Frog die-off in Virginia – 06/29/2005

  • October 29, 2013 at 6:17 pm #788

    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
    ruffling conventions.

    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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