A frog in my throat

zoo volunteer with frog puppetSo yeah, that’s me with a giant frog puppet. The zoo’s education folks (including us volunteers) continue to highlight one form of wildlife per month this winter at the Tropics trailhead, and as Froggy February winds down, I’m still marveling at how much educational mileage I’ve gotten out of this big fake frog. It pulls in kids of all ages like a magnet, and then I’m off to the races with frog facts. Wiggling my finger inside its cloth tongue, I explain that a frog’s real tongue moves faster than the human eye can see as it catches flies and other bugs, and that its eye sockets then push downward to help it swallow those bugs whole. I ask if kids can tell frogs from toads and then talk about dry, warty skin and short-legged hops as opposed to frogs’ smooth dampness, webbed feet and long leaps.

froggy FebruaryLast week I found a great way to illustrate those leaps: by putting this plastic frog, which resembles the leopard frog found widely in Minnesota, next to a measuring tape on the floor to show how far he can jump — 5 feet 4 inches, a figure that sticks in my head because it’s my own height. I asked kids to see if they could leap as far as a leopard frog in a single bound, and quite a few could. Others hopped down the length of the tape, and I told them they were actually toads — still a type of frog.

Minnesota Zoo bullfrogAnd here’s a live one — ¬†our Minnesota Lodge bullfrog, whose size never fails to astound me. They’re the largest of our state’s 14 frog types (11 types excluding toads) at a maximum length of eight inches. Bullfrogs’ croak sounds like motors, leopard frogs’ like snoring; the interpretation booth has a handheld device that emits these and all the other types of croaks made by the 11 frogs. In a few days, the booth’s contents will switch from frog- to plant-related items, in anticipation of a spring that feels like it will never come. I’m not psyched up to talk about plants yet — but then, I wasn’t that excited about frogs at first, either. Until, eventually, I was.