New aquarium exhibit
by Connecticut Post
Thanks to Kermit, that adorable Muppet star of stage and screen, a lot of us non-outdoorsy types have lived for years with the notion that frogs come in one color only: green.
How wrong we were. Apparently, these creatures come in an array of sizes and shapes and in a rainbow of colors: tomato red, yellow with orange stripes, blue with black spots, putty with touches of white, and in mottled beige, brown and black.
And how did we come upon this revelation? We visited the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, which a few weeks ago opened its most recent permanent exhibition: "Frogs!" Situated on the second floor in the facility's Maritime Hall, "Frogs" features more than 20 species of frogs, toads and salamanders that the aquarium describes as "some of the world's most awesome amphibians."
Included are specimens from a wide variety of habitats, from the tropics to New England and Long Island Sound's watershed region. Among the beauties are yellow albino horned frogs, red-eyed tree frogs, cane toads, Mexican Axolotl, dazzling black and orange fire salamanders, poison dart frogs, Surinam toads, Madagascar tomato frogs and local mudpuppy salamanders. They are on view in specially fabricated tanks that simulate natural amphibian environments — on land and in trees, ponds and rivers — in the rainforests, grasslands and deserts of the world.
Some look mean and scary; we would not be amused to find one of those huge nine pound African bullfrogs under the bedcovers.
Others, however, are so adorable — White's tree frogs always appear to be smiling — that kissing one in search of Prince Charming might not be that bad after all.
"We're always looking for ways to include new, interesting offerings for visitors," says Judith Bacal, the facility's director of exhibits, during a recent interview. "And we thought this would be a winner, because everybody loves frogs."
OK. But does everybody love toads? It's a trick question, Bacal says, laughing.
Because, as the exhibition points out, "all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads."
Frogs, we learned, generally have smooth, mucus-covered slimy skin, with strong legs and webbed hind feet for jumping and swimming. Toads live mostly on land and have rough or bumpy dry skin, stubby bodies and short hind legs for walking and hopping.
It's information like this coupled with fascinating specimens that make the exhibition fun and entertaining for children and adults alike.
But make no mistake, Bacal says, the exhibition has serious goals: to make the public aware of the importance of frogs to the environment and measures that the conservation-minded can undertake to stem the "current amphibian crisis."
Bacal notes that of the approximately 6,000 known amphibian species — frogs, toads, salamanders and caecilians — about 2,000 are threatened with extinction because of loss of habitat, pollution, illegal wildlife trade, unsustainable harvesting, climate change and invasive species.
But why should humans care?
The answer is a no-brainer, Bacal says. In addition to being an integral part of the food chain — providing food for fish, birds and mammals — frogs eat "pest insects," helping to minimize the spread of disease to both humans and other animals.
A number of medications have been synthesized from amphibian skin chemicals, the exhibit points out, including a non-addictive painkiller that is reportedly more effective than morphine. And perhaps most important, frogs are much like the "canary in the cold mine" — with a capability of alerting humans to future environmental problems. "Frogs can drink and breathe through their skin because it's so highly permeable," she explains. "But it's this very adaptation that also makes them highly susceptible to pollution and other environmental stressors" in the soil, air and water. "So when the climate changes and frog populations begin to decline, as they have been, both regionally and worldwide, it points to possible problems down the road for other animals, including humans."
Bacal says that, from her point of view, one of the most important aspects of the exhibition is its stress on conservation.
It's noted that we can "help save frogs and other amphibians" by:
l Limiting the use of chemicals and pesticides, which ultimately end up in the watershed and in turn harm the frog population.
l Observing, but not collecting, amphibians in the wild. Amphibians for pets should be captive-born, purchased from reputable dealers. l Buying local and organic produce, which reduces the need for pesticides and chemicals, using less energy for transportation and packaging.
"What you do does have an impact on your world," Bacal says, " and that's the message we're trying to convey."
WHEN YOU GO
What & where: "Frogs" is a new permanent exhibit at the Maritime Aquarium, 10 North Water St. in Norwalk. Hours: The facility is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Tickets: General admission is $11; $10 for senior citizens 65 years of age and older; $9 for children 2 to 12 years of age. More info: For aquarium directions and other information, visit www.maritimeaquarium.org or call 852-0700.