acknowledged for a research fellowship to M. Solé and A. Schiavetti.


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