It's a frog world after all

And that's only one of the many beautiful and bizarre amphibians that make up FrogWorld -ECHO's premiere exhibit in a new series featuring world creatures to compare to our regional critters. Opening Feb. 24, and sponsored by Redstone, the permanent exhibit is highlighted by interactivities, educational displays, and most importantly, a bevy of fantastic and otherworldly frogs that are sure to make thinking globally more fun than ever before. Phelan Fretz, ECHO's executive director, describes the new additions as "Incredible. He said, To see these creatures is to be blown away...the ways these frogs adapt so completely to their environment is a glimpse of the magic and beauty of our planet." BURLINGTON What's red and green and eats crickets for a midnight snack? Why the newest resident of ECHO, the red-eyed tree frog, of course. FrogWorld showcases 14 different frog species from six continents. No visit to ECHO is complete without some hands-on activities, and FrogWorld offers some exciting new interactive exhibits. Visitors can use 3-D frogs to learn about frog songs or even challenge themselves to remember the different calls. Guests will also have the opportunity to "morph" into a frog, using state-of-the-art software specifically designed for ECHO. Visitors will be photographed, have the image electronically merged with one of a frog, and then turn their froggie-face into a free e-card to send to family and friends. The Animal Care team at ECHO has been working overtime to prepare for the pint-sized ambassadors. Led by an ethic of environmental conservation, they began their frog search with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) - which maintains a list of world species and tracks their level of endangerment or threat. "We didn't consider acquiring frogs with any level of threat attached," explains Steve Smith, director of Animal Care and Facilities. "We also worked closely with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife, and tried to ensure the animals we chose were not taken from their native habitats." The team put months of research into recreating the creatures' natural environs: air temperature and humidity, amount and quality of light are all factors, as are the plant, water and rock features of their habitats. "Our objective," says Smith, "is always finding the right balance that makes the frogs feel most at home." FrogWorld expands ECHO's stewardship mission by demonstrating how our local environment is connected to our shared planet - and frogs offer compelling proof. Often called an "early indicator species," their populations quickly reflect environmental change. Due in part to their skin, which "breathes" in gasses and makes them particularly susceptible to toxins, it is also a reflection of their size and dependence on a very specific habitat. According to the Amphibian Conservation Summit in 2005, one-third of amphibian species are threatened with extinction and at least 122 species have been lost altogether. Loss of habitat caused by pollution, deforestation and climate change is the major culprit here. As an early indicator species, frogs are warning us that this planet we depend on needs some conscientious attention - a sentiment echoed by the recent Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change report citing the "likelihood of a human contribution" towards Earth's warming climate. "Sometimes it takes something very small to remind us of something very big," says Phelan Fretz. "Frogs are the canary in the coal mine here - and they are sounding the alarm." FrogWorld is the beginning of a new era for ECHO. By linking the local with the global, ECHO highlights how the effects of environmental stewardship can ripple into regions far from home. Even if it's something as simple as not using chemical lawn fertilizers, or just riding your bike to work rather than driving, we all play a part in the big picture; we all have a chance to help these frogs, our environment, and maybe even ourselves in the process. By bringing the color and chorus of FrogWorld to the Burlington Waterfront, ECHO offers the public an engaging opportunity to see how. For more information visit echovernmont.org, call Toll-Free 1-877-ECHOFUN, or write to ECHO,Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, One College Street, Burlington, VT 05401.

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