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  Field Notes From
The Fragile World of Frogs

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From Author

Virginia Morell

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From Photographer

George Grall

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Stephen Richards (top) and Jesús López

image: Earth
In a Frog’s World

Field Notes From Author
Virginia Morell
I went with herpetologist Stephen Richards to look for frogs outside the New Guinea town of Tabubil. We went out at night when it was wet and rainy, ideal conditions for frog mating. When we stopped by a stream Stephen listened to frog calls, identified the frog, then went out and caught it so I could see which one delivered the call.
He was tracking frogs when I heard a tiny soft boink, boink among the din of other frog calls. After a while I spotted the source, a pale mottled creature less than an inch long sitting like a Disney cartoon on the end of a leaf. I decided to try to catch it, so I followed Stephen’s method: Move along its side where it couldn’t see me and grab it quickly.
When he returned, I opened my hand for him to take a peek. “What’s that?” he asked. “I’ve never seen that one before.” I was excited enough that I had caught a frog on my own, but learning that I had possibly discovered a new species took that excitement to a different level.
I was saddened to discover that there were no longer any frogs or tadpoles around some of the beautiful streams in Queensland, Australia. I had been to enough areas where frogs were plentiful to know what it should sound like. To be met with silence where there should have been frog calls brought home how extensive the loss has been in that region from a fungus called chytrid. It was like being in a haunted house; the frogs’ spirits were there, but they were not. I always thought of frogs as rather simple creatures that just sit around and lap their tongues out once in a while. But when I watched them filmed in slow motion I realized that they are actual hunters.
A termite was placed in the box with a golden mantella frog from Madagascar. The frog was so fast that I couldn’t see much at regular film speed, but in slow motion I saw it turn and focus on the termite, aim its head low like a cat, and suddenly lunge its whole body as its tongue shot out and captured the insect. It changed my perception of frogs.

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