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Exploding toads in Germany baffle scientists
BERLIN (AP) — What’s making toads puff up and explode in northern Europe? More than 1,000 toad corpses have been found at a pond in an upscale neighborhood in Hamburg and over the border in Denmark after bloating and bursting.

It’s left onlookers baffled. The pond water in Hamburg has been tested, but its quality is no better or worse than elsewhere in the city. The toad remains have been checked for a virus or bacterium, but none has been found.

One German scientist studying the splattered amphibian remains has a theory: Hungry crows are pecking out their livers.

„The crows are clever,“ said Frank Mutschmann, a Berlin veterinarian who collected and tested specimens at the Hamburg pond. „They learn quickly from watching other crows how to get the livers.“

Based on the wounds, Mutschmann said, it appears that a bird pecks into the toad with its beak between the amphibian’s chest and abdominal cavity, and the toad puffs itself up as a natural defense mechanism.

But, because the liver is missing and there’s a hole in the toad’s body, the blood vessels and lungs burst and the other organs ooze out, he said.

As gruesome as it sounds, it isn’t actually that unusual, he said.

„It’s not unique — it’s in a city area, and that makes it spectacular,“ Mutschmann said. „Of course, it’s something very dramatic.“

There have also been reports of exploded toads in a pond near Laasby in central Jutland in Denmark.

Local environmental workers in Hamburg have described it as a scene out of a horror or science fiction movie, with the bloated frogs agonizing and twitching for several minutes, inflating like balloons before they suddenly burst.

„It’s horrible,“ biologist Heidi Mayerhoefer was quoted as telling the daily Hamburger Morgenpost.

„The toads burst, the entrails slide out. But the animal isn’t immediately dead — they keep struggling for several minutes.“

Hamburg’s Institute for Hygiene and the Environment regularly tests water quality in the city and has found no evidence the toads were diseased. The institute also ruled out a fungus brought in from South America was infecting the toads.

Other theories have been that horses on a nearby track might have infected the amphibians with a virus, or even that the toads are committing suicide to save others from overpopulation.

Could hungry crows be a reasonable answer?

„We haven’t seen that. It might be, it might not be,“ said institute spokeswoman Janne Kloepper. „It’s speculation,“ until it’s observed, she added.

In the meantime, officials in Hamburg have advised residents to stay away from the pond, which German tabloids have dubbed „the death pool.“


Stone the crows! Exploding toad case solved
By Ruth Elkins in Berlin

After weeks of flummoxing scientists, Germany’s great exploding toads mystery has been solved. They were gruesomely murdered by crows with a taste for foie gras.

Health officials in Hamburg started to panic after some 1,000 toads puffed up and exploded last month, their entrails splattering an area of up to a square metre. The tabloid press went into overdrive, dubbing the carnage site in Hamburg’s Altona district the „Pond of Death“ and warning children and dogs to stay away. Theories ran wild that toads were committing suicide or were croaking because of a virus spread by South American race horses. But now one of Germany’s top experts on amphibians says he’s cracked the case. Frank Mutschmann, who examined both dead and living Hamburg specimens at his Berlin research centre, found all had identical circular incisions on their backs, small enough to be the work of a bird’s beak. Then he found something strange: their livers were missing. „There were no bite or scratch marks, so we knew the toads weren’t being attacked by a raccoon or rat, which would have also eaten the entire toad,“ he said. „It was clearly the work of crows, which are clever enough to know the toad’s skin is toxic and realise the liver is the only part worth eating.

„Only once the liver is gone does the toad realise it’s been attacked. It puffs itself up as a natural defence mechanism. But since it doesn’t have a diaphragm or ribs, without the liver there is nothing to hold the rest of its organs in. The lungs stretch out of all proportion and rip; the rest of the organs simply expel themselves.“

The toads‘ grisly deaths are, in fact, a well-documented phenomenon. First recorded in Germany in 1968, exploding toads have been reported in the country, as well as in Belgium, Denmark and America. Hamburg’s toads started to explode during their week-long mating season. Dr Mutschmann believes the crows went in for the kill when the toads were too busy enjoying the heights of sexual excitement. „They would have noticed something as the crow pecked at them, but it wouldn’t have been particularly painful,“ he said.

The riddle solved, the question now is whether to exact revenge on the crows. Toads, much-loved in Germany, are a protected species. But so are crows. „I’ve had several angry emails,“ said Dr Mutschmann. „But there’s no reason to worry. It’s just a part of nature.“


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Exploding toads baffle Germans
Corpses litter Hamburg ‚pond of death‘
By Lester Haines, 28th April 2005

Free Regcast : Managing Multi-Vendor Devices with System Centre 2012

Updated German toad experts are baffled by an acute outbreak of exploding toad syndrome which has totalled hundreds of the amphibians since the beginning of the month. The former inhabitants of a Hamburg pond – now chillingly renamed the „pond of death“ – spontaneously swelled to enormous proportions before going bang, in the process propelling their entrails for up to a metre.

Hamburg nature protection society spokesman, Werner Smolnik, told the Hamburger Abendblatt daily: „It looks like a scene from a science-fiction movie. The bloated animals suffer for several minutes before they finally die.“

Janne Kloepper, a boffin at Hamburg-based Institute for Hygiene and the Environment, added: „It’s absolutely strange. We have a really unique story here in Hamburg. This phenomenon really doesn’t seem to have appeared anywhere before.“ She added that lab tests have ruled out a bacteriological or viral cause of the explosions, and have further shown the pond water to be normal. Tests for another possible agent – a fungus accidently introduced from South America* – have also proved negative.

The authorities have moved swiftly to protect the public from the exploding toad menace. The pond is now closed and a biologist is on station every night between 2 and 3am, when toad explosions reach a peak.

In Australia, meanwhile, we’re certain that toadologists are awaiting with eager anticipation the identification of the cause of the exploding German toad. Oz currently hosts 100 million unwelcome cane toads and there’s nothing the Aussies would like more than to see a landscape littered with the corpses of eviscerated, exploded toads. ®
Update

Mystery solved. We’re obliged to those readers who sent us the breathless news that today’s Der Spiegel says crows have been fingered as the culprits. Apparently the crow pecks a small hole in the toad to get at the liver. The toad begins to inflate itself – its normal defence mechanism – but because there is no separation between lung cavity and abdomen, the poor blighter keeps on expanding until it goes pop. That’s the gist of it, at least. We’re going to conclude by noting that if you tried to make this up, your friends would probably advise you to seek professional help.
Bootnote I

Ta very much to regular reader Rose Humphrey for the exploding toad alert.
Bootnote II

*We have no further information about the Latin American toad-detonating fungus. The mind boggles.
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http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krötenexplosionen_in_Hamburg

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