University of Cambridge Museums

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Ribbeting on about Frogs

Have you ever been lying back, contemplating the human races’ greatest achievements, and it suddenly occurred to you just how frequently frogs hop into these successes?

No??

Mr Froggy

Mr Froggy

Well, at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, it took the arrival of one of our finest objects for this thought to occur to us. When Mr. Froggy’s (as he is affectionately named) leapt through our door in 2013, from the University’s Department of Zoology, it made a big impact on how we thought about these charming amphibians. When we thought about the history of science, frogs hopped in and out of it on many occasions.

Mr. Froggy, as well as our charmingly dissected female frog model made by Emile Deyrolle, provide evidence of how these everyday creatures are frequently used to demonstrate anatomy to students. The ubiquitous nature of frogs has also resulted in their use for other things – be it as astronauts, pregnancy tests or clones. As unwitting astronauts, in 1970 two bullfrogs piloted* Nasa’s Orbiting Frog Otolith spacecraft to test the effects of spaceflight on motion sickness – apparently humans and frogs have similar inner ears. As 1950s pregnancy tests – if female frogs injected with urine released eggs the next day, the test was positive. And frogs were also the first animals to be cloned successfully in 1958 by Cambridge’s own John Gurdon.

Filled with wonder at the unrecognised great things frogs have done for us, our Summer at the Museums events were planned to celebrate these achievements (and many more)! Come along to our events on the first four Tuesdays in August. We will also soon have new articles on the Explore section of our website dedicated to the history of frogs, as told by objects in our collection.

Ruminating on frogs further, we realised the creature’s significance not just to science, but to histories and cultures across the globe – and across Cambridge – and thus the Frog March was born. Throughout Cambridge, in museums and gardens, frogs hop up in the most exciting of places. See plants in which frogs nest at the Botanic Garden, an ancient frog fossil at the Sedgwick Museum, and a whole horde of frogs at the Fitzwilliam Museum, all highlighted in the Frog March trail.

So come to the Whipple to collect a Frog March trail and to greet Mr. Froggy face-to-face. You can check our website on 1 August to discover the oldest frog in Cambridge or make a furry froggy friend on Castle Hill!

If you thought the Whipple hadn’t gone mad enough, we are blogging about the unusual discoveries we make whilst researching these important histories – check back regularly over the summer to see some of our more amusing encounters with frogs: whippleribbets.wordpress.com

Rosanna Evans, Learning Coordinator, Whipple Museum of the History of Science

*dramatic license

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