The Frog Test, the Birth of the Pregnancy Test

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From urinating on various grains and seeing what germinated in Egyptian times to burning ribbons in the 17th Century, pregnancy tests have historically been unreliable. Then the 20th Century came, and it brought science.

In the 1920’s the presence of hCG, a chemical produced by the placenta, was discovered to be a way of telling that someone (presumably a woman) was pregnant. The first tests were created in the same decade, using animals. They worked on the principle of injecting the woman’s urine into the veins of a mouse or rabbit, waiting for at least a day and then removing the ovaries. On examination of the ovaries they could find out what effect the urine had on the ovaries and draw their conclusions. Unfortunately the animals had to be killed to do this; it was reliable, but expensive.  Then came a new way, a better way, the ‘Frog Test’.

Lancelot Hogben discovered that the same test could be performed on the female African clawed frog. After being injected, if the frog produced eggs within 24 hours, the woman was pregnant. No killing, and yet the accuracy remained. This saved time, and even meant that frogs could be reused. The ‘Frog Test’ was the world’s first cheap and reliable pregnancy test and became the international standard for decades. At the end of the 1950’s it was finally supplanted by technology, technology which went on to produce the pregnancy tests we all know, but don’t all use.

Further Reading

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Deployed on by Alexandre Coates in Micro Oddities 19 Current Replies

19 Responses to The Frog Test, the Birth of the Pregnancy Test

  1. Tony Day

    It may seem surprising but a significant percentage of the worlds population are still peeing on grain.

    • Alexandre Coates

      Set up an indoor frog-breeding program in those countries. Use the frogs to detect pregnancy, sell your service, profit!
      Thank you for the comment Tony, I was not aware that it still went on, how interesting.

    • Anita Pinto

      I grew up in Austria and remember the days of frog pregnancy tests very well as they were done as routine in those days up to the 1960s when I was a teenager. It’s along time ago but seems only a short time ago in the light of . “Fortschritt durch Technik” had come a long way

  2. Mere

    It may be strange, but what I want to know is what happened with the eggs that the frog produced? I guess they wouldn’t be viable, but, what happened?

    • Cate

      The eggs would be viable. Frog eggs aren’t fertilized with sperm until they are laid in many species. So usually the female frog gets a surge in that hormone when near a potential mate. But this just artificially makes her lay eggs. Similar to how chickens can lay Non fertilized eggs.

  3. carlie

    it is wired stabbing them

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  5. Peter

    I didn’t know about any of these pregnancy tests. The efficient frog method was certainly a breakthrough. Sad though that it resulted in the introduction of this species to north america, and the resulting displacement of native species.

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    Thanks in favor of sharing such a fastidious thought, article is nice, thats
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  9. Terry

    I was telling a friend that I used to visit my mom at the clinic where she worked and loved to look at the frogs in the bottom of the refrigerator . I don’t think her or her sister believed me when I told them what they were used for. Her sister is a retired RN and never heard of this test. Thanks for article to prove I’m not senile.

    • dale

      I used to do the frog test when I worked in a serology lab back in 1962. I would stick them and later read the results and later take them to a creek for release

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