Pretty, But Not Normal, Tapestry Frogs

When I posted about a tapestry featuring woodticks last fall, my friend and former co-worker at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, Jess Hopeman, commented, “Oh please tell me you are going to weave deformed frogs.” These are for you, Jess.

It wasn’t hard to find online images of malformed frogs

My point about the woodtick/deer tick tapestry was that there are so many environmental threats I had no idea about when I was growing up. During my whole adult life, and especially during my attention to environmental and agricultural issues when I worked for the Legislature, it felt like new issues, new ways to pollute, and new invasive species turned up each year.

Malformed frogs first came to attention in 1995 when middle school students found dozens of deformed frogs in a pond in Henderson, Minnesota, a news story that spread internationally. It was disturbing, apocalyptic.  What would be malformed next? High-profile hearings were held at the Minnesota State Legislature, with passionate testimony by the students. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) began studies, lasting until budget issues led to funding cuts in 2001.

Ultimately, no one fixable cause was identified. A 2009 article in Minnpost described some possible solutions to the puzzle after many years of research, “Studies offer new insights into causes of deformed frogs.” It could be parasites. Or predators–dragonfly nymphs eat the hind limbs of developing frogs, causing abnormalities. Along a similar vein, Stephanie Hemphill reported in July of 2012 for Minnesota Public Radio, “Deformed Minnesota frogs Still Largely a Mystery 17 Years Later.”  She wrote about the release of a book by the MPCA scientist who pressed for investigation into the issue, Judith Helgen. In Peril in the Ponds — Deformed Frogs, Politics, and a Biologist’s Quest, Helgen wrote about the difficulty of both finding an answer to the frog malformations, and to fighting for attention to the issue within the state agency.

And still…

Each time I hear the chirping of frogs on a pond on a hike, I think, “I wonder if they have all their limbs.”

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