Small creatures, big story at Brookfield Zoo

Chicago In the news business there are big stories and small stories. As a rule we like to cover the big ones. But every once in awhile a story comes along that's so small we just have to send out our cameras and a reporter.

At Brookfield Zoo's Feathers, Scales and Swamp exhibit, they are marking the Year of the Frog, which is all about saving frogs worldwide from extinction. As part of the program, in an off exhibit back room they have created a baby frog, or tadpole, maternity ward--green tree frog tadpoles to be exact. And thanks to several adult frogs, the place is hopping.

"Well what we have in the tank next to me here we have 200 to 300 tadpoles, which is the larval form of an amphibian," said Mark Herbert, senior keeper of "Feathers, Scales & Swamp."

The tadpoles were hatched about a month ago and are the offspring of the zoo's five identical adult green tree frogs. Even the keepers can't tell the males from females, but it's obvious there must be at least one of each.

So what's all the excitement? You can go over to any swamp or pond and you'll find tadpoles all over the place. Well, here's why. Frogs are sort of the canary in the coal mine.

In other words, when our environment goes bad, the frogs are the first to warn us by going extinct.

"Basically when the environment is healthy with not a lot of pesticides, frogs will thrive. If it's proper for frogs, it's good for everything else," said Tim Snyder, curator of Birds and Reptiles.

So that's why these tadpoles and others are part of a worldwide environmental study. From tadpoles to frogs, visitors can see the whole process.

"What they'll be able to see is legs starting to sprout out of the tadpoles. Front legs, back legs and then the tails begin to shrink up," said Herbert.

The whole process will take approximately the next six weeks.

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