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Frogs invade Museum of Natural History

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Old June 6th 04, 10:04 AM
Steve Dufour
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Default Frogs invade Museum of Natural History

Live frogs are stars of museum exhibition

By Frederick M. Winship

New York, NY, Jun. 5 (UPI) -- The African clawed frog, which has been
infesting ponds all over the world in recent decades, is one of the 24
species of frogs from 17 countries on display in a new show at the
American Museum of Natural History that includes more than 200 live
amphibians of the frog genus in re-created habitats.

The aggressive clawed frogs native to sub-Saharan Africa made news
recently by infesting a lily pond in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park,
setting off a debate on how to get rid of them before they eliminate
most of the other aquatic life in the pond. These frogs seem to be on
the increase worldwide while other frog species are threatened with
extinction by adverse environmental conditions.

"Frogs: A Chorus of Colors" tells the story of frogs in a most
entertaining (and educational) way in one compact gallery containing a
series of large glass vivariums furnished with rock ledges, tree
trunks, ponds, waterfalls and plants in which the frog specimens,
including a few in their larval tadpole stage, feel right at home.
Recorded frog chirps, peeps, grunts and croaks fill the gallery with
appropriate sounds.

The display, which can be seen through Oct. 3, also includes a number
of interactive stations where visitors can activate specific frog
calls, watch frogs leaping on video, absorb a wide range of
information about the frog genus, and have their new knowledge about
the fascinating critters tested. All of the material reflects the
latest research findings on frogs by scientists in the museum's
Department of Herpetology.

The department devoted to reptiles and amphibians has 350,000 dead
specimens of frogs, some of them acquired more than a century ago and
many of them preserved in formaldehyde. Museum of Natural History
scientists have discovered 160 frog species during the past century,
10 of them in the last year, including a spectacular red tree frog
from the Konawaruk Mountains of Guyana on display.

Frogs would appear to be divided between the spectacular, due to
brilliant coloring designed to warn predators against poisons in their
skin, and the drab, whose camouflage coloring makes them invisible to
predators. South American Indians kill jaguars, monkeys, birds and
bats with blow darts dipped in the toxins of several frog species.

Frog toxins, such as the non-addictive analgesic exuded by an
Ecuadorian frog that is 200 times more potent than morphine as a
painkiller, are being studied for use in human medicine, according to
Christopher J. Raxworthy, curator of the museum's herpetology

The most beautiful frog on view is the small dart poison frog of
Central and South America. It is lapis blue with lemon yellow trim, or
vice versa, or it can be variegated blue and yellow. Other beauts are
the Golden mantle frog of Madagascar, a tiny saffron-colored species
whose males wrestle each other for the favors of females, and the
Chinese gliding frog, colored a lovely blue-green, whose webbed toes
enable it to "fly" for short distances.

But most frogs are green and brown for sake of survival, and the most
successfully camouflaged frog is the large Vietnamese mossy frog that
has the appearance of a clump of lichens and is barely visible to
museum visitors when clinging to the mossy stones in its vivarium.
Finding the Big Mossies, about a half dozen of them, has become the
favorite game of children visiting the show.

Frogs have short pointed teeth and eat insects, worms, spiders, snails
and the larger ones devour other frogs, rodents and even small birds.
As a killer of insects, they are economically valuable to agriculture.
In turn, frogs are eaten by a wide variety of predators including man,
who fancies them as a delicacy, especially the legs. Americans import
1.25 million pounds of frog's legs a year.

Some 4,000 species of frogs have been found on all the continents
except Antarctica. Museum scientists say that in the past 50 years
some species have vanished completely, mostly due to human activity in
destroying their habitat. Malformed frogs, mysteriously missing legs,
eyes and toes, have been found in 44 U.S. states since 1996, possibly
the victims of parasites, pollution or ultra-violet radiation.

The largest frog species can measure up to 15 inches long and weigh
seven pounds, and the Goliath frog can jump 10 feet. Frog voices, made
by pumping air against the vocal chords, fill the night air in many
rural parts of the world, and some can be heard a mile away from their
source. Most frogs like cool, moist habitats, but some live in deserts
and survive extreme heat by burrowing underground.

One of most attractive aspects museum visitors will find about frogs
is their large, bulging, hypnotic eyes, so placed atop the head that
they have 180 degree vision. They have excellent night vision, can
move their eye lenses back and forth, and pull their eyes into the
roof of their mouths to help push food down their throats.

And what of the famous American bullfrog, immortalized by Mark Twain
in his "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"? Bullfrogs
were introduced to the American West in the 1800s as a food source.
They have since invaded ponds and waterways and now are considered a
threat to native fish, snakes, birds and other frogs. In other words,
a pest. Or maybe a prince in disguise?


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