Five-legged frogs and a newt graveyard


Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla) and Rough-Skinned Newts (Taricha granulosa) in Briones East Bay Regional Park, California

Multiple leg deformities in the chorus frog are most likely caused by a flatworm, Ribeiroia ondatrae, hosted by rams horn snails, which increase in numbers during periods of eutrophication linked to drought and ranching.

Surveying for malformed amphibians with Dr. Piet Johnson and his University of Colorado Boulder field crew, we happened upon 13 dried-up dead Rough Skinned Newts (Taricha granulosa) at one, 50″x20″ ghost pond. There was no water left at the pond, simply cracked earth, baked by the scorching sun.

Noone in the group had seen this before, so it seems a rather uncommon occurrence and one Save The Frogs supporter had this input:

“…last year when the drought started the park system allowed cattle to use ponds that had previously been protected areas. Not only did the cattle reduce the amount of water, but they decimated the surrounding areas. Now, of course, we are in the second year of drought, but the survival behaviors that had previously helped the newts to wait out the drought were derailed by cattle use…Sincerely, Susan K.”

The frog malformations are common within this regional park, but whether the drought has unleashed unexpected newt deaths is unknown. I guess we’ll wait to see what happens next year.