Back to School: Thoughts about Frog Dissection

Remember that scene from E.T. when Elliott frees all frogs in his science class? Elliott reminds me of my younger son Tim, who probably would have done the same thing (without being inebriated)!

This past weekend, Tim returned to college, where he is thinking of majoring in biology. He brought up an interesting issue: Would he be required to dissect an animal even if it is against his beliefs? Are alternatives provided for these students?

When I was a student, I didn’t have a choice. In both junior high and high school, I dissected a fetal pig. Each student had his/her own animal to dissect.

But with the rise of animals rights groups, PETA being the most visible, I wondered if times had changed. Do students have a choice? Are there alternative ways for students to learn about anatomy that don’t harm animals?

I discovered a site called Dissection Alternatives (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) that explores these issues and offers lots of practical solutions. I was surprised to learn that research has shown that animal-friendly alternatives to teaching students about anatomy and biology are just as effective as the traditional methods of dissection. Computer software can now provide detailed, sophisticated graphics, interactive features, videos, and in-depth accompanying text to help students learn about anatomy. UPDATE: We recently learned about the first virtual reality frog dissection software called V-Frog (from Tactus Tech).

I was also surprised to learn that the majority of medical schools often use these alternatives rather than traditional animal dissection. In addition, The National Science Teachers Association recently amended its official position statement on animal use, approving the use of non-animal alternatives as replacements for dissection.

Dissection Alternatives sponsors the Cut Above Awards, which honors teachers and students who have taken great leaps to adopt humane alternatives to dissection.


Dissection Alternatives also provides information about the following:

PETA also created a new site to address dissection alternatives called TeachKind, which is loaded with information, and includes a video demonstration of Digital Frog 2.5.

If you have some thoughts about animal dissection, or have some experience using these dissection alternatives, please leave us a comment!

3 thoughts on “Back to School: Thoughts about Frog Dissection

  1. More should be done to make the people and institutions aware of the alternatives available to study animal anatomy so that the practice of dissecting animals can be reduced and possibly discontinued in the near future. The biggest question is, how cost effective are the alternatives available and how open are the people in using them.

  2. Sunipa–

    I believe there are loan programs for schools that can’t afford the software programs (they are listed on the Dissection Alternatives website). I’m not entirely sure how open biology teachers are to using these alternative methods. I do know my sons didn’t have any choice, but it seems that several states do allow students the choice to use other methods.

  3. I teach biology as well. With rising costs and lowered school budgets, there are a great deal of alternatives to dissection. There are some excellent virtual dissection tools on the web that provide an excellent experience., albeit not real experience.
    I don’t believe that with the global crisis of amphibian depletion worldwide, we should be engaging in this type of additional havoc. There are many other things to dissect that are not in decline. If one must dissect something, let’s consider dissecting some invasive species instead.
    I believe that an even more critical issue is that of allowing live frogs in the classroom. Many elementary and middle school, and to a lesser degree high school, classrooms are bringing in frogs to put into aquariums. Some are being imported from Africa. These frogs are released into the “wild” at the end of the school year, by underinformed educators. This increases the chance of another introduced species populating the habitat and decreasing the population of native amphibian species.
    Some of the frogs that are brought into the classroom are brought in from nearby wetlands during the spring in the form of eggs.Teachers are often not knowledgeable of the species they are collecting, and may very well inadvertantly collect protected species. While it is understandable and noble to show students metamorphisis right before their eyes, these frogs often die, or are released back into a schoolyard with little regard of habitat requirements. Sometimes they are given to students to take home. Live frogs in the classroom, or otherwise, should be made illegal.

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