Frogs have long contributed to teaching anatomy as the source material for schematic representations and as specimens for hands-on anatomical training. That contribution has recently shifted into a new medium: the Internet.

Image 1 Screenshot from [].

Websites hosting digital frog dissection programmes are almost as old as the Internet itself. The University of Virginia released 'Net-Frog' in 1994. One commentator described it as "truly the first useful Web Site." More recent programmes include Virtual Frog Dissection, Froguts, and Digital Frog International.

Froguts boasts that its online subscription service includes "Frog, Squid, Starfish, Cow Eye, Owl Pellet, Fetal Pig Modules and The Pea & Fruit Fly Genetics Labs." Digital Frog International touts itself as an improvement on real, physical dissection because the latter lacks built-in reference materials for students: "The Digital Frog 2.5 is so much more effective than a wet lab because the interactive dissection is seamlessly linked to a comprehensive anatomy and physiology section, with human anatomy comparisons. A fascinating ecology section reminds students that biology is the study of living organisms." Digital trips to frogs' different habitats supplement the laboratory dissection module and can be taken with just a click of the mouse.

Schools may subscribe to these services, proponents claim, in order to save money and prevent cruelty to frogs without compromising the quality of their teaching. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a major animal rights organization, argues that, "While dissection may teach some understanding of anatomy, biology, and physiology, it also teaches a profound disrespect for the life it purports to study." Whether students should be obligated to participate in dissections is another matter of controversy. The ethics of animal dissection are always acknowledged as a justification for the very idea of digital dissection. Some scientists and teachers, however, argue that getting one's hands into the frog's real blood and guts is crucial to understanding it, and that digital resources can never replace the real organism in teaching.

Henry Schmidt

Henry Schmidt, 'Cyberfrogs', Explore Whipple Collections, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge, []

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