Brooklyn gallery wants women to inject frogs with urine to see if they’re pregnant

African clawed frogs

It hasn’t always been about peeing on a stick and waiting for one or two little blue lines to appear.

It turns out, the pregnancy test as we know it today has come quite a ways from its early versions. Long before the days of over-the-counter digital readouts, women relied on the wisdom (and physiological reaction) of frogs, thanks to a discovery in the 1930s.

Biologists determined that the Xenopus laevis — or African clawed frog — would lay between 100 to 200 eggs if its dorsal lymph sac was injected with the urine of a pregnant woman. The process could give a positive result in as little six hours. The test was quite popular through the ’70s, until the more reliable methods we know today were developed.

The Brooklyn gallery Proteus Gowanus is offering a throwback to the ’40s in an upcoming exhibition about “looking at culture in context of all species we share planet with” by anthropologist and CUNY professor Eben Kirksey. Women (especially those who suspect they are pregnant) are invited to attend the opening on July 6 and watch as Kirksey injects frogs with their urine, offering them a free, first-hand experience with the retro custom.

The frog pregnancy tests are part of a larger exhibit that aims to shed light on how the tradition may have contributed to the demise of frog populations as a result of a fungus spread by the tests. The African clawed frog is not affected by the Chytrid fungus, but is a carrier of it and often spreads it to other frog species, leading to “amphibian mass extinction,” according to Kirksey.

“It’s about the implications of new biotech. No one knew in the 1930s that they’d be spreading this fungus,” Kirksey, who describes the frog pregnancy test as “100 percent accurate” told Metro. “So, if this has resulted in mass extinction, what are the new biotech schemes doing?”

The frogs can be reused for testing up to 60 times. Kirksey compared the injection of urine into the frog to a TB shot — just a small amount of liquid under the skin. He has two frogs that will be used for testing at the opening and five that will be given away to women, with syringes, so they can do the test themselves at home, where Kirksey encourages them to be kept as pets and not released into the wild, potentially spreading the fungus to other frogs. A first of its kind for Proteus, Pittman said she is hoping the exhibit exposes people to this “antiquated form of science.”

“I think [Kirksey's] work combined with the others is indicative of a way of approaching a subject that gives a new way of thinking,” Proteus’ executive director Tammy Pittman said. “I think it exemplifies the kind of work we do at Proteus.” 
 
The “DIY Frog Pregnancy Test” exhibition will be held at Proteus Gowanus (543 Union Street, Brooklyn) on Friday, July 6 at 7 pm. 


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