Learning about Nature in the Concrete Jungle

Recently we received an email from Kelly Rypkema, a New York area naturalist who is the producer and host of the video series Nature in a New York Minute. Kelly has just released an episode about the Amphibian Crossing Project in New Jersey, a volunteer-based effort to conserve amphibians in the Northeast.

In the Amphibian Crossing episode, we learn about the manmade obstacles that frogs, toads, and salamanders face each spring as they attempt to migrate, obstacles that threaten their very survival. Kelly joins a team of biologists and volunteers who are working to save these animals by taking matters into their own hands – literally.

If you’re a city dweller with an interest in nature around you, please take a look at Kelly’s site. For nature-oriented news and events, you can follow her on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe to her blog.


The Amphibian Avenger – Lucy Cooke

We’re proud to feature guest blogger, Lucy Cooke, The Amphibian Avenger, who tells us about herself, what her mission is, and how we can all help.


I love frogs. I always have. As a small child I became fascinated by the miracle of metamorphosis, catching and studying tadpoles like a true proto frog geek. As an adult studying zoology at Oxford the astonishing diversity of amphibian life seemed to me to most eloquently illustrate the incredible adaptive power of evolution.

When I heard about the global amphibian crisis I was completely horrified and keen to do something about it. I discovered that most of my friends didn’t know that over a third of amphibians are going extinct or about the horrors of the Chytrid fungus. It made me aware of how little press amphibians get compared with birds and mammals so I decided that, as a writer and filmmaker, the best thing I could do would be to spread the word. So for the last few months I have been traveling around Latin America researching stories for a documentary on the crisis and writing a blog about my findings. I’ve been to some amazing places, met some inspirational characters, and discovered some truly awesome frogs. And it’s not over yet.

I started my trip by joining an expedition into the Patagonian wilderness with ZSL [Zoological Society of London] scientists to search for Darwin’s frog – the last of the gastric- or throat-brooding frogs left on the planet and the only species of animal (other than the seahorse) in which the male gets pregnant. After the eggs are fertilised the male gobbles them up and 8 weeks later he burps up baby frogs.

I was lucky enough to see and film a daddy Darwin’s frog carrying several tadpoles in his throat sack. It was one of the freakiest things I have ever seen – a mass of tadpoles wriggling in a frog’s belly – it looked like something out of the movie Alien. It gave me goose bumps to witness something so very special but sadly so very endangered. Darwin’s frog is threatened by habitat destruction and also the rampant spread of the Chytrid fungus. It would be a devastating loss to biodiversity for such an extraordinary animal to disappear off the planet.

Since then I have licked poison dart frogs in Colombia, visited infested frog farms in Uruguay and hunted mass murdering toads in Chile.

 But probably the most shocking story I have come across is that of the endangered Lake Titicaca toad, also known as the aquatic scrotum frog after its exceedingly wrinkly appearance. This monster of the deep has become the key ingredient for Peruvian backstreet Viagra. In downtown Lima I filmed juice bars where they put this toad in a blender and then drink it. A fashion which is pushing this unique amphibian to the brink of extinction.

Drinking frog frappe in downtown Lima from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.

I’ve still got Panama and Costa Rica to go and will be posting from these two countries that have already been forced to brave the first wave of Chytrid. So if you like frogs then follow my blog – I think you’ll enjoy my adventure. Frogs need champions to help raise their profile and the necessary funds to save them. So, please spread the word amongst your non-frog loving friends – it’s written not just for frog geeks and they may well learn something new and start to care about the little green guys nearly as much as me.

To follow Lucy’s adventure on her blog, click here.


LIFE: New Discovery Channel Series (and one amazing toad)

For fans of Planet Earth, a new Discovery Channel series called LIFE premieres  Sunday, March 21st, 8 p.m.  e/p. The 11-part series, filmed in HD and narrated by Oprah Winfrey, covers reptiles and amphibians, mammals, fish, bird, insects, creatures of the deep, and primates.

Click on the picture below to see a video excerpt from (episode #2).


This waterfall toad is unable to hop away from predators. So how does it escape from a hungry snake? You’ll have to watch the video to find out how nature has compensated this toad for being hop-less. Talk about a leap of faith!


Cane Toads Invade Sundance!

Susan and I are both eager to see filmmaker Mark Lewis’s Cane Toads: The Conquest, which has received good reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. This film, in 3-D,  is a follow-up to his cult favorite of 25 years ago, Cane Toads: An Unnatural History.

Here’s a description of the film from the website:

Shot against the harsh and beautiful landscape of northern Australia, Cane Toads: The Conquest tracks the unstoppable journey of the toad across the continent. Director Mark Lewis injects his trademark irreverence and humor into the story as he follows a trail of human conflict, bizarre culture and extraordinary close encounters.

Filmed with high-resolution 3D technology, Cane Toads is the first Australian digital 3D feature film.  Custom designed equipment allows viewers to get up close and personal with these curious creatures like never before. The unique viewing experience is like being immersed in the world of the toad.

Cane Toads were introduced to Australia in 1935 to control sugar cane larvae. Unfortunately they didn’t do that—instead this adaptable toad has thrived without natural predators and now numbers in the millions. The toads are poisonous when eaten by other animals, including native species and pets. They’ve caused other problems as well (for example, they eat the insects that other animals, such as skinks, depend on). Clearly, the importation of cane toads into Australia has been a huge ecological disaster.


Cane Toads: The Conquest isn’t a conventional animal documentary.  According to the film’s website:

[Cane Toads] is a truly poignant environmental cautionary tale on the issue of invasive species and human folly. Some will see this story as a tragedy, some a comedy of errors, and still others a heroic journey across a harsh yet beautiful continent. As the world wrestles with the idea that we have irretrievably altered our own ecosystem, these bulbous creatures may be the ultimate metaphor for the inevitable path upon which we have set ourselves.

For more information, watch Anne Thompson’s interview with Mark Lewis on her blog TOH! Thompson on Hollywood. Susan I and hope a major distributor picks up the film so we can see it in our area!


Kissed Any Frogs Lately? The Frog Prince Revisited

With Disney’s Princess and the Frog coming in December, we’ve been thinking a lot about frogs and princesses and princes, especially new twists on the classic fairy tale. I reread the original Grimm’s tale and was surprised that in this version, the princess doesn’t kiss the frog. He sleeps at the end of her bed (hmmm…), and when she wakes up, he’s a handsome prince.

Pictured above, from left to right are "The best of Fractured Fairy Tales, Volume 1", "The Frog Prince, Revisited" and  "The Prince of The Pond."

Pictured above, from left to right are "The Best of Fractured Fairy Tales, Volume 1", "The Frog Prince, Continued" and "The Prince of The Pond."

My favorite cartoon when I was about four was Fractured Fairy Tales. Does anyone else remember these cartoons? You can find most of them on YouTube, including the Frog Prince, about a frog who’s turned into a prince, but isn’t too happy about it. Eventually a witch turns both the prince and the princess into frogs, but being a Fractured Fairy tale, they don’t live happily ever after. They’re still bickering at the end, on their new home on the lily pad.

Another funny version of the tale is The Frog Prince Continued by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith, a picture book for ages 5-8, but like their other collaborations, it has crossover appeal to adults. In this version, the princess kisses the frog, who turns into a handsome prince. Of course, they get married and live happily ever after…or do they? The princess can’t stand the prince’s froggy habits. He hops around on the furniture and sneaks off to the lily pond. The prince decides that it would be best if he were changed back to a frog. But finding a witch who will do the job is harder than he expects. All is resolved at the end…This froggy couple “hops off happily ever after.”

Older readers, ages 9-12, will enjoy The Prince of the Pond by Donna Jo Napoli. Having been turned into a frog by a hag, a frog-prince makes the best of his new life as a frog. He falls in love, mates, raises a family, and instills a new kind of thinking into his frog family. He has a hard time talking with his long frog tongue, so he calls himself De Fawg Pin. I love this novel! It’s very sweet, but a bit sad, too. In the end, he’s changed back to a prince and marries a princess, but has to say good-bye to his frog family.

Have you read any other fun versions of the frog prince? If so, let us know!