Creature Design in AMPHIBIA
In Part one, we dove into Amphibia's speculative wildlife after an overall review of the series and its relevance to me, but before we continue, let's back up a second and talk a bit about these Frog People. They don't call themselves that, of course; "frogs" in Amphibia are understood to be people by default, as there don't seem to be any non-sapient Anurans like those we're more familiar with.
PART TWO OF FOUR
Amphibia's frogs appear to come in every imaginable species, but since they also seem to be capable of crossbreeding, they may be better likened to various subspecies. Like actual frogs they are ectothermic, entering a hibernative state in extreme cold, and it's detrimental to them if their skin dries out. Unlike actual frogs they are naturally omnivorous, subsisting as much on fruits and vegetables as insects or other live prey, though they do demonstrate an exceptional appetite for any invertebrate they can swallow in one mouthful. It's difficult to guess, from an evolutionary perspective, why some of them grow hair on their scalps like us humans, but since keratin is an element of amphibian skin, their hair is probably similar in structure to our own. Finally, these frogs go through a tadpole stage that can already function at least awkwardly on land, though this is probably more out of narrative necessity than anything else; it would have been a bit too limiting if Polly couldn't actually live outside her water bucket.
An official glimpse at what a cartoon character "really" looks like is never not funny.
Frog civilization appears pre-industrial, but we've seen already how the local flora and fauna can fill the same roles as many human innovations. Luminescent fungi render the development of electrical lighting unnecessary, and domesticated insects provide every form of rapid transportation they could ever need. If anything, it's more like us humans just had to work harder to compensate for the lack of conveniently car-sized friendly gastropods, and we've had to kill our planet in the process. Amphibia's relationship with technology is, however, a little more complicated a story than we're at first lead to believe, which we'll discuss in more detail later.
There's also an interesting social division between frogs and toads. Even these, I'm fairly sure, could have pollywogs together in-canon, but they're treated much more like distinct species or races than the various frogs are. Toads are much larger, less dependant on water, tend to possess both sharp claws and sharp teeth, and have a reputation for being more brutal and violent than frogkind. Owing to this brute strength, they also occupy a more powerful social class than frogs, but still not the most powerful in Amphibia overall, and we'll talk about some of the others soon enough. Now, more beasts and creatures:
We never see this animal alive, but we see a deceased specimen dragged by the frog (toad?) chef and restaurant owner, Stumpy. It's shaped a little like a crocodilian with a fin down its back, but it has distinctly smooth, shiny skin with no apparent scales. It may just be the stylization of a reptilian creature, but if we wanted to overthink it, and I'm sure we all do, its physiology suggests something much closer to an amphibian itself. This would be fairly unusual for a setting where all amphibians are sapient races, but the crocodilian shape most closely matches what we know of the extinct Temnospondyli, such as Platyoposaurus. These animals aren't currently classified as amphibians, but ancestral to modern amphibians!
UNKNOWN AMPHIBIOID BEAST
A rare case of a non-arthropod as a tool, Stumpy's kitchen sink incorporates a charmingly buggy-eyed eel whose lamprey-like mouth can pucker into a thin tube and spray water at high pressure! If it is a kind of lamprey, then it's not exactly an eel or even the same thing we truly think of as a "fish," but a cartilaginous and jawless Agnathan.
Seen in Stumpy's diner as well as in a later episode, this beetle-like insect has a tubular proboscis and a large, transparent abdomen. It also doesn't seem to mind being used as a spray bottle, assuming that it's actually still alive.
Our last of Stumpy's animal "staff" is another non-arthropod: a scaly reptile shaped exactly like a dumpster, its entire front just one big, rectangular mouth. Again, barring the possibility that some creatures have been artificially modified for practical purposes, we have to wonder just why something would evolve this shape, so allow me to wildly speculate: in the wild, these reptiles could nest together in deep, rectangular pits, squeezing their bricklike bodies together almost airtight and perfectly flush. Large predators like birds and mantids would have difficulty getting a grip on any individual, while smaller threats such as shrews and ectoparasites would have difficulty accessing the eggs or hatchlings hidden beneath the adults. This behavior would also facilitate ambush hunting, especially if the reptiles blend in well with the surrounding terrain. You can easily envision a foolish animal treading on the grid of scaly blocks, only for one of the lizards to rise up on its tail and swallow its prey whole.
The last creature I believe we ever see at Stumpy's diner is undercooked enough to nearly kill everyone; a huge, white squid with a single eye above a protruding beak. Real squid, of course, have their beak at the center of their tentacles, and a large eye on each side of the head. Much later in the series, an even larger Kraken is briefly seen as an aquarium exhibit!
As a big fan of small, slimy pests, this is easily one of my favorite little critters in the series, seen when Hop Pop is running his own produce stand and stops a customer from purchasing a gourd that only he seems to recognize as off. Breaking it open, we see a lovely slug-like organism curled up in its interior, which he identifies as a "terrible tasting" Gourd Maggot. What a magnificent animal, though! It looks very much like a slick, lumpy yellow slug, with knobby eyestalks and a green, sucking proboscis that flicks in and out of its tubular face.
"Maggot" typically denotes a type of fly larva possessing no legs - not even vestiges! - and no hard casing around the head, which all checks out here. Most insect larvae do display obvious segmentation, but there are some, such as certain caterpillars, where the segmentation of the soft body cuticle is almost imperceptible. It's also possible that this is just a gastropod colloquially referred to as a kind of maggot, which would make it the only slug we ever see again after the first episode.
These are from the same episode as the Gourd Maggot, but probably unrelated. These flies are as massive as cattle and have a very nice color scheme with black heads, orange eyes, striped brown thoraxes and green abdomens. They accurately possess only a single pair of wings and a tubular proboscis, though in the two largest flies, the back of the thorax continues to cover the abdomen like the shell of a beetle. While not likely intentional, this isn't totally unheard of; this part of the thorax, the scutellum, is what gives flies their "hunch backed" appearance, and can extend quite far back, extreme enough for there to even be a group of "beetle-backed flies!"
One of the three flies, however, is smaller than the others and lacks this additional protection. It also has rounder wings. Since all fully winged insects are also fully grown, this would indicate either a slightly different species or sexual dimorphism, the smaller individual most likely the male.
One species of spider, maybe two or three meters in length, is only seen as a domesticated transport animal in toad society. It's fat, broad and hairy, mottled in dark greens and browns, with thick legs, extremely large chelicerae and a cluster of five tiny forward-facing eyes. It's probably intended as a tarantula and works as such, but I think it's also interpretable as a Missulena, or "mouse spider!"
A small, greenish insect is seen briefly in a Toad prison cell, and it's fairly nondescript, sort of like a fat ant with large eyes, short legs and long antennae. If I had to place it with any real arthropod group, however, it most strongly resembles some species of Psocoptera, including even the way its fang-like mandibles are attached to a wide bulge on the face. Psocopterans are primitive, sometimes winged insects that will feed on almost any organic matter, but especially the biofilms formed by algae, fungi or bacteria. Some species are known as "bark lice" and can be found on tree trunks, while others are known as "book lice" for chewing on paper and glue in households. If you're wondering what book-eating pests originally ate and where they naturally came from, the answer is usually "mildew" and "bat caves!"
Another surprisingly rare instance of a carnivorous plant, this one is your more traditional giant, snapping fly-trap mouth on a stem. It even has an animal-like tongue and a fleshy looking throat, so it may very well be a plant-animal hybrid, and I supposed the tomatoes may have been as well! It's both a pet and, presumably, an execution method by a very important toad.
SEWER WORMI love this one! Only seen in a sewage tunnel, it resembles your typical "kid's cartoon" worm or caterpillar; a green worm with knobby antennae, beady eyes and pudgy cheeks. But when it opens its goofy mouth, it has at least seven smaller, nastier looking mouths on squirming, intestine-like red stalks! I think this horrifying uncanny thing might even be in my top five of the whole series. Are those even really part of its body, or a symbiotic species? I don't know if it has an official name, but I'm tempted to just call it a "Pipe Cleaner."
We've established that birds are the setting's apex predators, and it's all too appropriate that wading birds are the most fearsome of them all. Amphibia's herons differ from Earth's herons only by the presence of teeth and at least thirty to fifty more meters of height, sharing the Earth heron's appetite for frogs and toads. They're basically Amphibia's equivalent to "dragons!"
This cute little hybrid of a beetle grub and a pig is the focus of the episode "Grubhog Day" and a traditional Wartwood holiday of the same name. Like our own Groundhog Day, there's a superstition that the Grubhog can be used to forecast the coming seasons, and the local frogs take it seriously enough to go all-out with an annual fair, and I love that this carousel includes creatures we've seen before!
Anne and the frog kids are tasked with watching over the fair's star Grubhog and become pretty attached to it, unaware of just how morbidly Groundhog Day and Grubhog Day actually deviate from one another.
...But before the townsfolk can eviscerate the Grubhog to read the spots on its liver and before the kids even find out this terrible truth, the Grubhog is abruptly carried off by some kind of large carrion bird. It's similar to some sort of vulture with an oversized head and large eyes, but the prominent cere, the fleshy pad surrounding the nostrils, isn't present in either the "old world" or "new world" vultures of Earth. These two groups evolved independently from one another, as did Leptoptilos, a genus of bald-headed carrion-eating storks. A featherless face is a convenient adaptation for any bird that intends to shove it into rotting viscera, so this giant corpse-eater could have evolved convergently from any number of bird groups.
In the episode's final punchline, it turns out that the vulture is simply a loyal underling of the surprisingly intelligent pig-bug.
This nicely designed Coleopteran has elytra covered in blunt spikes, a black head and thorax with a fuzzy orange fringe, bulging red eyes, sickle-like mandibles and a single huge, thorny horn, the entire creature at least the size of an actual rhinoceros. It is also a critical part of what country frogs consider their electoral process. It sounds silly, but given the setting, you really wouldn't want a mayor who can't survive a little giant insect attack.
A second political trial involves a nest of screeching, baby birds that turn out be a species of huge pigeon. I love the adult's goofy, protruding blue eyeballs. There isn't a whole lot else I can say about a giant pigeon, but we're trying to be pretty thorough.
Briefly seen gnawing on Wartwood's then-current mayor, I really like the look of this horrible shrew-like rodent, its tapering jaws full of needly teeth, its eyeballs horribly bloodshot and unblinking, its head necklessly blending into a stunted little body. It's basically mostly jaws and ratlike tail, which tells me it doesn't spend a lot of time on the move. The way it's just hanging off the Mayor as he stumbled out of the bushes makes it seem like the kind of creature that just waits for something to pass by and chomp down on, like the foot-biting crocodile we saw earlier, or perhaps even like the phoretic parasites we already talked about!
Or maybe it's just funny to have a little ratlike thingy chewing on a guy's butt. If it's actually more of a shrew, then it's still a kind of animal that often preys on amphibians...and also among the few mammals with a venomous bite.
We're putting these together because we see them in rapid succession, each preying on the last as Hop Pop names the dangers of the plains beyond town. While there are real, long-necked insects known as snakeflies, a "snakefly" in Amphibia is a fly-eyed rattlesnak with a cobra-like hood. The sodskink, meanwhile, is a beautifully blue-striped predatory lizard that apparently buries itself just under the grassy soil, and when the "sandliger" drags them both out of view, all we see is an enormous paw with additional claw-like quills up the length of its arm.
SNAKEFLY, SODSKINK, AND SANDLIGER
I mentioned before that the only mammals seen in Amphibia are giant versions of those that would typically prey upon invertebrates and/or small frogs, such as the hedgehogs, and that's still true, because the only other mammals are all hybridized with insects. Since a cat isn't predominantly an insectivore, I wouldn't be surprised if the spines on the "sandliger" are actually borrowed from some kind of insect or arachnid, the rest of it quite possibly armed with some mix of chitinous armor, mandibles, who knows.
Seen for just a moment is what resembles a giant star-nosed mole that can spout flames from its single nostril! The reddish star nose has only five large, knobby points, which gives it a novel resemblance to a plumbing valve that may or may not have been intentional. The rest of the creature is mostly hairless, with slick grey skin and even darker skin covering its eyeballs. Also noteworthy is its fully quadrupedal stance, with four equally thick, powerful legs planted firmly on the ground. Tiny, Earthly moles can't do this at all, their specialized limbs oriented only to facilitate a "swimming" motion through the soil.
It's likely that this incendiary predator can still dig a good burrow with those huge claws, but it has clearly evolved away from a life of constant tunneling to hunt more effectively above ground. Why, then, are the eyes still covered over? Obviously to protect them from its own intense heat, which also explains the hairless body: an animal that makes its own fire doesn't need the insulation of fur, which would only make it more flammable to boot.
It's a design with a rock-solid logic to it whether or not that much reasoning consciously went into it, and that's really something for literally one second of screentime.
These are just a bunch of anaconda-size, bubblegum pink earthworms, but I appreciate that they've got little round mouths that are visibly lined with soft tissue, rather than a fictionalized addition of teeth. Unless they're also prone to engulfing large food items (and they certainly seem aggressive) these are probably just soil-eaters like their smaller, more familiar counterparts.
Like the giant water strider from our last page, the cicadas possess chewing mandibles rather than the sucking apparatus of true bugs, but it's just as easily handwaved as another hybrid species or another case of evolutionary convergence; an insect of some other order that evolved similarly to a cicada. Here, they seem to be desert insects, and while not carnivorous, they're highly territorial.
One of the largest mammals ever seen in the series, the weasel has an even longer, slinkier body than any real mustelid, with a big gaping mouth full of incredibly long teeth! I also enjoy the eerily stiff way it holds its head and paws; together with the blank, beady eyes and disheveled fur, it sometimes effectively calls to mind a taxidermied pelt. It's only active in winter, but this is a time when frogs are frozen in torpor and particularly vulnerable!
Again I appreciate that almost every "pure" mammal in the setting is something that would usually prey on normal-sized insects, reptiles and amphibians.
Named after one of the show's head character and creature designers (responsible for a lot of what we've already seen!) this Joe Sparrow is a literal sparrow, identical to the real thing save for his size. He's also the only completely tame bird we ever see, and develops a cute, if biologically confusing, mutual affection with Bessie the snail.
This is the second frog subspecies we're reviewing since the "mud men," but while those were of ambiguous taxonomy, these are seemingly based on the Ceratophryidae, some species of which are known as "pac-man frogs" in the pet trade! The huge mouths of these predators allow them to easily consume prey that often include other frogs and toads very nearly their own size, and while we don't know if their kind are always cannibals in Amphibia, it's certainly the case for the one family we do encounter, who prey on the customers of their own bed and breakfast. Classic!
We first learn of this mysterious being as a mythical, Sasquatch-like figure to the frogs of Wartwood, who somehow find the concept hard to believe even after a sapient alien primate was brought to their world by a magic box. The large, shaggy humanoid is completely covered in green moss except for its circular, luminous eyes and leafy, branchlike antlers, butterflies flock to it and plant life surges with growth in its footsteps. To be fair, that is a little more magical than most of the wildlife frogs are familiar with, but, some frogs also practice actual literal magic-spell magic, with transformative alchemical potions and everything.
Though it seems at first like a one-episode gag, we eventually learn a lot more about the moss man, which we'll talk about towards the end of this review series.
This beautifully mottled, blue and green scarab beetle is used as the "engine" to pull an entire train, and its single long horn even functions as a steam pipe! We know it's a dung beetle because of the clearly marked "Dung Coal" supply cart behind it, though it does raise some interesting questions. Why does it apparently subsist on coal from dung, and vent steam from its own body? How does this beetle "work" exactly? If its species is actually dependent upon this "dung coal," what exactly makes so much dung that it builds up as coal, long enough for any organisms to specialize in it??
Amphibia's "stinkbugs" are round, fat creatures, and they have polka-dotted elytra more like beetles than bugs, but they do have tubular mouths like a bug! They're just curled a little, more like the proboscis of Lepidoptera, and unlike most stinkbugs, they seem to fly together in swarms.
I think this might be the first crustacean in the series? It's a massive river-dwelling crab whose fuzzy, mottled green carapace is encrusted with plant life, allowing it to imitate a small island in the water!
One episode features a mysterious night market, the Bizarre Bazaar, that appears and disappears once a year. The presence of this mystical amphibian swap meet, however, is first indicated by a parade of strange little beings who continue to be seen clambering around its various stalls. These include, among other forms, some simplistic green "cartoon" snakes, one-eyed blue berries that hop around, one-eyed purple berries with centipede-like berry bodies, horizontal peanut-shaped critters with stick limbs and googly eyes, lumpy snowman-shaped gourds with twigs for limbs and misshappen holes for facial features, sunflowers with feet and fuzzy, buggy-eyed, duck-billed orbs with flowers on their heads.
These creatures are otherwise only barely ever acknowledged, never named and certainly never explained, but we did already see a giant animate pumpkin monster in the series, and these little beings also resemble mostly fruits and vegetables. They still won't be the last supernaturally sentient produce in the show, either.
Even I wouldn't have trusted anything resembling boba tea from a world of frogs. Best case scenario is that the tapioca pearls are just unfertilized frog eggs. In this case, they're the eggs of creatures kind of resembling six-legged nubby spiders. Maybe they're ticks again!
This cool looking blue and grey beetle has large, prickly bull-like horns, and like a bull, attempting to ride it is apparently considered a challenging sport. Unlike a bull, it also seems to spurt blue flames as it snorts! Plenty of real beetles have chemical defenses, and some of them, like bombardier beetles, even actually generate heat.
FIRE BREATHING BULL BEETLE
So we actually do get giant cockroaches in Amphibia! I had misremembered these as beetles, but they're officially roaches and definitely drawn more Blattodean than Coleopteran. They also come in various bright colors and are tame enough to ride on. In fact, they're exclusively seen as part of an underground racing ring at the bazaar!
Deployed during the cockroach race, this beetle can pull its head and legs completely within its bright blue, spiny, turtle-like shell, and it functions exactly like the explosive, homing Mario Kart weapon it resembles.
BLUE SHELL BEETLE
The giant bat doesn't differ much from a regular bat beyond its exceptional size, though it does have an interestingly scaly belly. It attacks Sprig because he's dressed like a moth at the time, but it's interesting to note there are real, actual bats that specialize in hunting frogs, tracking them by their mating calls.
We see this background animal twice in the series as a bit of set dressing; a very cute cross between an insect and an owl that even "hoots!" It looks a lot like a pudgy moth with owl eyes, but it has a thin proboscis instead of a beak, and four membranous transparent wings. It may still be a moth, as several moth groups can exhibit clear wings more typical of other insects!
This flying, golden beetle is employed as the ball in a traditional Amphibian sport, the goal of which is to get the beetle through each of two giant snake skulls on the opposing team's side. As a living thing, the beetle's behavior seems unpredictable, but it's compliant or domesticated enough to not simply leave. In addition to being able to fly, it can also curl into a tight sphere!
A beetle-like but eight-legged arthropod, the large funnel-shaped mouth is reminiscent of the insect we saw functioning as a "car horn," and since this one also exists to make loud, obnoxious noises, there could easily be an evolutionary relationship between the two.
Finally, another insect-headed bird! How does a giant turkey manage to look this cool with just some mandibles and compound eyes? While it's not meant to resemble any one specific insect, it comes out reminding me a lot of a tiger beetle.
Introduced for a Halloween episode with a "zombie outbreak" angle, Gary appears at first to be an eccentric frog who specializes in "potions," but it turns out that all of his potions contain parasitic spores, and the real Gary is a sentient, talking fungus that seeks to take over Amphibia!
Gary seems to have been defeated by the end of the episode, only to sprout once more on Jeremy the beetle, and while this seems at first like just a gag, but he returns in season 3, still in control of Jeremy along with an entire remote farming village in an episode that bizarrely and hilariously keeps referencig Midsommar.
There's a twist here, however, in that the cult-like frogs of "Gardenton" are fully willing hosts, and Gary's spores are what sustain their entire thriving agricultural community, even extending the hive mind to the plants themselves - not far from reality, as fungal networks actually do facilitate the exchange of chemical information and nutrients between even completely different plant species! Entire forests are hooked up to this "network" like a subterranean internet, and I don't know if the writers knew about that, but it's really cool to finally see something like it in any given media.
If this doesn't sound all that villainous anymore, you're right: Gary has by this point realized that consensual symbiosis is even better, and actually joins the fight to save Amphibia from certain doom. He's especially interested by the fact that the series villains (which we'll discuss soon enough) are using fungal spores for their own mind control experiments, but Gary doesn't recognize them. Having always been alone, he's eager to discover whether some other fungal entity is out there.
It's too bad we never get to see just how they meet - it might have made an amazing episode itself - but in one of the final shots of the series, set years later, we can see Gary and Jeremy next to another mushroom sprouting from a small pot.
How wonderful is it that a show not only gave a parasitic fungus a speaking role, but gave it a villain-to-antihero story arc and eventually a best friend, even if much of it did happen off-screen? I thought of ending Part 2 here, since we've already had quite a few more entries than Part 1, but Gary's episode is only the second to last of the first season, so we may as well wrap the season up! There's only a couple more noteworthy whatsits in season's finale:
There's one frog in Wartwood, Chuck, whose whole gag is that he never says anything other than "I grow tulips!" to sort of emphasize that he's a simple, bumpkin farmer, though the show later highlights how multitalented he actually is, and even his special interest in tulips must run awfully deep, since he shows up to a talent show with a couple of gigantic monster tulips, trained to sing from their jagged, drooling mouths! I keep teasing that there's a little more to these various botanical oddities, and it's not a huge plot point, but we will finally get to address what their deal is as soon as we start Part 3.
It's beautiful. I have loved mudskippers since I was just a baby, first learning about them from an old book at my grandmother's house called "Fish do the Strangest Things." These amphibious gobies are among the world's most peculiar and hilarious animals to still somehow elude mainstream popularity, having appeared very rarely in popular culture and almost never all that accurately. Even their Pokemon representation is so loose, everyone mistakes "Mudkip" for an axolotl!
Leave it to Amphibia to finally include a Mudskipper that looks precisely as wacky as the real thing. It has the weird hippo-like eyes, the big threatening dorsal fin, the gigantic mouth, even funny little teeth that their few fans can still overlook! I wonder how many kids only came to know and appreciate these (and other animals!) from their roles in this series? I was introduced to them by a book, but plenty of other mediums were my gateway to biology back then, and Amphibia is really only one example of how many cool plants and animals now make cameos in children's entertainment.
The Mudskipper is a fine way to finish reviewing the first season. Some commenters have lamented that the parade of noteworthy creature designs slow down from this point, but having already compiled all that I could find, I can honestly say that this only occurs when the final season takes an extended break from the frog world. Every episode actually set in amphibia still brings so many birds, bugs and beasts, we still haven't seen even half of them yet!