Ecology and Frogs

June 4, 1999

I guess you can understand why they created an environmental panic. I'm talking about those deformed frogs that were first discovered a few years ago in a Minnesota pond by school children on a field trip. Extra limbs and missing limbs were the most common defects, but other grotesque monsters were found as well.

Something was to blame, and the media didn't wait long to find a culprit: pollution. Consider these headlines: "What's Wrong with the Frogs? How Pesticides are Creating Deformities" or "Chemicals Seen as Firm Link to Frog Deformities." Other headlines suggested that "UV Rays Could Explain Rash of Frog Deaths."

Whatever the culprit, soon we were swamped with stories of frogs that would qualify for the Amphibians with Disabilities Act. All sorts of environmental scare stories were published suggesting frogs might be the "miner's canary" for the environment.

But then came an article in the Science magazine with two companion articles challenging some of the frog headlines. The scientists argue that the problem may simply be flatworm parasites (known as trematodes) which affect the developing frogs. It wasn't chemicals, pesticides, or UV light from the breakdown of the ozone layer. The reports put the brakes on the growth industry of frog deformities.

The researchers point out that they aren't even certain that there is even an increase in the number of frog deformities. There may merely be an increase in the reporting of frog deformities. But even if there is a true increase, the researchers believe they have the answer. Parasites can cause deformities, and they have found the parasites living alongside the frogs. The natural history falls into place, and the mystery seems solved. The lesson to be learned: don't assume that because Kermit the Frog has a funny looking leg that the sky is falling.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.