In Search of the Golden Frog

In Search of the Golden Frog

by Marty Crump


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226121987
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 06/28/2000
Edition description: 1
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 791,627
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Marty Crump is Adjunct Professor of Biology at Northern Arizona University and a Conservation Fellow of the Wildlife Conservation Society. A recipient of the Distinguished Herpetologist Award, she is coauthor of Herpetology.

Read an Excerpt

In Search of the Golden Frog

By Marty Crump

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003

University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-226-12198-4

Chapter One

Care and Feeding of the
Tropical Infant

(from Chapter Six: Expressing in the Rain)

28 September 1982

Peter returned to the States last week and will be gone for six weeks
more. Life is moving a little slower in the mornings, but overall Karen
and I are managing quite admirably by ourselves. Tonight, however, I
sorely miss Peter's help.

This morning a tour guide called and invited me to give an after-dinner
lecture to a group of Audubon nature tourists who are bird-watching at
Monteverde. He asked me to broaden their Costa Rican experience by showing
slides of the diversity of tropical amphibians. Helena had agreed to stay
with Karen but called thirty minutes before I needed to leave home to say
she was sick and unable to come. I call the hotel to cancel my lecture,
but the tour leader pleads that I come with Karen and the cook will watch
her for me. Against my better judgment, I wrap Karen in a raincoat and we
set out in the cool, misty evening air.

When we arrive, the cook hesitantly takes Karen and I begin my talk on
"The Many Ways to Beget a Frog." Karen is not pleasedat being held by a
strange woman who's pacing back and forth the length of the small kitchen.
Karen fusses, then cries, then screams so loudly that no one can hear me.
Embarrassed, I interrupt my description of poison dart frogs carrying
their tadpoles to water, retrieve Karen, and lecture the second half of
the hour with Karen strapped to my chest, smiling contentedly at me.
Afterward I offer to answer questions. For the next ten minutes, I respond
to: "How can you stand to be away from your baby during the day?" "Do you
hope she becomes a biologist?" "Aren't you nervous about being in Costa
Rica with such a young baby?" Clearly my personal life is more interesting
to the bird-oriented tourists than are the reproductive peculiarities of
Ecuadorian frogs.

Our hike back up the hill through softly swirling mist seems magical. I
look into the night sky and see my first "moonbow": a diffuse ring of
pinkish yellow light encircling the moon. My lungs expand with breaths of
cool, clean air. Yes, I answered the tourists' questions truthfully. I am
very content in this isolated spot away from the stresses and deadlines of
Gainesville, Florida. Monteverde is the ideal community for combining
motherhood and field biology. Because there are so few outside demands on
my time here, I feel in control of my life. Every new mother should be so

30 October 1982

I'm thrilled at having located such a dense population of harlequin frogs
along the Rio Lagarto. Some days I see more than a hundred frogs during a
census. And they're so easy to watch. A field biologist's dream come true.

Behaviors of the frogs are fascinating, especially interactions between
males and females. Males almost always pounce on females without any
courtship preliminaries and grip them in the armpits in a typical mating
position. Rejecting these advances, the attacked female responds by
kicking to dislodge her unsolicited baggage and by rocking back and forth
to dump him off. One female squeezed into a rock crevice and wriggled back
and forth as if trying to scrape off the male. Equally dramatic is the
response of a female toward a male that suddenly invades her space. She
chases the male, pounces on him, and vindictively bounces up and down on
his back, vigorously slamming his head against the ground.

This morning while sitting on a boulder watching frogs, I have an eerie
feeling that someone or something is watching me. Glancing nervously over
my shoulder, I see an otter less than ten meters away, standing on hind
feet peering at me. I turn around to see if the male harlequin frog has
escaped from the irate female, and by the time I look behind me again the
otter has vanished.

12 November 1982

Recently one of my graduate students, Alan Pounds, joined us in Monteverde
and has been helping me with the weekly census. Last week at the Rio
Lagarto, we found a nearly dead harlequin frog with a hole in its hind leg
through which we could see wriggling white maggots. Memories of my bot fly
during the OTS course more than a decade ago triggered terrifying
thoughts. What if these maggots also eat humans? Thirty minutes later, we
found another moribund frog with a hole in its hind leg, again with
maggots. By the time we left, we had found five more. Our population had
been attacked by parasites, but what were they?

We took five victims back to Monteverde and placed them in plastic shoe
boxes lined with several layers of paper towel. By today the maggots had
consumed most of the flesh and internal organs of the frogs and the frogs
died. The maggots crawled in between the layers of paper towel, where
we're hoping they'll pupate.

14 November 1982

It worked! The larvae have pupated. Now the wait to see if they'll
survive, and if so, what will emerge from the pupae?

Today is a long day at the Rio Lagarto. Midmorning after I express, I
rummage through my backpack for my water bottle. Damn, I forgot it and I'm
already thirsty. This is not good, because the more water I drink, the
more milk I produce. And if I don't express enough milk for Helena to give
to Karen, my time in the field is curtailed. I glance at a harlequin frog
sitting on a wet boulder and think, "How lovely to be a frog and never
have to drink." On their underside, frogs have an area called a seat patch
that's especially permeable to water. By merely sitting on wet surfaces,
they absorb water into their bodies.

After finishing the day's observations, I slowly plod home along the dirt
road exposed to the baking sun, feeling very dehydrated. A marine toad
sits in squishy mud by the side of the road, soaking up water through its
seat patch. Sitting exposed in the middle of the day, the warty toad isn't
as vulnerable to predators as it seems. Huge parotoid glands protruding
from the side of its head are filled with potent toxins that ooze out of
pores when the toads are molested. A dog that bites into a toad and gets a
mouthful of these white secretions is quickly deterred and may even die.

Although these parotoid secretions protect toads, people have long known
of their medicinal properties. Eighteenth-century physicians used powder
made from dried toads to reduce fever. The Chinese make a powder, called
Ch'an Su, from toad secretions. They use this powder for treating heart
ailments, drying boils and abscesses, and healing ulcers. Indian folk
healers in Veracruz, Mexico, use toad secretions in their medicinal
preparations and "love magic" potions. It seems odd that parotoid
secretions are so widely used as medicines until you realize they contain
epinephrine and norepinephrine-chemicals known to stimulate the human
heart and help the body deal with stress.

But medicines aren't the only use humans have found for toad parotoid
secretions, some of which contain strong hallucinogenic chemicals. Ancient
cultures of Mesoamerica are thought to have used toad secretions as
hallucinogens during religious ceremonies. Haitian witch doctors include
toad secretions in their concoctions designed to induce near-death comas
and to create zombies of their victims. And in my own backyard, in
southern Arizona and in California, foolhardy people get high by smoking
dried parotoid secretions of Colorado river toads.

1 December 1982

The first of the pupae metamorphosed today, producing a hairy black fly
about a centimeter long. I've preserved it so that I can send it to a fly
expert in the States and have it identified.

These flies seem to be one of the few predators on harlequin frogs, whose
skin contains tetrodotoxin, one of the most potent of all animal toxins
known. [Curiously, pufferfishes also contain tetrodotoxin. Puffers are
considered a delicacy in Japan, but must be skinned very carefully prior
to being cooked. Every year brings reports of fatalities caused by eating
improperly skinned puffers.] The bright black and yellow colors of
harlequin frogs warn potential predators they are poisonous. Because of
their toxicity and warning coloration, they sit exposed on boulders all
day, seemingly impervious to predation. Yet their conspicuous behavior may
make it easier for parasitic flies to find them.

25 December 1982

Christmas this year is truly a community experience. Six weeks ago
everyone who wanted to participate in the gift exchange entered his or her
name into the gift draw box and then drew the name of someone else. The
idea is to make the gifts by hand. Everyone has been creating and finally
Christmas is here.

First we have a Quaker meeting at the schoolhouse. Meeting is a special
time of contemplation when participants commune silently with God and
nature or share thoughts with the rest of the group. Often at the regular
Sunday meeting, the hour drifts along in silence except for the noises of
the children, who are always forgiven no matter how much they fidget and
whine. Today several people speak aloud: how wonderful it is to have
family, friends, and visitors nearby; how thankful they are to live in
this idyllic spot; how much they hope that peace will envelop the world.
The feeling during and following a meeting is always one of warmth, love,
and acceptance. If everyone could share and live Quaker beliefs, what a
different place the world would be.

Contributions to the potluck dinner range from tuna pizza to tamales
(ground corn and pork wrapped in plantain leaves) and from deadly
chocolate fudge to a multilayered cake, each layer separated from the next
by a thick layer of dulce de leche (thick syrup made from milk and sugar).
As everyone savors the last bit of sugar, Santa (one of Helena's brothers
decked out in full regalia) rides up on horseback. Dipping into his huge
red pack overflowing with gifts, he calls out the name on each package.
Everyone, without exception, seems thrilled with the handmade gifts of
clothes, toys, paintings, pottery, or furniture.

18 February 1983

Earlier this month we drove to San Jose and picked up my parents, who will
visit for three weeks. We spent a few days relaxing at the beach, where
Karen loved the black volcanic sand (and ate more than her share). At
Volcan Irazu, the highest active volcano in the country, we felt
transplanted to another planet in the bare landscape of volcanic ash and
craters. Cascading waterfalls and gaudy flowers in lowland forest were
lovely, but we were glad to leave the heat and humidity behind.

We've been back at Monteverde for a week, where my folks are impressed
with the lush cloud forest. Dad, who spent several years on the island of
Mindanao in the Philippines as a guerrilla during World War II, finds many
similarities in the vegetation between Mindanao and Monteverde. Mom, on
her first visit to a tropical environment, is thrilled to walk amidst
bamboo, tree ferns, and orchids.

Predictably, Mom shares my dislike for the sinister-looking scorpions in
our house. I've warned her that at night when I stumble into the bathroom,
I inevitably find one lying in wait. They scurry out from behind dishes in
the kitchen cupboards. And they hide out in our underwear in the drawer
and in our shoes and boots. Rule number one: Use a flashlight when walking
around the house at night. Rule number two: Be on guard in the kitchen.
Rule number three: Shake out your clothes and shoes before putting them

Ever since we moved here last July, I've worried that a scorpion will
crawl into Karen's crib, she'll roll over on it, and it will sting her. Or
she'll see one and grab it to play with or eat. I'm the only one, however,
who's been stung so far. While I walked across the bedroom floor in bare
feet, a scorpion that was skulking in a crevice between two floorboards
whipped out his stinger and nailed my little toe. My foot throbbed for the
next twenty-four hours.

Despite my innate fear of scorpions, I must admit they are fascinating
creatures. They appear prehistoric for good reason. Except for size,
they've changed little in the past 425 million years. One early ancestor,
unearthed from Wyoming, was a meter in length! With a shudder, I imagine
one of our Monteverde scorpions, the size of my index finger, expanded to
a meter. Scorpions stun their prey by injecting poison through a stinger
at the tip of the tail, then clawlike mouthparts pulverize the victim.
Finally the prey's body parts are liquefied and predigested in an
enzyme-filled cavity before they enter the gut. Females give birth to
miniature scorpions rather than eggs, and the babies ride piggyback on the
mother for several days.

Today I take Mom, Dad, and Karen to the Rio Lagarto to see harlequin
frogs. With Karen strapped to my back, I take the lead as we wander along
the stream bank. Suddenly a green vine snake lazily draped over a tree
branch ahead of me sways ever so little. I freeze. Ever since I can
remember, my mother has had a phobia about snakes. She would never enter
the snake building at the zoo, and I was never allowed to keep garter
snakes as pets. How is she going to react? I have to point it out to her,
because if she sees it unexpectedly she'll panic. I turn and calmly
announce that there is a harmless beautiful vine snake three meters away
that I want her to see. Her voice quivers as she bravely says OK. With her
feet firmly planted on the ground, she leans forward and cautiously peers
into the brush. After a few seconds she turns around, her face ashen. She
says she's seen enough, but forcing a smile she admits that it's
attractive-in its place.

Of much greater interest are the next two animals we encounter. At a large
rock face, I reach into a crevice and extract an ivory-colored,
oval-shaped reptile egg. It hatches in my hand and out pops a wet,
wide-eyed anole lizard. It cocks its head, looks around, then scampers
away into the unknown. I pick up a black female harlequin frog with a
yellow heart-shaped pattern to show to Karen. She grabs it from me and
immediately tries to stuff it into her mouth. Mom rescues the frog (and
Karen) just in time.

The highlight of the day for Dad occurs while we're eating our cheese
sandwiches on the stream bank. He sees a long column of jagged leaf
fragments cruising along the ground. "Leaf-cutter ants!" he announces.
He's thrilled to watch ants efficiently snipping out pieces of leaves,
struggling back down the plant stems to the ground with their awkward
cargo, communicating with their neighbors by batting antennae as they
march toward a large mound of dirt, and then disappearing into the opening
of their underground nest.

I talk with Mom about my evolving philosophy concerning my current roles.
Ten months ago I naively thought that with the help of a baby-sitter and a
part-time housekeeper, life as mother, wife, and field biologist would be
relatively routine and straightforward. Wrong! Unexpected minor crises are
to be expected. Priorities must be flexible.


Excerpted from In Search of the Golden Frog
by Marty Crump
Copyright © 2003
by University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. From Kansas to the Emerald Forest
2. Amazonian Brazil
3. Field Course in Costa Rica
4. The Many Ways to Beget a Frog
5. Want Some Respect? Wave a Viper.
6. Expressing in the Rain
7. Lost Gold of the Elfin Forest
8. Mama Llamas and Toothy Escuerzos
9. The Maxus Experience
10. Remembering ayahuasca
11. Tadpole Toters
12. Reflections
Appendix A: Common and Scientific Names of Amphibians and Reptiles
Appendix B: Declining Amphibian Populations
Bibliography and Suggested Reading

What People are Saying About This

Thomas E. Lovejoy

The totally charming journal of an adventurous woman field biologist. You will find yourself living and breathing with Marty every step of the way. This is an odyssey as compelling as it is important. (Thomas E. Lovejoy, Chief Biodiversity Advisor, World Bank)

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