The Humble Frog
The small quirky creature known as the frog has played a key role in the lives of human societies across the world. Many millions of years before man appeared on the geological timescale, frogs hopped the earth. They have existed through vast climate change and earth movements and have survived major earth catastrophes that wiped out entire animal groups. In the time that they have shared this planet with us, a relatively short period of time for them, they have taught us much. They have supplied us with medical breakthroughs, environmental knowledge and for many cultures, great wisdom. They are an icon for luck, prosperity, health and wellbeing. But to many they are far more than this – they are teachers of tolerance and humility, helping us to have sympathy for others while showing us the importance of generosity, personal sacrifice and opportunity. In respect for 2008, The Year of the Frog, this is my reflection on a little beast that has given us so much.
Assisting Human Needs
Eating a diet of insects and small invertebrates, frogs play a critical role in the control of agricultural pests and vectors of disease such as mosquitoes. They are also the food source for a range of reptiles, birds and mammals, including humans. Therefore frogs are a vital element of many ecosystems. As frogs take in water and air through their skin, they make good environmental indicators and so have served as an alert to changes in water quality and the environment. Unfortunately, this also makes them susceptible to pollution.
Frogs have provided us with great breakthroughs in modern medicine for diseases and conditions such as strokes, cancer, healing scars, HIV aids and Alzheimer’s. Special chemical compounds from frogs have long been known to, and exploited by, ancient and tribal cultures, who have used frog parts for many centuries in cures and as hallucinogens in religious ceremonies.
Bringer of Luck and Wealth
To the Chinese, the frog is a divine creature that protects against misfortune and brings wealth and good health to the family. The Money Frog, also called Chan Chu, was the pet of Liu Hai, the God of Wealth, and is the symbol of wealth and prosperity. In Feng Shui, it is beneficial to have a frog in your home and the Money Frog depicted with a coin in its mouth is a common Feng Shui statue. Having a family of frogs living in your garden is particularly lucky and is said to bring great wealth and longevity to the inhabitants of the home.
Helping us to Understand and Protect our Environment
The frog is a totem in Australian Aboriginal culture. It features in many dreamtime stories and songs and is a common animal in creation stories. The story of Gurukmun, tells of a huge frog that drank all the water on earth so that there was none left for the other animals. The frog, Gurukmun, was finally tricked into laughing by the other animals causing him to spill all the water out of his mouth which filled the oceans, rivers and lakes with water once more. For me, this story alludes to the connection that the Aboriginal people made between the frog and the seasons, droughts and life-giving rains.
Tribal African groups had specific uses for particular frogs. Some frogs were eaten and others were collected for use in traditional medicine. Frogs also played a role in determining what activities occurred where, thereby protecting some areas from human use. Some tribespeople from South Africa would not collect water from places where there were frogs, believing that where frogs lived the water was not sweet and that giant birds who ate the frogs posed a danger to people. Beliefs such as these controlled the spread of diseases like Bilhazia. Some American Indian tribes revered the frog as a sacred keeper of seasons. Many believed that frogs kept the water clean and fresh so that it was drinkable.
The Japanese believe that the frog or ‘kaeru’ is lucky to have around as the presence of a frog means that value will be returned to the person who gives something away. For instance, if a good friend is leaving, they will return or if you give money away, greater wealth will be returned to you. Frogs were also thought to hold the secret of immortality.
In American Indian culture, the medicine frog is a significant totem. It is said to teach insight and depth of perception and sympathy for others’ needs. The frog represents new life and spiritual cleansing, assisting people into the next stage of life and providing an opportunity for transformation. In some tribes, hallucinogenic compounds derived from frogs were used in rituals which involved self-transcendence and communication with the spirit world.
The frog was also a sacred creature in ancient Europe and was commonly used in cures and potions by Pagan healers. The Grim Brothers “Frog Prince” fairy tale was translated from older versions, the original thought to be an old Scottish fairy tale written in 1548 called “The Tale of the Queen who Sought a Drink from a Certain Well”. In each of the versions of the tale, the Queen or Princess meets a frog to whom she makes a promise out of desperation to fulfil her own immediate need. In each of the stories the leading lady is disgusted by the frog, who she sees as ugly. Once her own need has been satisfied she very begrudgingly fulfils her promise to the frog. In fact, she would not have fulfilled her promise if there wasn’t someone else in the story reminding her of what she must do. However, in fulfilling her promise to the frog, she is presented with a beautiful and charming prince who whisks her away to a life of love and security.
Although there have been many versions of the Frog Prince, the message remains the same in all of them – that often an opportunity presents itself in an unattractive form and the significance of that opportunity is initially not obvious. We may take the task on resentfully, feeling sorry for ourselves and task that we must bear, only to find that the opportunity presented to us was such a wonderful life changing event that any discomfort that we had to tolerate along the way was insignificant in the light of what resulted.
A Knowledgable Survivor (now under threat)
In the association between frog and man it seems to me that the frog has earned the reputation of a creator and source of great wisdom and knowledge, one who has much to teach us and one that we seek out for answers. It comes as no surprise that this quirky little animal has earned the respect of so many humans around the world. He is a great survivor, having lived upon the earth since the Jurassic, some 145 to 205 million years ago. His ancestral memory must be immense. In his time on earth, he has managed to exploit and adapt to just about every environment, from the warm and humid rainforests to the dry desert expanses, and then he has continued to adapt through many changes to those environments over millions of years. He has seen great tectonic shifts in the earth surface, held on through ice ages and the meteorite crash that killed the dinosaurs. He has seen species come and go.
Yet, after about 100 million years of existence our little friend is now disappearing at a rapid rate. Almost half of our frog species around the world are endangered. His ability to breathe through his skin, possibly an adaptation that has served him well in the past is now proving to be one of the great threats to his survival in this modern world. Agricultural and industrial pollutants and sewage entering waterways as well as land clearing and grazing of livestock near wetlands have been the greatest pollution threats to frogs. No animal, however, can survive loosing their habitat and many more frogs around the world have disappeared due to drying up, removal and destruction of their wetland, creek and river homes. To top it off, the Chytrid fungus has been spreading through frog communities at a fast pace, killing frogs in many areas, even in pristine environments far away from the affects of human development.
What affects our living environment affects us and the plight of this special little character is another wake up call for humans. Perhaps the frog has a message for us in the issues affecting his own future. As in the story of the Frog Prince, perhaps humanity is the ‘Queen’ that has been presented with an opportunity to help the frog. As the frogs’ need for fresh clean water parallels our own, we may find that in protecting and conserving our environment, we will halt the frog’s demise, while taking measures to slow our own. Perhaps our friend is presenting us with an opportunity to assess how the way we live and the values that we live by are affecting the very aspects of our world which our health, wealth, wellbeing and future rely upon.
It’s worth pondering over…..