Frogs, The Animal Answer Guide by and . Baltimore : The Johns Hopkins University Press , 2011 . 160 pp. Paperback, half-tone illustrations and colour plates. ISBN 13 : 978-0-8018-9936-2 ; ISBN 10 : 0-8018-9936-2 . £13
Arthur Dent to Prak – a witness who has just finished telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. ‘None of it? – You can remember none of it?’
‘No. Except most of the good bits were about frogs, I remember that.’ (Douglas Adams, ‘The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy’.)
This compilation of current knowledge on frogs and toads as a group (individual species are only referred to as examples) is intended for the layman. Thus if your question is about early oral ontogeny in tadpoles, you will need to look in the Society's Biological Journal (Candioti et al., 2011). In fact there is actually not much about tadpoles themselves and what there is must be searched for under various headings. However it is otherwise very detailed with a full and up to date bibliography that includes websites (try http://amphibiaweb.org).
As the title indicates, the various sections are organised as answers to questions. I suspect the questions themselves represent the folder titles in the authors' database. Sometimes this makes the ‘question’ begin with a rather basic statement such as ‘Can all frogs swim?’ or ‘Do frogs play?’ However the level of detail and information in the ‘answers’ does mean that the book will still interest even the layman with a substantial knowledge of biology.
There are good and up to date sections on the causes of decline in frog populations, for example from habitat destruction and chytrid fungus. There is a good chapter on frog colours and how they are produced (do you know why so many frogs are more or less green?). Other notes about physiology are dispersed amongst questions such as ‘Do frogs live in salt water?’ and ‘How do frogs survive the winter?’
I would have dropped the section on ‘Frogs in literature’ despite my opening quotation but, by contrast, the sections on conservation and methods of research are very good. Linnaeus does not receive any mention but taxonomy is there in the very last question … ‘Why do the scientific names and classification of frogs change frequently?’
Thus, the book does contain a lot of information explained at a not too technical level. As a non-herpetologist, I learned several things, some of which, I think, I should have already known. For example, poison arrow frogs gain their deadly toxin from the poisonous beetles, ants and millipedes that they eat. Feed them on crickets in captivity and they gradually lose their poison. But beware; it may take up to five years, so best to keep gloves on for now.
Overall it is a better and more enjoyable book than the title suggests.