SciSun: A Story that has Legs   Leave a comment


Mark Twain, author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (and who was quite the rascal, himself), was also known for telling the story of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County’; an apparently simple tale in which a man gambles with anyone who will listen, that his pet frog can jump further than any other frog in the county. Eventually the frog doesn’t jump as far as the man claims, and that’s the end of the story (It might also be the end of the frog, since he failed to keep his end of the bargain and at that time and place frog was considered a good meal). As an example of the writer’s early work, compared with his later books that some consider among the best American novels ever written, this simple frog story might be seen as a disappointment to Twain fans; however when you look closely, we can see the author was saying more than what’s first apparent; and in an unexpected turn of events (which Twain would have loved), his message might even mean more today than it did over 100 years ago.

In the story, the acrobatic frog is named ‘Dan’l Webster’ (a snappy way of writing ‘Daniel Webster’, who was a famous and somewhat pretentious politician and statesman of the time); and great effort is put forth by the author to illustrate it is only through the superior abilities and talent of Dan’l, that the frog is able to out-jump any other frog. When Dan’l is out-jumped by a group of ‘common’ frogs (anonymous frogs without names, we suspect), the tale harkens back to the message that no matter what someone may think of himself – be him frog or man – it’s best to be humble, because there’s always someone who might know more and can teach you a thing or two. Granted, this story probably meant a lot more to people in the 1860’s than it does now, but a hundred and fifty years ago people in small towns were happy for any type of entertainment.

Today, it’s hard to find any jumping frogs in Calavaras County – or most anywhere in the Sierra Nevada region of Northern California – because over 90% of them are gone. Due to pesticide drift – toxic pesticides entering previously pure water systems; the spread of a deadly amphibian fungus; and introduction of non-native fish into area lakes, which eat as many tadpoles and baby frogs as they can; very few safe environments remain for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae), the northern Mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa), and the Yosemite toad (Anaxyrus canorus), no matter how far any of them can jump. The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently began an analysis of the situation for their proposal to designate critical habitat for these animals, and put them on the path toward officially recognition and protection as Threatened or Endangered Species. But it doesn’t take a famous author to tell the tale that without our understanding of the challenges so many populations face; and the recognition that each of us has the power to hurt, or help, these plants and animals; one day the only remembrance of entire species might be through stories of long ago.

“Look into my eyes....deeply into my are open to will save the Sierra Frogs and will also provide us unlimited snacks of dead flies.....”

“Look into my eyes….deeply into my eyes….you are open to suggestions….you will save the Sierra Frogs and Toads….you will also provide us unlimited snacks of dead flies…..”


In the ‘Jumping Frog’, Mark Twain blurs the line between truth and fiction, and tries to make the point that anyone who believes only what he tells himself is one day in for a big surprise. What author Clemens doesn’t say in this story (Mark Twain also went by the name Sam Clemens. He liked to confuse people) is be careful what you take for granted, because someday it might be gone. So a hundred and fifty years after that celebrated frog, maybe the message of today from that tall tale might not be just a lesson on humility and the effects of pride; but on a simple frog that was considered so common it was the definition of trivial, but now represents entire populations of species we might loose forever.


Michonne Says: These frogs live in the mountains, where marmots live? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. They must live near the water where marmots don’t go. Or maybe they live in the trees where marmots don’t go. Or maybe they spend all their time jumping here-and-there and marmots have more important things to do than that.


Posted January 19, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

Tagged with , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: