Hermit the Frog
The Golden Mantella is found only in a 10 square kilometre patch of forest between Beferona and Maramanga in Eastern Madascar. This is partly because its habitat has been reduced, but also because that is where it evolved and it likes it there. It cannot simply be relocated.
Madagascar also happens to be the discovery site of the earliest known frog-like creature, a 250 million year old fossil. Frogs had developed into the form in which we would now recognize them by the Jurassic period. Since then families of these creatures have been looking out at the same view as it has changed around them. Through shifts of the earth’s axis, beneath circling stars, through countless full moons and high noons, they have tasted the changing atmosphere through their skin.
Frogs need their mouths only for eating. All their drinking and most of their breathing is done through their skin. Over millions of years this thin membrane between self and other has become an incredibly sensitive organ of communion, through which a frog drinks, breathes, feels, kills, communicates and marks its particular place in the world. Frogs very literally absorb the atmosphere of a particular place. They are natural spirits of place. Some species are found only around a particular pond or tree.
Smell and taste, the ‘wet’ senses, are the most primal elements of consciousness. Each spot on the planet has its own unique flavour, which is in a dynamic relationship with the entire biosphere through currents of air. A frog tastes the complex chemistry of its location not simply with its tongue, which is more an organ of action, but through its whole body. Just as water soaks in and wets, so a frog dissolves the world and propogates itself by bringing the magical power of water onto the land and into the air. A frog is fully immersed in the body of Earth’s ocean of air, as surely as it might be in any body of water. A species of frog has recently been discovered that even does away with lungs completely. All its breath is soaked through its skin.
Being extraordinarily sensitive to atmosphere through their entire bodies, when I say that frogs are spirits of place I mean it very precisely. Our idea of soul or spirit has deep roots in the Latin spiritus and the ancient Greek psychein, both of which have to do with air, breath, wind. A frog, sitting still in its place is absorbing the spirit of that place.
It is just this sensitivity, however, which is the frog’s tragic flaw. Tasting and absorbing every tiny change, frogs are the first parts of the biosphere to be affected by toxicity. One of the deadliest toxins the planet has so far produced has proved to be Man. Frogs can surely taste our arrogance. Having lasted for around 250 million years, now in just a few short decades, the merest flick of a tongue, half of all frog species have either disappeared already or are in danger of extinction.
Those of us who are alarmed by this statistic have the choice to act. We can go on polishing and re-arranging our personal knick-knacks, muttering indignations, or we can mobilize wisdom and compassion in the service of a wider goal. This tiny creature is held in the palm of our hand. It is a simple matter to absent-mindedly crush it.
The Golden Mantella is one of the so-called poison dart frogs. It processes alkaloids from ants to make into a poison in its skin. Perhaps some of this skin could be offered to the organized gangs of criminals who are destroying its forest by poaching ebony and rosewood to sell on the global market.