Study eyes jumping frogs

By Mike Morris, The Union Democrat

The science behind jumping frogs at the Calaveras County Fair is the subject of a research article in the November issue of "The Journal of Experimental Biology."

Researchers from Brown University, an Ivy League research university in Rhode Island, recorded video of 3,124 bullfrog jumps during the course of the four-day Jumping Frog Jubilee in 2009.

The report found that "professional" frogs collected and jumped by experienced teams jumped farther than the "rental" frogs provided by fair organizers.

"The irony, to me, goes back to Mark Twain," said fair manager Laurie Giannini. "Legend has it he overheard the tale (of 'The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County') in a tavern in Angels Camp and almost 150 years later it becomes a science experiment."

The research article - titled, "Chasing maximal performance: a cautionary tale from the celebrated jumping frogs of Calaveras County" - used the contest to "evaluate the validity of existing laboratory estimates of maximum jumping performance in bullfrogs."

Researchers analyzed high-speed video measurements to calculate take-off velocities and angles.

Each year, the fair brings in 400 frogs for the public to use, and those frogs are "pampered" with food and even classical music, Giannini said.

"I've been told that if a frog is kept as a pet or in captivity it won't jump as far," she said. "I think the research indicates just how well we take care of our frogs."

While working with frogs in the lab, the research team was drawn to Calaveras County after coming across a "Guinness World Records" reference to the world's farthest frog jump of 21 feet, 5.75 inches - set at the 1986 fair by a frog named "Rosie the Ribiter."

The distance measured is actually the total of three consecutive jumps.

Riley Kitchell, of Mountain Ranch, won this year's contest with a jump of 20 feet, 10 inches.

Next year's Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, with the theme "Fun for the Whole Herd," is scheduled for May 15 to 18 at Frogtown in Angels Camp.

The Union Democrat
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