Behavioral ecologist Marty Crump speaks on the lore of reptiles and amphibians at College of the Atlantic's Human Ecology Forum Feb. 9.Behavioral ecologist Marty Crump speaks on the lore of reptiles and amphibians at College of the Atlantic's Human Ecology Forum Feb. 9.

Marty Crump has been fascinated with reptiles and amphibians for most of her life. As a scholar, field researcher, and behavioral ecologist, she has studied frogs, lizards, snakes and other creatures in locations across Central and South America. In the late 1980s, she was one of the first herpetologists to mark the tragic decline of amphibians from chytrid fungus, a pathogen that has now endangered a third of amphibian populations worldwide.

Human Ecology Forum with Marty Crump.
Tuesday, Feb. 9, 4:10 p.m.

With her latest book, Crump pulls back from hard science and delves in the world of storytelling. Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder’s Fork and Lizard’s Leg: The Lore and Mythology of Amphibians and Reptiles (University of Chicago Press, 2015) tells stories of these creatures from around the globe, and explores the complex relationships we have developed with them over generations.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, Crump will share stories from her book and her decades of research at College of the Atlantic’s Human Ecology Forum. The event begins at 4:10 p.m. in McCormick Lecture Hall. It is free and open to the public.

An ambivalent relationship

Times Higher Education calls Eye of Newt a “beautiful, engaging and absorbing collection,” which “teases out our deep-rooted ambivalence towards a group of creatures we have long cast in both positive and negative lights.”

Crump says that the book, which is full of gorgeous, colorful photos and illustrations, was incredibly fun to put together.

“I’ve taught folklore of amphibians and reptiles most of my life, and I always did it with the thought that someday I would put all of it into a book,” she says. “My hope is that people will read it and start thinking about some of the issues that I bring up.”

Saving amphibian populations, Crump notes, is very much about motivation. And while cuddly looking pandas or grand, soaring eagles may be natural motivators, our often ambivalent view of amphibians and reptiles does not necessarily lead us to push for their conservation, she says.

“Amphibians and reptiles have a really bad image problem. A lot of people think about them as ugly, or venomous or poisonous,” Crump says. “They just don’t get the same warm, fuzzy feeling that birds and mammals do. And a lot of that is coming from folklore that is handed down from generation to generation.”

Information is power

Crump, an adjunct professor in the Department of Biology and the Ecology Center at Utah State University, is fascinated with the power that amphibians hold, and both the positive and negative ramifications of it. She sees that we need to make cultural changes for conservation initiatives to work, but also sees the fragile territory conservationists step on when pushing for change in cultures not their own. She hopes, she says, that by spreading information, and telling stories, she can begin to help people make this change.

“If I had the knowhow to make really good suggestions, than I would do it,” Crump says. “But what I am going to say is that my goal is to just get people thinking.”

The Human Ecology Forum is a weekly speaker series based on the work of the academic community, which also draws on artists, poets, political and religious leaders from around the world. The forum is open to the public and meets Tuesdays at 4:10 during the school term in the McCormick Lecture Hall.