The Frog-O-Sphere Controversy

This past weekend, Susan noticed “Frog-O-Sphere” kits in a Brookstone store. The frogs were barely moving and seemed as if they were dying. She found this very disturbing and asked me to find out about it. Doing a little research, I found out that just this past week, PETA staged protests in front of Brookstone stores against these kits. The Times of Trenton reported that after the PETA protests, a store in West Windsor, New Jersey, was ordered to pull the kits off its shelves after the township health office flagged the company for not having a pet shop license.

PETA protest in front of Brookstone store, Boston (Minneapolis Animal Rights Examiner)

PETA protest in front of Brookstone store, Boston (Minneapolis Animal Rights Examiner)

According to PETA’s website:

Recently, allegations have surfaced that Brookstone employees who see that frogs are languishing on store shelves have been instructed to put them ‘in the back,’ out of sight of customers, instead of contacting a veterinarian to get help for sick and dying animals.

Frog-O-Sphere kits, sold only by Brookstone, contain a plastic aquarium, two aquatic frogs, a bamboo plant, a snail, and living gravel. According to the company website, the frogs won’t outgrow the aquarium and may live for up to 4 years. The snail feeds itself and keeps the tank clean of algae and excess food. Living gravel acts as a biological filter, converting excess food and waste into a soluble form that can be used by the bamboo plant. The bamboo absorbs the waste, then releases oxygen, which helps the frogs and snail.

Keeping frogs as pets is controversial enough—a topic we’ll address in future posts. But I do think the claim that these kits promise a “complete self-contained ecosystem” is overstated. The kits remind me of the many pets I had as a child, such as the little turtle that sat under a plastic palm tree and lived a month or so. The Frog-O-Spheres fall into that category, despite the fact that the kits sound upscale, educational, and eco-friendly.

In the customer reviews on Brookstone, many people clicked “decoration” or “gift” as the reason to buy the kits. Most people also mentioned that the snails died within a couple of weeks. Unless the person who purchased the frogs is motivated to buy new snails (or get replacement snails from Brookstone), the water will soon become cloudy and the frogs will suffer, and the so-called “self-contained ecosystem” will fall apart.

From what I’ve read, African Dwarf frogs are pretty hardy and low maintenance, but they do have certain requirements that these Frog-O-Spheres don’t seem to fulfill. I looked at a frog pet site and found out that, for example, the frogs can live from 5 to 18 years, they need a gallon of water per frog, need a water heater for winter months, are less stressed out if they have artificial lighting for consistent day and night lighting (they are nocturnal), need plants and foliage to hide behind, and so on. If you have already purchased a Frog-O-Sphere, I recommend going online to learn about them or buy a pet care book about African Dwarf frogs.

If you are tempted to buy one of these Frog-O-Sphere kits, please resist. Go outside and enjoy frogs—in real ecosystems.


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!