October 29, 2013 at 6:17 pm #788MikeKeymaster
Whatever happened to . . .the pond where the frogs dropped like
By TONY GERMANOTTA , The Virginian-Pilot
© June 27, 2005
VIRGINIA BEACH — It wasn’t quite a silent spring, but the frogs that
used to serenade Elizabeth Sills every night from the pond beneath
her bedroom are mostly gone.
The annihilation began in July 2003, after her kidney-shaped pond
atop a jungled hill became home to more frogs than it had ever
hosted. The pond was built when she and her late husband moved to the
house in 1960 . It always had leopard frogs, she said. But two
summers ago there was an almost biblical infusion.
One day in late July, she noticed that the baby leopard frogs were
dying in droves. Their convulsions disturbed her to her core. This is
a woman who helped found the Virginia Beach SPCA and drives a car
that proudly boasts she votes for the environment.
So she started freezing the dead frogs to save for research.
Those who know the 95 -year-old were not surprised. She is not one to
shrug her shoulders at a problem, especially where animals are
involved. And she’s not about to worry about frogs in her freezer or
Back a few decades, when the politicos wanted to bulldoze the sand
dunes behind her house and stick an elementary school in the middle
of what was then called Seashore State Park, she formed a committee
and soon had “150,000 people all over the country yelling at Governor
Holton about giving up the land.”
And that was before she had an Internet account and a reputation at
the General Assembly as a protector of animal rights.
With a freezer full of frogs, she set out to find people who knew
people who wanted to know what had happened.
Then she shipped 18 of the carcasses in dry ice to the National
Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. , and waited while she
Last summer there were fewer frogs in her pond but they seemed
This year, there are only a couple of small leopard frogs, no sign of
tadpoles amid the mosquito fish and three giant goldfish that have
grown almost to koi size. And there’s one large bullfrog who hides
amid the lily pads whenever a family of raccoons swings by looking to
plunder bird feeders.
The last two could explain the absence of tadpoles and young frogs
this summer, according to Joseph C. Mitchell , a University of
Richmond research biologist who specializes in amphibians and
reptiles. Bullfrogs eat smaller frogs, he said, and so do raccoons.
The answer to the mysterious die-offs came in a report sent to
Mitchell and Sills last winter. Her frogs, investigators determined,
likely died from a new strain of virus that normally targets
tadpoles. There was no sign of a lethal fungus that has ravaged frog
and toad populations worldwide.
“The probable cause of this die-off of subadult (young-of-the-year)
southern leopard frogs was an infectious disease caused by a
Ranavirus ,” the pathologist wrote.
“It is uncommon for this virus to cause lethal infections in frogs
and toads that have completed metamorphosis for more than 30 days,”
the report added. Similar die-offs could happen every year at the
same time, if this new strain of the virus mimics the ones that
affect tadpoles and salamanders, the report advised.
Sills still tends to her pond, watching for signs that a new
generation of night crooners might come along.
“I miss the sound of them singing me to sleep,” she said.
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