Frogs: Cute, Despondent

Better than anything Jeff Koons ever dreamed up, the yellow Golden Mantella Frog is one of the preposterously hued amphibians on display in Frogs: A Chorus of Colors at Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

The size of a cough drop, the GMF is so adorable, you may be compelled by the paradoxical formula of cuteness, to cuddle and smash it all at once. For those who are drawn more to the dark side, there is the interactive "Froguts" video. Frog enthusiasts can demonstrate their affection for the beasts by virtually dissecting them in a fitting demonstration of our ambivalent relationship to nature.

The virtual dissection was a bold feature on Fernbank's part; like making the climax of a petting zoo a kill-your-own-goat event.

But Frogs had fewer eviscerators than glass-fogging frog lovers touring the exhibition during a recent visit. They peered into the glass terrariums containing tabletop biospheres to get a glimpse at frogs with skin as glossy as a matchbox car or the Chinese Gliding Frog with the teal coat of a '60s dinette set. One boy dressed in the 8-year-old's version of a three-piece suit - starched pants and crisp shirt - pontificated on the lethality of the Poison Dark Frog for all who would listen.

Parents flaunted their literacy as they read their children wall text detailing various frog "fun" facts. For instance, frogs are beneficial to humans because when we pollute their environment with our chemicals and toxic waste, they help us detect the presence of poisons by dying. Sweet. Just as they fall obligingly under our dissecting knives so that we might understand biology.

The frogs range from delicate, refined Natalie Portman-types to an African Bull Frog with the suicidal. glum expression of a post-Watergate Nixon, his buttery haunches spread around him like a hoop skirt. "Nixon" remained despondent despite his paradisiacal environment with its eternal rippling water element. Frogs, another "fun" fact extolled, secrete toxins that may aid in treating human depression, which seemed of little consequence to this frog.

"He's fat, isn't he?" a woman told her family, rubbing it in.

As Kermit (the Frog) used to say, "It's not easy being green."


Frogs: A Chorus of Colors runs through May 1 at Fernbank Museum of Natural History, 767 Clifton Road. Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m. (Extended Friday hours for Martinis & IMAX, 6-10 p.m.) $10-$12. 404-929-6400. www.fernbank.edu.??

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