In 1995, a teacher and her students in southern Minnesota discovered a pond full of frogs with deformities: some frogs with extra legs or eyes missing, others with extra eyes or missing limbs.
A Plague of Frogs by William Souder tells the story of what happened next as these deformed frogs were later found all over Minnesota, and in other parts of the US. The book is both an ecological detective story and a tale of scientific investigation. Were the deformities a natural occurrence or were they caused by toxins in the environment?
Ultimately Souder concludes that ecosystems are so complex and the organisms in them so interconnected that it is difficult for scientists to tease out the exact causes of these malformations. It’s likely, however, that the frogs were physically manifesting the unhealthiness of our environment.
As Souder writes:
So frogs are telling us a lot—so much, perhaps, that we cannot fully understand the message. Frogs are succumbing to parasites, to pesticides, to increases in ultraviolet radiation, to global warming. The earth is changing and the frogs are responding.
This book was written in 2000, before the chrytid fungus that is causing massive die-offs of amphibians became so widespread. I do think it’s worth a read, however, if only to remind us that we have to be careful what chemical and toxins we release into the environment because ultimately we don’t really know what the effects will be on wildlife—and on us. We need to listen to what the frogs are telling us.