This infected Northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens), with two bony triangles and an extra foot in the left hind limb, is an example of the amphibian deformities studied by Pieter Johnson at the Center for Limnology. Johnson has recently authored a research paper showing that these malformations, along with the parasitic worm linked to them, have been found in lakes and ponds for over 50 years and represent an emerging disease within these wildlife populations.
Photo by: courtesy Pieter Johnson, Center for Limnology
A historical examination of amphibian deformities - frogs with extra legs growing out of the abdomen, for example - suggests that these aberrations are not a new phenomenon, but part of an emerging disease that could jeopardize the survival of these organisms.
The research, described in the December issue of Conservation Biology, shows that while amphibian malformations and the parasitic worm that causes them have been found in lakes and ponds for more than 50 years, they have substantially increased in their abundance during this period.
Pieter Johnson, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student in zoology and lead author of the recent paper, says that frog deformities have been a hot topic since the mid-1990s, when the abnormalities began to be widely observed. To date, severely malformed frogs, toads and salamanders have been found among 60 different species in nearly all U.S. states, as well as parts of Canada, Japan and several European countries.
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