Of amphibians, a daughter & science: Shedd exhibit

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I had ulterior motives in asking our teenage daughter along to see the new “Amphibians” exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium.

I want her to think it is OK for a girl to be smart and like science, and it’s cool. Unbeknownst to them, aquarist Eve Barrs and conservation communications coordinator Stephanie Ewing were prime examples when they gave a tour.

“So many people have a story with amphibians,” Barrs said. “They played with tadpoles as kids, had a frog as a kid, or even remember a singing frog on TV.”

For me, it was 50-gallon metal drums my dad cut in half with a torch at the quarry, then brought home. My younger brother and I filled them with tadpoles in various stages.

For Barrs, it was toads.

“As a child, I could catch them,” she said. “You can put toads in your hand and look close at them.”

It’s cool to look close at the “Amphibians” exhibit. I enjoy exotic amphibians as much as most. But what really interested me were the locals I had no clue about. It’s good to expand the world out from the spot where you are.

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Quick, how many of these–American toad, bullfrog, cricket frog, four-toed salamander, Fowler’s toad, gray tree frog, lesser siren, green frog, marbled salamander, mudpuppy, red spotted newt, spotted salamander, spring peeper, tiger salamander, western chorus frog or wood frog–did you know are in the Great Lakes region?

I am guessing most are like me and only know a handful. The exhibit is a good addition for parents who bring their kids this summer to the Shedd.

“They are too cool to lose,” Barrs said.

A prime example of concern is the cricket frog, which has disappeared from the Chicago area for unknown reasons in recent years.

The exhibit is as much a celebration as a cautionary tale.

On spring peepers, Barrs said, “Males are making that call: `It is spring and time to mate.’ ”

How about that the wood frog can freeze solid in winter? A special protein prevents ice crystals from forming.

Of the local amphibians, Barrs said the lesser siren is her favorite because of its uniqueness. One of the cooler ones is not local, the Japanese giant salamander

The exhibit is divided into three themed rooms: changing bodies, changing to survive and changing world.

The Shedd raises the food–meal worms, crickets, wax worms, etc.–so that they know “the history’’ of what is fed to the creatures in their care. Artists went out in the field to understand what kind of backgrounds to make for the exhibit.

Ultimately Barrs hopes the exhibit lets people know that “What is good for frogs is good for other things.”

She means using rain barrels and rain gardens, and reducing the amount of water used, the amount of runoff and the use of pesticides (the jelly-like eggs are very susceptible to environmental impacts).

At the tour’s end, I made the mistake of puns with Barrs and Ewing. They outdid me within 10 seconds. It was a ribeting tour.

It was time.

Our daughter and I circled through our two favorite regular exhibits: “At Home on the Great Lakes” and “Caribbean Reef,” then ended with petting a stingray.

Information is at sheddaquarium.org.

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