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Last updated January 1, 2014

Exotic pets blamed for frogs' demise

Nick Nuttall, Environment Correspondent, London Times
As reported on the Internet by Allen Salzberg


The deaths of thousands of British frogs from a virus previously unknown in this country are linked to the trade in exotic pets including red-eared terrapins, iguanas and American bullfrogs, scientists disclosed yesterday.

Researchers suspect that the pets, many of which end up in ponds and lakes, are carrying a viral agent into the countryside that is deadly to the common frog. Studies of frogs found across southern England, many of which were bleeding from skin ulcers, have found that they carry an alien virus. Scientists said yesterday that the deadly agent was known to be carried by imported animals.

Tom Langton, one of the researchers at the project, who is based in Halesworth, Suffolk, said yesterday: "There has been a massive increase in the number of pets imported in recent years. At shops, pet of the week is more likely to be an iguana, an exotic fish or a American bullfrog than a traditional puppy."

Mr Langton said that many of these pets were being accidentally or deliberately released into the countryside. "There are records that show there is hardly a lake in southeast England that does not have a terrapin in it."

The findings have come from more than four years of research on the Frog Mortality Project. Since 1992, there have been reports of large numbers of frogs dead and dying in garden ponds, mostly in southern England. Recently, unusual frog deaths have been reported further north, in Cheshire and Scotland, indicating that the problem is spreading. Andrew Cunningham, of the Institute of Zoology in London, and Mr Langton, of Herpetofauna Consultants International, have investigated unusual frog deaths at ten sites across southern and southeast England.

Other researchers have linked mass frog mortalities with a bacterial infection that causes the skin of the animals' rear legs to turn red. But the new findings, published in the latest Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, point to a deadly agent called an iridovirus-like particle. Many of the dead frogs were found to be carrying it.

Reports of dead or dying frogs (in the U.K. only, please!) should be sent to: The Frog Mortality Project, PO Box 1, Halesworth, Suffolk IP19 9AE.

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