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Frogs of the world: “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors” at Nature Museum

The poison dart frogs exhibit (you can see another one under the foot of the top frog) are the most colorful at the "Frogs: A Chorus of Colors" at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
Credit: Dale Bowman

I felt voyeuristic whipping out my phone for photos while watching a pair of Asian tree toads doing what comes naturally. Until Allison Sacerdote-Velat told me that’s what she did when she saw them.

“It shows they are comfortable,” said Sacerdote-Velat, the new curator of herpetology at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

I should say.

That was one of the surprises and joys Thursday at a preview two days before the opening of “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors.” The exhibit runs through Jan. 22, a “great opportunity” over the holidays, as Sacerdote-Velat put it.

If looking for color, the best are the poison dart frogs. Their poison is related to what they eat in the wild, different than what they are fed in the exhibits. The giant monkey frog is another good visual with vibrant color. The aptly named tomato frog, links to modern conservation. That frog was over-collected by illegal trade.

"Jabba the Hutt,'' or African bullfrog at the "Frogs: A Chorus of Colors" at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Credit: Dale Bowman

“Jabba the Hutt,” or African bullfrog at the “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors” at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
Credit: Dale Bowman

The African bullfrog, aptly called Jabba the Hutt, has a powerful squatting presence near the entrance to the exhibit. On Mondays, it is fed rodents. Yes, it is that big.

Sacerdote-Velat likes the Amazon milk frog, which lays eggs in tree holes.

“The males are pretty sneaky,” she said.

After mating with one female, the male calls for another female but does not fertilize her eggs, instead those eggs become food for the tadpoles from the first mating.

The African clawed frogs have the most multi-layered tale.

“When they eat, it is kind of like Cookie Monster shoveling things in their mouths,’’ Sacerdote-Velat said.

They are used in toxicology studies and were once used in pregnancy testing for humans, which is how they ended up being dumped in California and Arizona. A pregnant woman’s urine would make the frogs lay eggs in less than a day, a natural pregnancy test.

Smoky jungle frogs, which use a foam of their own for nesting, led to a discussion on the impact of chytrid fungus. Sacerdote-Velat, beginning with her previous position as a reintroduction biologist at the Lincoln Park Zoo, has led a team researching this for a couple years in northern Illinois (Boone County to Lake Michigan).

Bullfrogs and green frogs can harbor it, but wood frogs and tree frogs are more susceptible. As it is water-born, fishermen, waterfowlers, birders and others who walk marshes and wetlands could transport it. The public can help by cleaning boots and boats before moving from one body of water to another.

A neat thing about all the specimens at The Chicago Academy of Sciences,, including some of display, is that something like chytrid, can be tested back in time. It was found in an amphibian specimen in Illinois from 1899.

Fun is mixed with serious issues. I just like that ornate horned frogs are “PAC-MAN frogs.”

There’s such kid-friendly stuff as gliding on a small indoor Zip-line, a virtual dissection, interactive exhibits including a cool one of our local frog calls and an exhibit sequence on bullfrogs from tadpoles to adults.

The Nature Museum, home to the citizen-science project, “The Calling Frog Survey,’’ is hosting a training session for identifying the 13 regional frogs on Saturday, Nov. 12.

“Anyone can do it, you don’t need to be a scientist,’’ Sacerdote-Velat said.

“Frogs’’ is included in the general admission. For details, go to naturemuseum.org or call (773) 755-5100.

"Frogs: A Chorus of Colors" entrance a the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Credit: Dale Bowman

“Frogs: A Chorus of Colors” entrance a the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
Credit: Dale Bowman