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Camden's Adventure Aquarium takes leap on frog exhibit

By: Kevin Shelly

As frogs go, so goes the planet.

That’s a big part of the message of the newest Adventure Aquarium exhibit, “Frogs: Nature’s Messenger.”

Problems with soil, water or the atmosphere? Check on frogs and other amphibians with delicate and porous skin to get a read on what’s going on.

Frog wrangler Nikki Grandinetti – she prefers the tag frog whisperer because she softly coos the phrase “love muffin” to her charges – says amphibians, such as frogs, toads and salamanders, “are like canaries in the gold mine,” giving us an early warning when something is awry.

Then there’s the other driving force behind this exciting new exhibit: Frogs are just plain fun to look at. They’re hugely varied to boot – tiny and big, drab and colorful, poisonous and benign, smooth and rough. One is even waxy.

There are 22 species from four continents in the temporary exhibit on the Camden waterfront.

Size ranges from as small as the first joint of your pinky finger for some tree frog varieties, such as the reticulated poison-dart frog from South America, to as big as a lunch plate for the African bullfrog, which can weigh more than 3 pounds.

There are mottled camo-colored brown-and-green American bullfrogs, but there are also iridescent Amazon frogs. The bright color is meant as a warning to predators that they are toxic. So toxic, in fact, that native hunters use the frog’s skin excretions on the tips of arrows to bring down prey.

Some frogs are active hunters, stalking prey before shooting out a long sticky tongue to snag an insect as a meal.

Others, like the camo-clad Argentine horned frog, sit patiently for days, grabbing a meal as large as a mouse or small bird in a massive maw.

Some, such as the Amazon’s red-eyed tree frog, have become icons of the habitat they hail from, identifiable as a signature species that represents the endangered rainforest habitat.

Others, such as the cane toad, are an invasive species, a nuisance threatening the habitat they have overtaken. Cane toads were brought to the southeast United States from Central and South America. They were introduced into the wilds of Florida as a means of controlling the sugar cane beetle, but they fared so well and multiplied so fast that now they are pushing out native species, threatening the natural balance.

While most frogs are smooth and moist, which helps them to breathe and take in moisture through their skin, the waxy monkey frog, so-named monkey because it walks rather than hops, has a waxy feel.

The wax layer keeps it moist – even though it favors the sun, since it lives in treetops. In fact, the critter is so well-adapted to tree living that it lays its eggs in the fold of a leaf, allowing the newly-hatched tadpoles to wriggle loose and drop into a stream below.

Tadpoles – an underwater stage between egg and adult – are typical for frogs and their near-relatives, toads, some of which are also part of the show.

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