Model or monster?

This story, published in Cosmos Magazine Issue 95, was highly commended in the UNSW Press Bragg Prize for Science Writing 2023, and was published in the Best Australian Science Writing 2023 anthology.

In a two-room laboratory sequestered in a hunkered-down building in Werribee, Victoria, a small but mighty group of baby frogs, some of the last bastions of their embattled species, are patiently waiting to die…

I’ve come to visit them on a blinding hot February day, and I’ve been excited about the encounter for weeks. But when I open the door and see them, squatting blithely in row upon row of plastic tanks, I’m struck with a potent wave of tragedy.

These are juvenile southern corroboree frogs, tiny little things with an overlaid pattern of bright yellow and black on their breathable skin, like a croaking nuclear waste sign. That’s pertinent, because they secrete a poisonous alkaloid through that skin that can kill prospective predators.

I squat on my haunches, greeting one of the little frogs as it hovers, suction-cup toe-pads pressed against the glass, its little throat moving rhythmically up and down. It has no idea what’s coming.

Read the full article here.