- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

The National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall invites visitors to jump into spring with live frogs — poisonous and otherwise — with its newly opened exhibit “Frogs! A Chorus of Colors.”

“This is the first time we’ve had a live animal exhibit where the animals are the focus,” says Susan Norton, museum director. “It’s a very exciting exhibit. … When I first saw it, I was like a kid in a candy store.”

The exhibit, which will be on display through May 11, showcases about 150 live frogs and features several interactive components, including kiosks, large-scale photos by Mark Moffett and a long-jump floor graphic where visitors can measure their ability to jump against that of various frogs. Not to spill the beans too much, but the graphic shows one particular African frog jumping 100 times its own length. Beat that if you can.

“Any time visitors can participate, it makes it more fun for them,” says Ms. Norton, who adds that although the exhibit is open to all ages, children are likely to get an extra kick out of it. “I’ve never seen kids so excited. … They literally boomerang from one exhibit to the next.”

These frogs can do much more than just jump long distances. They also can sing, croak, grunt and snore; one exhibit kiosk allows visitors to play various frog calls simultaneously, creating a virtual “swamp symphony.”

Because frogs are active mostly at night, many people may never have heard all that frogs have to offer musically, or in the words of the late zoologist and conservationist Archie Carr, quoted in one exhibit panel: “Frogs do for the night what birds do for the day: They give it a voice. And the voice is a varied and stirring one that ought to be better known.”

Indeed, there are many tidbits that likely are new to visitors, such as the size of the world’s largest frog. The West African goliath frog grows to about 7 pounds and 15 inches long, about the same size as a newborn human. Or the fact that the most poisonous frog — the golden poison frog (safely on display behind glass) — has enough poison to kill 20,000 mice or 10 humans. What’s remarkable is that this most toxic of animals is all of 2 inches long.

The exhibit also showcases the amazing adaptability of frogs. They live in all types of climates, from the desert to the tundra. To survive in the desert, for example, some frogs cover themselves with up to 36 layers of skin. This produces a parchmentlike cocoon that reduces water loss by 50 percent.

Frogs also have excellent night vision and even use their versatile eyes for eating — they move their eyeballs down their throat to help push down the food.

At the end of the exhibit, informational texts touch on the impact human encroachment has had on these 180-million-year-old amphibians, of which there are 5,360 species. There are no easy answers, but scientists know that populations are in decline and that human activity has something to do with it.

“Frogs are an early warning sign when ecosystems are threatened,” Ms. Norton says, meaning frogs are early casualties when an ecosystem falters.

“This is a very complete exhibit,” Ms. Norton says. “There are so many levels of information that people can take away with them. Some will just want to see the frogs; others might want to dig a little deeper.”

WHEN YOU GO:

Where: “Frogs! A Chorus of Colors” will be on display at the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall, 1145 17th St. NW, through May 11.

Admission: Free

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Parking: Limited street parking is available; several pay-to-park garages are nearby. The Farragut North stop on Metro’s Red Line and the Farragut West stop on the Orange and Blue lines are a few blocks from the museum.

More information: Call 202/857-7588 or visit www.national geographic.com/museum/

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