Anti-ScienceRandom Asides

Mysteries of Frog Sex: An Exercise in Critical Thinking

People ignorant of the concept often ask me: What is critical thinking?

And the thing is, it’s a very good question; one that is difficult to answer. Most of us who regularly risk our jobs because we’re too busy surfing skeptical websites know what it means to think critically, because it’s what we do all day. But we’d be hard pressed to set down a good definition, if charged to do so.

Critical thinking is not just about looking into things. It’s not just about gathering information.

That’s certainly part of it. But in addition to searching for information, we must investigate and analyze. We have to apply a good measure of intelligence to determine the efficacy of the information we’ve collected. We must decipher meanings, apply common sense, detect trash data, weigh the importance of certain aspects, and be very very careful not to jump to conclusions.

It’s not an easy concept to relate, and it’s not an easy skill to learn.

I think that many people the world over consider themselves good critical thinkers, but the truth is they are not. The proliferation of crackpot ideas, religion, pseudoscience, and reality TV would suggest that most people are not only sub-standard critical thinkers, but may in fact be incapable of applying a critical eye to the most basic elements of their everyday lives.

To illustrate this point, I want to relate an example of an investigation from my own life, and have you grade me on my critical thinking skills.

I want to talk to you about frog sex.

No, this post is not going to be about French people making love. Hopefully it will be way more interesting (and less odorous) than that. We’ll see.

At any rate, it goes like this:

Recently I had a conversation with one of my favorite people on Earth. (Okay, so all the people I know are on Earth. I admit I don’t have any favorites that aren’t on Earth. My therapist has convinced me that those other ones are not real and that I shouldn’t talk about them, so forget I said anything.)

Anyway, this person and I usually talk about many subjects, and I’m always fascinated with the course of the conversation. And this particular conversation was no exception. We touched on everything from music to literature to dimply ass cheeks.

At one point, however, the topic of discussion somehow turned to frog sex, and where I feel one can never examine too closely the steamy intricacies of sex between two frogs (or more than two, if that’s their particular kink), it occurred to me that there was something about amphibians that I didn’t know. Indeed there was something about our watertight friends that I had never even considered.

Now you all no doubt know me as a man of the world by now. After all, I’ve posted all of six or seven entries on this blog; a number I deem sufficient for anyone to grasp the true nature of my character. If you can’t tell by now that I’m always out there on the scene, you’re just not paying attention.

Plus, as a kid, I would ride my bike through the woods all day, play in the bayous for hours, terrorize insects and small animals, and pretend I was a ballerina named Sasha (another gem my therapist and I are working on), so I was surprised that this particular aspect of sweet froggy love had never crossed my mind.

Baby frogs are tadpoles, but are baby toads tadpoles?

Incredibly, I wasn’t sure. So I thought I would ask my buddies down at the bar and maybe do some research on the Internet. And the information I found was absolutely remarkable.

The answer is No. Baby toads are not tadpoles. At least according to the mind-bogglingly brilliant sources I found at the bar and among the throng of forums and websites I found.

Some of these sources didn’t seem to be dedicated to the science of amphibious creatures, as much as they were into heckling new members, but so many people had opinions about this subject, I figured they must know what they’re talking about. So I asked for more information. Could anyone tell me what baby toads actually are?

The response was overwhelming.

Apparently, toads arise spontaneously from certain fungi. Yes, toadstools. So named because early researchers erroneously thought they were the product of the toads’ stools. That is, the “stools” were not so much bowel movements as a release of spores.

Of course I thought this odd, and a fellow at the bar who told me his name was Frank confirmed that it is indeed the other way around. The fungi actually release the spores.

So applying my good critical thinking skills, I realized that we can say conclusively which came first in this arena (the stool or the toad), where the chicken and egg debate unfortunately rages on to this day.

And, did you know, toads are not technically amphibians at all? They’re not, but due to the specifics of their abiogenesis, they are mushrooms. When you pick them up, they “urinate” a form of sap (ok, not sap technically, because they are not plants, but more of a slimy mold) all over your hand.

The amazing thing is this slimy mold is perfectly edible, and tastes like ripe strawberries.

Trust me. You should try it sometime.

In fact, it is the traditional French basis for hollandaise sauce, although in the US, misguided animal rights advocates have forced a recipe change.

And here’s yet another interesting bit of froggy trivia: Toad DNA does not replicate, but is passed psychokinetically from organism to organism, through the use of zero-point energy technology.

It is reliably claimed that we will all be powering our automobiles by toad-DNA technology within our lifetime, assuming we live that long.

Fascinating, amazing stuff, isn’t it?

Well, you can see that this post has been a bit silly, but haven’t we all run across people who spout things that are just as ridiculous? And haven’t those people been cocksure of the truth behind their nonsense? The 9/11 conspiracy theorists we run into these days immediately spring to mind.

James Randi often comments on the ease at which even the smartest people can be fooled. And I took his words to heart a long time ago. I know that I am subject to accepting bad information at times and to drawing erroneous conclusions when I’m not careful. But I think knowing this and admitting it makes me a better critical thinker. I’m never satisfied that I know anything absolutely, and more often than not, that concept helps me to make good decisions about things. But more importantly, it keeps me curious.

And being curious is the best foundation for learning.

At any rate, I’d love to stick around and talk about this more, but I’ve got to run.

I’m off to do some groundbreaking research on geckos.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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45 Comments

  1. “…and pretend I was a ballerina named Sasha (another gem my therapist and I are working on)…”

    You don’t need a therapist for THAT one. Just a competent linguist– a male ballet dancer is a BALLERINO, not a ballerina.

    :)

  2. You know, I got the strangest text message after watching that hot frog porn last night. It was from ppio47 and said I was sentenced to 15 minutes of self-flagellation and a week of toast with no butter.

  3. You know, I got the strangest text message after watching that hot frog porn last night. It was from ppio47 and said I was sentenced to 15 minutes of self-flagellation and a week of toast with no butter.

    That’s hilarious, Stacey.

    I laughed so hard, I gave myself stigmata.

  4. You only had me going up to the toadstools, but I believed you about baby toads not being tadpoles. Dang it! Apparently I haven’t QUITE overcome my childhood gullibility.

    My understanding is they are not tadpoles, since they’re not born swimmingf like baby frogs. I think they’re just little toads. Anyone else got info on that?

  5. I managed to keep my laughter in my head about the ppio47 text message, and avoided another coughing fit. That was dang funny, though.

    From an exhaustive Internet search (OK, so I just Googled “life cycle toad” and looked at the more reputable-looking addresses), it looks like they do start out as eggs and then hatch into tadpoles.

    Additional tidbit from encarta.com — the collective name for toads is a “knot of toads.” Now we know …

  6. Yeah, I’m fairly certain toads start as tadpoles as well, considering the huge swarms of tadpoles we get here at certain times of the year and the fact that while you can see hundreds of toads anytime it rains (except in our crappy pretend winter), there just aren’t many frogs. Also, Unless I’m sorely mistaken, I’ve seen tiny little toads with even tinier, littler tails.

  7. I did, I did, you caught me … and to make it worse, I was already pretty sure that baby toads were tadpoles, so it is almost certain that when looking at my Google hits, I subconsciously discounted all the ones that might have indicated that baby toads actually arise spontaneously from mushrooms.

    Damn! This is so embarrassing.

  8. According to Encyclopedia Britanica, even toads lay eggs in/on water that then hatch into tadpoles. Toads live their entire adult lives on land, where frogs become more truly amphibious in their adult lives.

  9. I did, I did, you caught me … and to make it worse, I was already pretty sure that baby toads were tadpoles, so it is almost certain that when looking at my Google hits, I subconsciously discounted all the ones that might have indicated that baby toads actually arise spontaneously from mushrooms.

    Damn! This is so embarrassing.

    No, don’t be embarrassed. You were right!!

    I was just having some fun with you.

  10. I did read it!

    1. I’m really great with books under 35 pages

    2. I like frogs.

    3. I saw Mark Moffett on the Colbert Report talking about the book, so I bought it… for my son, allegedly.

    Here is what it says about toads:

    Don’t be fooled. Toads are frogs. They are from a family of frogs called Bufonidae. In North America, these frogs adapted to drier conditions and became known as toads. What makes a frog a toad?

    — Takin’ it easy- toads tend to walk, not leap or jump.

    –Warts and all – toads have drier, more warty skin than frogs.

    — Armed and dangerous – many toads have poison glands behind their eyes.

  11. I did read it!

    1. I’m really great with books under 35 pages

    2. I like frogs.

    3. I saw Mark Moffett on the Colbert Report talking about the book, so I bought it… for my son, allegedly.

    Well, you are fast becoming one of the most bizarre and fascinating people I’ve ever met. If you tell me you bought a book on the history of obscure skin disorders among Cajun pets, I’ll plotz right here on this website.

  12. I was just having some fun with you.

    ;) Same here. My humor gets a little too dry for online communication sometimes.

    (P.S. Can someone please post the code for making indented quotes? Having to use italics and quotation marks for previous comments is like wearing a “MOCK THE NEWBIE” T-shirt.)

  13. Alright, html still worked. I think slxplvs posted it as below the other day:

    [Less than sign][blockquote][greater than sign][quoted materia][ less than sign]/[blockquote][greater than sign]

    Hope that helps.

  14. apparently there are no such books.

    You searched for one didn’t you? I might just plotz anyway.

    Yeah, Bee, what Stacey said.

    *blockquote*Words to be quoted.*/blockquote*

    Just replace the astwerisks with less than and greater than symbols.

  15. You searched for one didn’t you?

    I did. I would have bought it, too.

    Its a good thing there isn’t one though… since quitting my job, I’ve been spending way too much money at Amazon.

  16. Its a good thing there isn’t one though… since quitting my job, I’ve been spending way too much money at Amazon.

    I quit my job once and found that I was spending way too much money at the Amazon Club . . . But that’s a whole other deal.

  17. Um, do we *want* a PG-13 rating for the site, Sam? Cause if so, I may not be able to post any more.

    I’m pretty much R-rated.

    Well, I don’t. But I have to suck up to the boss lady every once in a while.

    I’m perfectly content with whatever rating you choose for your posts.

  18. Reading this entire post gave me mental images of Breviceps amplexing.

    Probably doesn’t help I just finished a 5-week long excercise in amphibian biology, and, in fact, can painfully detail the phylogenetic relationships, amplexus types, tadpole types, ecomorphs, and skeletal morphologies of all caudatans, anurans, and gymnophionans ….

  19. Err, and by the way, Toads are an unofficial grouping that tends to come from Bufonidae. The distinction comes from England where there are essentially two readily distinguishable morphotypes of anurans that were called “frogs” and “toads”.

    While the large majority of “toads” come from Bufonoidea, it is (a) an unranked clade and (b) quite paraphyletic, so …. basically it boils down to “try to avoid using ‘toad'”.

    Frogs proper, on the other hand, have basically zero relationship to their environment. There are treefrogs that spread lipids over their skin to make them nearly as water impermeable as snakes and other squamates, there are ones that can aestivate for many years, ones that use urine balance methods to keep themselves hydrated, etcetera. For example, Rhacophorids are the so-called “flying frogs” and are hardly aquatic, several Myobatrachians are highly fossorial, and, well, there are far too many clades for me to go through. Suffice it to say they are most certainly NOT restricted to an aquatic lifestyle.

    Sorry for the nerdy posts!

  20. Pretty much everyone has a subject or two they nerd out over. I’m just glad it wasn’t Star Trek for a change. Science is way cooler than fiction any day of the week.

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