Croaking in Large Numbers

As much as we'd like to go with the misunderstood creature angle, the myths about frogs are pretty obvious: Their warts aren't contagious, and they don't turn into princes when you kiss them. "I've been trying with each new shipment that comes in, but nothing," Moody Gardens curator Suzanne Smith laments.

The fact is, we like frogs, warts and all. The public fascination with these odd little animals is the main reason the staff of Moody Gardens decided to put together "Toadally Frogs," the largest collection of bug-eyed belchers in the country.

But animal husbandry manager Jim Prappas lets slip some of the loftier aspirations of the exhibit, though he couches them in purely economic terms. The museum will take part in a program to breed endangered species, such as the Panamanian golden frog, for rerelease about a year from now. In order to keep the best biologists, Prappas explains, you have to offer challenges and opportunities beyond prepping animals for display. "We're obviously animal people," he says. "You want to be working." Hear that, appropriations board?

Since frogs tend to absorb oxygen through the skin, they're more susceptible to pollutants. "Watch what the frogs are doing," Smith says. "They're a pretty good indicator." This, coupled with a shrinking habitat, has led to a worldwide decline in amphibian populations. Our own sprawl has nearly eradicated our namesake, the Houston toad, which is on such precarious ground that none could be spared for this exhibit.

Moody's head biologist, Paula Kolvig, holds a yellow spotted toad for the media to stroke. Not all frogs jump; some are walkers or climbers, like this one. The second specimen is White's tree frog from Australia, which could easily be mistaken for a glop of mud. Odder still is the tomato frog, which looks like a rotten, well, tomato.

Prappas's favorite is the giant marine toad, because it has an interesting migration pattern and eats rats and snakes. "Such a guy," PR woman Andi Zarro jokes.

Smith has a fondness for the poison dart frog. Once they're sufficiently pissed off, the frogs excrete venom through their skin. Native tribes in South America would shake the little buggers in a basket anytime they needed to poison a blow dart.

"It's a pretty miserable death, in the grand scheme of things," Prappas says of the venom's effects. Actually, the frogs themselves don't produce toxins but extract them from the ants and other insects they eat. The bugs they feed on at Moody Gardens, however, are nontoxic. "This is really good for us," Prappas says.

Rendering these guys harmless hasn't pacified their personality any. Unlike most animals, who try to camouflage themselves in the face of danger, dart frogs announce their presence with bright greens or blues to warn predators to stay away. Apparently, they have an attitude.

Now for the answer everyone's been waiting for: There is no difference between a frog and a toad. A toad is a type of frog that tends to have rougher skin and to live inland.

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Dylan Otto Krider