Frogs must be onto something. They learned to dart out of the path of dinosaurs 200 million years ago and survived long after those giants perished. Today you can find a frog on every continent but Antarctica, in ponds, rainforests or undistinguished backyards, glimmering in a skin of pearly blue or vivid garnet – or happy to be just an ordinary green frog, splashing in a child’s aquarium.
For some people, frogs and their relatives, toads, are weirdly bug-eyed, slimy creatures better left on a mud flat. But an extraordinary number of people are – well, frog people. For these humans, the implacable frog represents rejuvenation, peaceful karma and all-knowing wisdom.
Many frog-lovers keep their pets in simple aquariums that combine water and some land, or in a man-made pond outdoors that’s been left to natural algae growth so it attracts the insects frogs savor. Others frog fans are fanatic about frog images – from cheap, plastic toys to expensive carvings.
The Frog Collectors
Ivana Trump, the high-society entrepeneur/actress once married to The Donald, collects frog miniatures. And even President Clinton became a frog collector of sorts – although he may wish he never saw one. Former Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s report on the affair between President Clinton and Monika Lewinsky noted that, among the gifts the young woman sent Clinton, were “a wooden letter opener with a frog on the handle… (and) a plastic pocket frog.”
At The Frog Store, an Internet boutique, frog lovers can satisfy almost any craving: frog dinnerware, frog-headed razors, frog night-lights, clothing and bedspreads. The store’s been in business 15 years, said Melissa Boyd, a frog owner in Oregon.
Cultures around the world have linked the frog to rain, the moon, fertility and metamorphosis – because of the frog’s dramatic change from a tadpole. Some people believe those who feel a kinship to frogs can sense other people’s feelings and sympathize more easily.
“I think amphibians are the favorite of all the species for some people, because they seem to be a symbol of quiet wetlands. They have a certain placid quality, a comical and non-threatening quality,” said Jud Newborn, a cultural anthropologist who keeps frogs in his backyard pond on Long Island.
But Newborn said the growing popularity of frogs – fed by images like Kermit – doesn’t seem to go hand in hand with any increased effort to protect them. “I have the uncomfortable feeling that the more a species becomes endangered, threatened or disappearing, the more people start transforming them into fetishes,” said Newborn.
The frog’s skin is so thin that scientists believe it’s the first animal to react to toxic substances in the environment. Researchers are closely studying pollutants as a possible cause for deformities in Minnesota frogs in recent years, and Clinton has asked Congress to fund more research.
Laurie Caple, a children’s book illustrator from Rice Lake, Wis., has designed frog prints to raise money for the Minnesota frog-preservation project. As a frog lover, she couldn’t stand by, she said.
“Oh, gosh, I think they’re fascinating; I think they’re beautiful,” said Caple, who likes to watch frogs climb her window at night to catch bugs.
She quoted a Senegalese philosopher, Baba Dioum: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught,” she said.