In “What’s My Line, Part I,” an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow Rosenberg, during an all-night research session in the Sunnydale High School library, falls asleep. When the librarian, Rupert Giles, awakens her, she mutters something about tadpoles. When he looks puzzled, Willow explains, “I have frog fear.” She’s not alone.
God himself used frogs to terrify his enemy, the pharaoh of Egypt who was holding Moses and the ancient Israelites captive: “And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs” (Ex. 8:2).
What’s so frightening about frogs?
Bible commentaries find plenty to say on the topic:
Concerning Exodus 8:2, quoted above, the Geneva Study Bible observes, “There is nothing so weak that God cannot use it to overcome the greatest power of man,” while the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary comments that “Those animals, though the natural spawn of the river, and therefore objects familiar to the people, were on this occasion miraculously multiplied to an amazing extent, and it is probable that the ova of the frogs, which had been previously deposited in the mire and marshes, were miraculously brought to perfection at once.”
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on God’s plague of frogs is not quite as concise as the previous two:
Pharaoh is plagued with frogs; their vast numbers made them sore plagues to the Egyptians. God could have plagued Egypt with lions, or bears, or wolves, or with birds of prey, but he chose to do it by these despicable creatures. God, when he pleases, can arm the smallest parts of the creation against us. He thereby humbled Pharaoh. They should neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep in quiet; but wherever they were, they should be troubled by the frogs. God's curse upon a man will pursue him wherever he goes, and lie heavy upon him whatever he does. Pharaoh gave way under this plague. He promises that he will let the people go. Those who bid defiance to God and prayer, first or last, will be made to see their need of both. But when Pharaoh saw there was respite, he hardened his heart. Till the heart is renewed by the grace of God, the thoughts made by affliction do not abide; the convictions wear off, and the promises that were given are forgotten. Till the state of the air is changed, what thaws in the sun will freeze again in the shade.
But what if you're not Jewish or Christian? What's so frightening about frogs if you're an atheist or a member of another faith?
They’re slimy! Okay, they’re not--at least, not all of them are. Frogs need moist skin and, since they don’t stay in the water all the time, they have a skin coating that keeps them moist. For quite a few people, slime is icky. A lot of folks are both disgusted by it and afraid of it. It’s different and it’s yucky and there’s no telling what might be in it that makes it slimy and yucky and icky.
Frogs cause warts--and they do it by urinating on their handlers! Okay, they don’t, not really. Viruses cause warts, and they’re usually transmitted by other people, not by frogs. But, again, perception is truth for those who won’t do their homework.
They’re poisonous! We’re not going to deny it: some are. In fact, blue poison dart frogs, as their name implies, exist for no other reason than to supply the poison for the blowgun darts that some South American tribes use. According to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, their diet (in the wild, at least) is the source of their poison. They eat such delicacies as “ants, termites. . . beetles, and other. . . insects.” However, in captivity, they’re “fed fruit flies and baby crickets” that are fortified with various vitamins and minerals and, as a result, are themselves “completely non-toxic.” Usually, the poison frogs are brightly colored. (Posion dart frogs may also be red and blue, strawberry, golden, green and black, and other colors.) The bright colors are warning signs that shout, STAY AWAY. Those animals, including people, who don’t are sometimes the victims of these frogs, but, even then, the poison’s usually only enough to make a body sick, not to kill him or her.
Besides, according to psychologists, frog fear isn’t based on reason. It’s irrational. It’s a phobia. Shrinks claim that people fear frogs because they’ve associated them with some sort of traumatic event in which they--the people and the frogs--were involved, probably in the dim past. A rather extreme example is an incident in which a person developed frog fear is that of a woman who ran over several frogs while mowing her lawn.
For those who want their frog fear to sound a little less irrational and a little more clinical, there’s a Latin name for it that confers dignity and culture to the phobia (for those who believe that Latin is a dignified and cultured, if dead, language, at least). The term is ranidaphobia. An alterative term is batrachophobia. The latter term can also apply to the fear of other amphibians, including Newt Gingrich. Folks whose phobia is specific to toads suffer from bufonophobia.
People who fear frogs should stay away from the Goliath frog, for sure!
“Everyday Horrors: Frogs” is part of a series of “everyday horrors” that will be featured on Chillers and Thrillers: The Fiction of Fear. These “everyday horrors” continue, in many cases, to appear in horror fiction, literary, cinematographic, and otherwise.