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Bull frog
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Green frog
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Exploratorium's 'Frogs' reveals amphibian's struggle

Exploratorium: Frogs
San Francisco
Through September 12

(CNN) -- As Kermit the Frog once said, "It's not easy being green."

Of course, what Kermit meant was that it's not easy to be different. But he might have also been referring to the plight of his fellow frogs and toads, which have suffered through tough times recently.

In case you hadn't heard, the most prevalent amphibians on the planet have been dying off at an alarming rate.

"Their survival is threatened," says Charles Carlson, director of life sciences at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Carlson says pollutants from human existence are one reason frogs and toads are dying.

"It's reported that there are about 3,500 different frogs and toads species around the world," he says. "That number has stayed constant as more species are being discovered. So there is a corresponding extinction rate to the discovery rate."

And some frogs and toads that aren't dying off suffer from deformities.

"There has been an increase in the number of malformed frogs," Carlson says. "What's causing these malformed frogs is not really clear, though there are a number of theories."

That's why the Exploratorium has devoted a new exhibition to the creatures that have been hopping around for an estimated 150 million years, evolving to the changing environment while developing a relationship with humans. That relationship has led to appearances in at least one well-known fairy tale and a series of very popular beer commercials, but is also the reason that some species are now extinct.

The aptly titled "Frogs" exhibit features 20 species of frogs and toads from around the world (from tiny cricket frogs to the brilliantly colored poison arrow frogs), and more than 20 interactive exhibits, including:

  • specially designed software that takes you on a self-guided tour of the inside of a frog.

  • a look at frog adaptation, featuring the Surinam Toad, which has evolved to protect its tadpole young by carrying them on its back.

  • "Frogbeat," a station that allows users to compare a frog's heartbeat to their own.

  • a frog-calling station, which allows visitors to hear a frog call, then try to imitate it.

    "Everybody loves listening to frog calls," says Carlson. "They seem to have some kind of connection to frog-calling in summer or springtime.

    "No one thinks of them being overwhelmingly important, but our relationships with them have been really intensive and extensive over the years," Carlson says.

    That's the goal of the exhibit -- to give humans a new perspective on the frogs and toads of the world, and perhaps lead us to efforts that will help keep them around another 150 million years.

    "I want people to walk away with a real appreciation of the diversity that is there," says Carlson of the Exploatorium's exhibit. "All the way from their shapes and bodies size to how they breed and get around. And also understanding that they're being affected by us on the planet.

    "They really are just amazing animals."

    The Exploratorium in San Francisco will offer "Frogs" through September 12, 1999. Museum admission is $9 for ages 18-64, $7 for university students, $7 for senior citizens, $5 for people with disabilities, $5 for ages 6-17, $2.50 for ages 3-5. (415) 561-0363.

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