The World of Frogs, Toads,
Salamanders and Newts

Richard Hofrichter, Editor
(Firefly Books)
Some of these that come in the mail are so gorgeous that we don't do anything but fondle them, thanking the gods that he or she or they made it possible for us to be in the book review business rather than, say, putting us into optology, sociology, morphology, monogamy, or peptology.

Such a treasure is Amphibians, a 264 page wonder with full color presentations of every conceivable four-legged slithery jumpy thing: frogs, toads, newts. It all brings to mind that merry recipe, the organic stew concocted by the Three Weird Sisters (in the Year of the Big Wind),

    Round about the cauldron go;
    In the poison'd entrails throw.
    Toad, that under cold stone
    Days and nights hast thirty-one
    Swelter'd venom sleeping got...
    Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
    Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
    Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
    Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,
    For a charm of powerful trouble...

And it ends with one of the most distinctive of cook-school ingredients --- one that for some reason never made an appearance in the recipes of James Beard or Julia Child:

    Finger of birth-strangled babe
    Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
    Make the gruel thick and slab.

§     §     §

Amphibians is divided into five parts, with chapters from such experts as Doris Gutser, Ulrich Sinsch, Alois Lametschwandtner, Rudolf Malkmus, and Josef Schmuck and I didn't make up a one of these names: perhaps those who study the googly things of life have to start out with certain handicaps. Their essays appear under five main headings:

  • Evolution, Systematics, and Biogeography;
  • Biology and Physiology;
  • Ecology and Ethology;
  • The Meaning of Amphibians for Mankind;
  • Amphibians: Endangerment and Species Protection.
Now we are never ones to fault the cool scientific perspective, with whole pages devoted to "Pædomorphosis" or "Thermoregulation" or "The Ecology of Cæcilians," but we have to assert that the true worth of this volume, what one might assert to be (once again, to quote from the master), The Jewel in the Forehead of the Toad, aren't the words, the maps, the evolutionary charts, the graphs, the complete list of species diversity and distribution --- but rather, the skin shots, some two hundred colorful photographs that are almost good enough to eat, if you are into eating toads and frogs. (Some people are: one of the more intriguing charts lists fifty-one species that are on the menus of the cafés in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Africa, New Guinea, and Europe and America. We find, for example, that one hundred fifty-one tonnes of frogs were imported into Switzerland in 1995. Can you picture 151 tonnes of those slithering, jumping creatures, crying "rivet, rivet" as they get fried up?)

Our favorite pics are the colorful redhead [above], the red-eyed tree frog [below], the tomato frog [you have to see it to believe it], and the Anura green frog ["When this frog's hind legs are grabbed, it opens its mouth and issues a sound similar to fighting tomcats."]

The fire salamander can live up to fifty years in captivity. The ground-dwelling white-lipped frog of Puerto Rico uses "seismic communication" to communicate with its would-be lovers. The flectonotus goeldii female carries a disgusting looking batch of eggs around on her back. And the R. rufum male will grab up fertile eggs, which hatch in his mouth. How's that for familial devotion?

--- Antonio Rivera, PhD
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