All about the frogs (their legs) and butterflies

I often go to Gainesville to visit old college friends who still live there. But no matter how many times I go, I always find something different to catch my fancy. This most recent trip it was all about frogs.

My froggy visit began when my old major professor, Liz Wing, and I drove from Gainesville over to Cross Creek for our traditional lunch at The Yearling Restaurant. We munched on our favorite, heaping plates of giant fried frog legs served with collard greens and coleslaw, while Florida blues singer Willie Green entertained us.

“Where did they get such big frog legs?” I asked the waitress. Sadly, it turned out they import them from China. Now that I know this, I like them a little less. Quality control of food imported from China is suspect, as my old cat once learned, and nearly died, when her cat food was found to have a poisonous additive imported from China.

Later that evening, I was
at my friend Karen’s home enjoying her new screened-in porch and watching the active birds at her giant bird feeder set-up. But then Karen stepped out into her yard with a fish net to inspect her aquatic plants in their water-filled buckets. “Looking for tadpoles,” she told me. But discovering tadpoles was not a good thing. She has found a number of exotic invasive Cuban tree frogs in her yard. Besides humanely dispatching these, she has also had to dispose of any tadpoles they leave behind in her plant buckets. These frogs eat other native frogs and out-compete the rest of them. Humanely removing them is the only effective solution. We have these invasive frogs now on Amelia Island, so Google “Cuban tree frogs” to learn more.

Going along with my frog weekend theme, I decided to visit the Florida Museum of Natural History the next day to see their temporary exhibit, “Frogs, A Chorus of Colors,” that is happening through Sept. 4. Although most of the museum is free to the public, including great exhibits of Florida fossils, wildlife and indigenous people, there is a $7.50 charge for Florida residents to see the frogs, but well worth the price.

The main features are the large terrariums filled with live frogs from all over the world, complete with interesting explanatory graphics. We’ve all heard about “poison dart” frogs whose skin contains toxic substances, but here you can see them, in their many different jewel-like colors. There are frogs that are large and squat with giant mouths and so highly camouflaged that you can hardly see them, the better to fool their prey. Other frogs are elegant and slender, horned or clawed, or with sticky footpads. Although there are only fifteen species exhibited out of more than 6,000 species in the wild, the diversity they represent is exceptional.

Some of the interactive devices were entertainingly educational too. At one station, you can perform a “virtual frog dissection.” At another station, you can “make your own frog chorus” by selecting a frog species and adding its call to others you have chosen.

Stunning photographs of frogs, collections of frog fossils, a giant frog skeleton and many educational graphics round out the exhibit. I thought I knew something about frogs when I entered the room, but I left knowing much, much more.

If you do make it over to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, there is more to see than frogs. Along with a number of stationary displays there are various laboratories, with windows for the public to watch curators at work. One such lab displays the butterfly chrysalises that eventually turn into butterflies released daily into their Butterfly Rainforest.

And even though there is an additional charge ($11 for Florida residents), don’t pass up the Butterfly Rainforest. This exhibit is a huge glass building filled with tropical trees, orchids and many fruiting and flowering bushes and shrubs. But the main action comes from the butterflies, dozens of species from around the world flitting among the flowers and visiting feeding stations laden with fruit and nectar. You can walk through this exhibit at your own pace or spend time just sitting on one of the many well-placed benches and waiting for the action to come to you. The longer you linger, the more you will see. There are turtles and fish in the natural-looking pools and various bird species can be seen foraging in the underbrush.

But as hard as I looked, I could find no frogs. I guess I’ll just have to go back!

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations at patandbucko@yahoo.com.

Editor’s note: You can officially report sightings of Cuban tree frogs and view official records of nonnative species of all types on the Florida Invasive Species Partnership - Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System: http://www.eddmaps.org/florida.

For information on non-native species, go to myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives.

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