HOW FASCINATING CAN A FROG BE?
by Whit Gibbons
February 5, 2006
Do you think
of frogs and toads as no more than fat, hopping, croaking blobs? Do you
think they are only good for threatening preteen girls (assuming you’re
a preteen boy)? Do you think frogs have drab personalities with coloring
to match and are about as interesting biologically as slugs? If you do,
there’s a new book that will change your mind. And if you’re
already convinced that frogs are fascinating, you’ll get further
confirmation from this book.
Their Remarkable World (2005; Firefly Books, Toronto) by Ellin Beltz is
a 176-page book with 125 stunning color photographs. The hardcover book
is $34.95, an amazing bargain. The more than 4,000 species of frogs offer
an array of diversity in behavior, ecology, and appearance. Frogs (which
in the broadest sense also include the toads) live on virtually every
large island and continent in the world except Antarctica. One, however,
does live north of the Arctic Circle, surviving winter hibernation by
converting its body fluids into a form of antifreeze, and another is found
in the Himalayas at elevations of 17,000 feet.
As its title
implies, the frog book unveils a remarkable amphibian world that will
be appreciated by anyone exposed to it. The world's largest frog, the
goliath frog of the Cameroons in West Africa, can weigh up to eight pounds
and is almost a yard in length when its legs are extended. By comparison,
the American bullfrog can weigh around four pounds and is about a foot
in length. The largest toad is the marine toad or cane toad native to
the American tropics that can be almost two feet long and weigh up to
six pounds. Imagine a six-pound toad! In contrast, adults of the world's
smallest frogs are only 3/8 of an inch long, smaller than any other land-dwelling
vertebrates. For perspective, two of these frogs could sit end-to-end
on a nickel without touching the edges. One is the Brazilian gold frog,
and the other, discovered in Cuba in 1996, has no common name. Actually,
I guess we could name it here as "the Cuban mini-frog."
that cannot be overstated about this book is that the photography is superb.
The pictures bring out the endless spectrum of lively colors, and many
also capture the array of bizarre behaviors displayed by frogs. As far
as color, the Oriental fire-bellied toad, green above and red below, is
hard to beat, until you see the blue color phase of the Australian green
treefrog. The blue color is highly unusual among frogs and has only recently
been verified as existing in the Australian species. Other oddities include
a pileup of two dozen African gray treefrogs kicking their legs to create
a foamy froth to lay their eggs in, and the broadly webbed front and back
feet of Reinwardt's flying frog, a yellow and green Malaysian species
that glides from the tops of tall trees.
Some of the
interesting facts that accompany the author's well-written text and the
assortment of color photos, maps, and charts, include ones that sound
like something from a frog and toad high school annual. The award for
"most prolific" goes to the marine toad, which has been known
to lay more than 35,000 eggs. Do not ask who counted them. The award for
the biggest mouth (for which most of us could recall a sure winner in
our high school), belongs to algae-eating tadpoles. They are able to open
their mouths 180 degrees, which means straight up and down. Although almost
all frogs and toads are confined to terrestrial or freshwater habitats,
the Southeast Asian crab-eating frogs live in brackish mangrove swamps
by changing their body chemistry.
Their Remarkable World will convince you that frogs are amazing, but do
not get the idea that all the exciting ones are only in the tropics or
other faraway lands. Right now, several winter-breeding frogs, including
the aptly named ornate chorus frog, are calling and breeding in protected
wetlands of the Southeast. Frogs have much to tell us about the mysteries
of nature, and we need to keep listening for them wherever they are.
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