How long has it been since you last saw a frog? You may have seen one in your backyard and noticed its tiny hands, shiny skin, and what appeared to be a happy smile.
You may have seen them regularly on Instagram and TikTok in the past few years. Some people share cute cartoon frogs. Others coo over crocheted frogs in cute hats.
Our fascination with frogs, however, is not new. As has been found by our research, the history between humans and frogs is complex and long.
Why we love frogs
Frogs have a long history of being loved by people.
It is fascinating to note that many people prefer reptiles and amphibians over mammals and birds.
The frog, however, is an exception. There are many reasons for this. Faces that resemble babies are attractive to people. The large eyes of many species of frogs are similar to those of infant animals and humans.
They are not a threat because they have no teeth or sharp claws. Many of them also have beautiful skin tones, and some even appear tiny.
Toads, with their duller colors and “warty” skin, do not inspire the same feeling of wonder as frogs.
The beauty of these plants connects us with the richness of nature that is hidden in the dense tropical rainforests.
They also help us connect with nature in our backyards. They appear spontaneously in our gardens or ponds at certain times of the season. You may feel as if they are special guests from the natural world.
Frogs can feel human emotions.
But the relationship between people and their frogs hasn’t always remained positive. Frogs are a complex species that is found in cultures around the world.
The legacy of the biblical and classical texts in the Western tradition is both negative and long-lasting.
The Bible uses frogs as an instrument of divine anger, a plague that swarms.
A frog plague is depicted in an etching dating from the late 1800s. Wellcome Collection
Early modern taxonomies classified frogs as serpents, insects, or reptiles.
Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish naturalist and “father of modern Taxonomy,” used strong emotional language to describe them.
In his 1758 systema naturae he observed:
The vile and disgusting animals are so named because they have cold, pale bodies, cartilaginous, filthy skeletons, calculating eyes, aggressive faces, harsh voices, an offensive smell, squalid living conditions, and venomous poison.
Modern science places them in the branch of zoology called herpetology. This group includes snakes, lizards, and frogs as “creeping creatures.”
Since the 18th century, frogs (or perhaps subsequently) have suffered in service to science because it was possible to replicate experiments on multiple frog species.
Frogs are particularly important for the study of nerves and muscles. The frogs were thrown into a violent battle between the experimenters and their bodies. Italian scientist Luigi Galvani did experiments on frog legs in the 18th century to investigate ” animal electrical.”
Scientist Luigi Galvani’s 18th-century diagrams of dissected legs of frogs and other metallic apparatuses he used to gauge what was believed to be electrical flow in animals. Library of Congress
Frogs are valued in this way as scientific objects. Their value lies in their flesh and nervous systems rather than their status as living beings.
Over time, experiments involving frogs began to move from the lab into the classroom. In the 1930s, schoolchildren were required to bring frogs to school to be dissected in biology classes.
The practice was controversial. Opponents expressed sentimental attachment towards frogs and were concerned that animal cruelty could lead to barbarism.
Frogs are fragile.
Our relationship with frogs can be complicated. We have projected onto frogs our frustrations and feelings, from the frogs in Aesop’s Fables and the meme Pepe the Frog.
The frogs are also the victims of our environmental failures.
In 1990, there was a worldwide pattern of decline in the frog population due to the destruction of habitats for agriculture and logging, as well as a pandemic of amphibians caused by chytrid.
Climate change also makes life difficult for many species. Over 40% of amphibian species, including frogs, toads, and tadpoles (the largest group), will be endangered by 2022. The red-eyed frog, in particular, has become a symbol of the environment.
We should enjoy frogs, marvel at their beauty, and wonder how they can be saved.