Exploding Toads Baffle German Experts
April 25, 2005 — Hundreds of toads have met a bizarre and sinister end in Germany in recent days, it was reported Saturday: they exploded. According to reports from animal welfare workers and veterinarians, as many as a thousand of the amphibians have perished after their bodies swelled to bursting point and their entrails were propelled for up to a meter (three feet). It is like "a science fiction film," according to Werner Smolnik of a nature protection society in the northern city of Hamburg, where the phenomenon of the exploding toad has been observed.
` "You see the animals crawling on the ground, swelling and then exploding." He said the bodies of the toads expanded to more than three times their normal size. "I have never seen such a thing," said veterinarian Otto Horst. So bad has the death toll been that the lake in the Altona district of Hamburg has been dubbed "the pond of death." Access to it has been sealed off and every night a biologist visits it between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., which appears to be peak time for the batrachians to go bang. Explanations include an unknown virus, a fungus that has infected the water or crows, which — in an echo of the Alfred Hitchcock movie "The Birds" — attack the toads, literally scaring them to death.
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What is really going on here? I decided to try my best to pick through the local Hamburg news...
` I found a string of articles in the Hamburger Abendblatt (Hamburg Daily Evening Paper). This is the first one, with a crucial difference; I have attempted to decipher it for English-speakers such as myself.
` Just to warn you - though I have my mom's 1952 German Dictionary ('The Latest and Best'), and a few other resources, my understanding of Deutsch sentence structure is only slightly better than cataclysmic.
` To make it even more confusing, I have scattered my translations throughout the text, with rearrangements of words pulled from here and there for grammatical reasons, but I am sure it isn't too hard to follow. [Edit: I've switched to a sentence-by-sentence translation in order to make this less confusing to read.]
Altona: Erdkröten sterben qualvoll (Toads die in agony)
Tümpel: Mehr als 1000 Tiere sind bereits an mysteriöser Krankheit verendet.(Pond: More than 1,000 animals have perished from a mysterious illness.)
Die Erdkröte atmet nur noch schwach, ihr Körper bläht sich auf wie ein Ballon bis ihr Magen schließlich herausquillt. (The toads weakly draw a deep breath, their bodies blow themselves up like a balloon, until their stomachs finally pop out.)
` Es ist ein schauriges Schauspiel, das sich am Tümpel am Altonaer Friedhof abspielt. (It is a chilling spectacle which takes place at the pond at the Altona Cemetary.)
` Mehr als 1000 Kröten sind in der vergangenen Woche schon an einer geheimnisvollen Krankheit qualvoll verendet. (More than 1,000 toads in the past week that got a mysterious illness met a painful end.)
` Die Ursachen für das Massensterben sind noch ungeklärt. (The causal factors for the widespread deaths are still unsettled.)
Am späten Sonntag abend vergangener Woche hatten Spaziergänger beim Naturschutzbund (Nabu) in Altona angerufen. (On late Sunday evening last week, walkers had called the Nature-protection-league (Nabu) in Altona.)
` Sie hatten Hunderte Kröten tot am Rand des kleinen Tümpels gefunden. (They had found hundreds of toads dead around the edge of the little pool.)
` Werner Schmolnik (58) vom Nabu besuchte den Fundort und informierte sofort das Bezirksamt Altona: (Werner Schmolnik (58) from Nabu visited the discovery-site and at once informed the local office of Altona:)
` "Uns bot sich ein Anblick wie aus einem Science-fiction-Film. ("A sight like from a science fiction film was offered us.)
` Die aufgeblasenen Tiere quälen sich noch einige Minuten, ehe sie endlich sterben." (The bloated animals suffered for some minutes before they at last died.")
Zur Zeit untersuchen Biologen und Veterinärmediziner am Institut für Hygiene und Umwelt acht tote Erdkröten sowie aus dem Tümpel entnommene Wasserproben. (At present, biologists and veterinarians from the Institute for Hygiene and Environment are examining eight dead toads obtained from ?water tests immediately out of the pond.)
` "Ich habe so etwas noch nie erlebt. ("I have never experienced such a thing.)
` Wir stehen vor einem Rätsel", sagt Janne Klöpper (45), Sprecherin des Instituts. (We stand before an enigma," said Janne Klöpper (45) spokeswoman of the institute.)
` Der Veterinärmediziner Dr. Horst Siems (63), der mit den Untersuchungen am Institut betraut ist, schließt auch ein Umweltdelikt nicht aus: (The veterinarian Dr. Horst Siems (63), with whom the institute is entrusted, does not exclude a ?crime against the environment:)
` "Bei dieser Größenordnung müssen wir alle Ursachen in Betracht ziehen. ("On this order of magnitude, we must take into consideration all causes.)
` Viren, Bakterien, Schimmelpilze, aber eben auch eine Gewässerverschmutzung." (Viruses, bacteria, mildews, but even also water pollution.")
Schmolnik hat schon einen Verdacht, woher die Krankheitserreger stammen könnten: (Schmolnik already has a suspicion from whence the pathogen could be derived:)
` "Ähnliche Vorfälle sind uns aus Südamerika bekannt. ("Similar incidents in South America are well-known by us.)
` Auf der nahe gelegenen Trabrennbahn laufen auch Rennpferde aus Südamerika. (Racehorses also from South America run at the nearby horse-racing track.)
` Durch ihre Pferdeäpfel könnten die Erreger in das Oberflächenwasser und so in den Tümpel gelangen. (Through their 'horse-apples', the pathogen could get into the surface water, and in that way, reach the pool.")
` Bislang sind nur die Kröten im Tümpel betroffen, doch solange eine Gefahr für den Menschen nicht ausgeschlossen werden kann, bleibt das Gelände rund um das Gewässer abgesperrt. (So far, only the toads in the pool are concerned, nevertheless, so long as the danger for humans cannot be excluded, the area remains railed-off around the water.)
` hplk erschienen am 9. April 2005 in Hamburg
Hmm... so they think it may be some kind of pathogen from South America carried by horses, but they're not sure what it is, so they've roped the lake off to the public... amazingly, this sounds more like a story to inform the locals than just sensationalism. But is it?
` The next article is called Krötensterben offenbar vorbei (Toad deaths evidently past) They found two live toads that 'do not exhibit disease symptoms,' and they also don't think that bacteria were the culprits.
` The next follow-up is called Krötensterben: Ursache unklar (Toad deaths: causes unclear) - a small statement basically saying that they still have no idea what it could be if not toxins or bacteria. And now, there's yet another article so as to keep readers up-to-date about their local 'Tümpel des Todes.' (Pond of Death) Do they ever figure it out?
Geplatzte Kröten - weiter Rätsel um Todesursache
(Burst Toads - further mystery about cause of death)
Das Rätselraten um die Todesursache von Hunderten Erdkröten in einem Tümpel am Altonaer Friedhof (wir berichteten) geht weiter. (The speculation about the cause of death of hundreds of toads in the pool around Altona's Cemetary (we reported) continues.)
Seit gut zwei Wochen werden einige der geplatzten Kröten im Hygiene-Institut untersucht, doch die Wissenschaftler tappen noch im dunkeln. (For a good two weeks, a few of the bursted toads were examined in the Hygiene Institute, but scientists still grope in the dark.)
` "Die Wasserqualität im Tümpel ist in Ordnung. ("The water quality in the pool is in order.)
` Hinweise auf eine bakterielle Infektion oder Umweltgifte als Todesursache gibt es nicht", sagt Janne Klöpper (45), Sprecherin des Instituts. (It does not hint at bacterial infection or toxins in the environment as a cause of death," says Janne Klöpper (45), spokesperson for the institute.)
` Spezialisten untersuchen die Tierkadaver jetzt auf eine Viruserkrankung. (Specialists now examine animal carcasses for a viral disease.)
` Spekulation, die Kröten seien von Vögeln angepickt worden, hält das Institut wie der Naturschutzbund für unwahrscheinlich. (The Institute, like the Nature League, holds speculation that the toads were attacked by birds, to be improbable.)
` "Wir hielten die Tiere, die an Land gekrabbelt waren, in der Hand. ("We held the animals which had scrabbled onshore in our hands.)
` 15 Minuten später blähten sie sich auf und explodierten. (15 minutes later they inflated themselves and exploded.)
` Vögel waren keine da," sagt Werner Smolnik. (No birds there there," says Werner Smolnik.)
` Er glaubt, durch ausländische Pferde auf der Trabrennbahn seien Erreger in den Tümpel gelangt. (He thinks that pathogens got into the pool came from foreign horses at the racetrack.)
phlk erschienen am 21. April 2005 in Hamburg
Still no clue as to what the agent is! Or perhaps they're looking in the wrong place... Apparently, it really is an ongoing issue for the people who live in Altona. I could be wrong, though.
` Also, in Jutland, Denmark, toads have been reported to crawl up onto land - usually at 2 or 3 in the morning - and expand until their entrails are jettisoned. I found some articles from Danish papers, but I seriously have no way of translating them. Except maybe this part;
. I` Basically: "In Hamburg more than 1,000 toads died after they puffed up until they exploded, hurling their innards for up to a meter in the air." Apparently, they think the two incidents are related, as though the epidemic has spread.
er op mod 1000 tudser døde, efter at deres kroppe er svulmet op til bristepunktet og eksploderet, hvorved deres indvolde er blevet kastet op til en meter op i luften. Hamburg
As far as scientific studies go, I can't find any. They may exist, but if they do, I doubt they're in English. Therefore, I'll make up my own hypothesis:
` Anti-amphibian terrorists have been sneaking around ponds at night and force-feeding the animals Alka-Seltzer.
There can be only one
Howard Hondo | 08/05/2005, 00:56
UPDATE NOTICE: According to an article in Nature, it appears it may be more of a case of mass-hysteria than mass death. I kind of thought it would turn out that way. As the articles read, the only people who report the phenomenon are not scientists. This struck me, but I let it go. I figured if something really weird was going on, I might as well not spoil the party.
` The Nature article looks on the evidence at what was objectively found, such as streamers of guts coming out of the toads, and the fact that no diseases or pesticides have been found which could explain it. Michael Hopkin writes:
'The toads first came to prominence when walkers noticed an unusually large number of corpses splattered on the ground near what has now been dubbed the 'Pond of 'Death'. The current count in Hamburg has reached some 1,300....In other words, this is not too much different from what happens when salmon mass-migrate to their spawning grounds: There are always grizzly bears to catch so many that when they are assured a steady supply of salmon, they strip off and eat only the skin and fat, leaving piles of skinless fish rotting in the sun.
` 'Frank Mutschmann, a Berlin-based veterinarian, has examined some of the corpses and says that they bear the scars of a predator's attack. He thinks birds may simply have made a very messy job of eating their favourite parts of the toads, such as the liver.` 'April and May are the months when toads migrate to ponds to spawn, Himmelreich points out, which means that this season could represent easy pickings for birds.... Himmelreich says she has never seen a toad explode.'
` I'm surprised that people don't make up stories about fish jettisoning their skins! (Or have they?)
` Apparently, if observers saw a wounded toad in the pond;
'"Maybe they were full of water, and in their agony they were also trying to suck in air," Himmelreich says. People watching bloated, rasping toads might well think an explosion was imminent, she says....Wow, I never thought I'd hear a herpetologist utter the word; 'pythonesque.' Apparently, this phenomenon seems to be another case where researchers go running around like chickens with their heads cut off until they realize that there's no conclusive evidence of what they've been looking for in the first place. At least now we can go to bed at night without worrying about Alka-Seltzer-wielding terrorists.
` '"I really think someone needs to go back and check the primary source," comments Barry Clarke, a herpetologist at the Natural History Museum in London. "I've learnt never to say with animals that anything is impossible. But the idea of exploding toads - well let's face it, it's pythonesque."'
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