Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

5-Legged Frog Crops Up in Missouri Pond Amphibian Deformities Are Causing Concern

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

5-Legged Frog Crops Up in Missouri Pond Amphibian Deformities Are Causing Concern

Article excerpt

Brian Dampier was hunting frogs at a pond near his school in Columbia when he made a catch that thrust Missouri into the midst of a disturbing wildlife phenomenon.

"I grabbed really fast and got a handful of mud and a frog," said the seventh-grader. "When I cleaned the mud off, I saw the frog had five legs. I thought, `Whoa, what's wrong here?' "

Brian took his catch to Mike Bielski, the science teacher at Gentry Middle School. Bielski had heard that similarly deformed frogs were being found elsewhere and that pesticides or other sources of environmental pollution were suspected as the potential cause. Bielski called state herpetologist Tom Johnson, who visited Columbia Wednesday to inspect what Dampier had found, and Missouri officially joined the ranks of states, most of them in the Midwest, where ponds were producing frogs with deformities. Although they haven't determined what's causing the deformities, researchers say concern should be great. Amphibians - because their skin is permeable and permits toxins to invade - can be the first detectors of problems in a biological system. "Amphibians are very good indicators of the health of the environment," Johnson said. "This is not a quirk. It's something we need to look at seriously." The first report of deformed frogs came last year, as Cindy Reinitz led a nature-studies class on a field trip in the heart of Minnesota's farm country. The class walked by a pond, and the boys began to catch frogs. Some of the frogs had missing hind legs, others had too many legs or no legs at all. Others had a single eye. The closer the class got to the pond, "the more grotesque the deformities were, probably because those frogs were unable to move away from the water," Reinitz said. "One girl pulled out a notebook and said, `We need to record data.' " The class was on its way to study a woodland. But the students' initial disgust at the misshapen frogs soon turned to fascination, and the Minnesota New Country School Frog Project was born. Biologists long have reported that populations of certain species of amphibians are dwindling, but the field trip last year was the first documentation of a pondful of misshapen frogs. The school project set up a hot line and a page on the Internet, seeking other reports of deformed frogs. So far, deformed frogs have been found at 174 sites in Minnesota - and in the states of Wisconsin, Vermont, South Dakota, Ohio, Alabama and Michigan and the province of Quebec. Iowa is looking into scattered reports; Illinois has a single report of a frog with multiple legs. Missouri had no confirmed reports until last week. What's Happening? The deformities are found in several frog species, including the northern leopard frog, which is common to most of the Midwest. Brian Dampier's catch was an immature green frog. …

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