It was a moment of almost unbearable tension, as the cricket marched toward certain doom.
Would the tiny insect catch a glimpse of the camouflaged frog in time? Or would it soon be awash in stomach acid?
Neither. The tomato frog — one of the stars of Shedd Aquarium’s new Amphibians exhibit — allowed the cricket to scamper over its head without so much as a twitch.
“The thing about amphibians is that a lot of them are nocturnal,” explained Malissa Smith, an aquatic animals expert, as she escorted reporters Wednesday through the exhibit, set to open Saturday. “So they’re going to kind of hunker down during the day and come out at night to feed.”
Some 40 species of frogs, salamanders, newts and worm-like caecilians dozed, slithered or hopped during the preview Wednesday. The exhibit’s largest animal, a 2 1/2-foot Japanese giant salamander, wasn’t quite ready for prime time Wednesday.
A colossal African bullfrog lay motionless behind the glass like a giant beached jellyfish.
“These guys will eat pretty much anything they can fit in their mouths – other frogs, rodents, insects, small birds,” Smith said. “They will sit and wait and then lunge for their [prey] and then use their arms to push the food into their mouths.”
Staff use tongs to feed their African bullfrog, Smith said, just to be safe.
The tomato frog – so named because when it puffs up, it looks like the famous red fruit – releases a nasty-tasting toxin through its skin to remind would-be predators they might want to go elsewhere for food.
Shedd’s tomato frogs were a bit sluggish Wednesday.
“I actually put about six or eight crickets in there last night. . . . So I think they ate a lot last night,” Smith explained.
Staff drum up excitement about frogs by explaining how some frog toxins are used on poisoned darts in some South American cultures. But it’s all in an effort to better educate the public about the plight of amphibians.
“Forty percent of amphibians worldwide are either endangered or threatened, and a lot of that is due to environmental loss and the pollution,” Smith said.