Exploding German Toads Baffle Scientists

By Matt Surman
Associated Press
Friday, April 29, 2005

BERLIN, April 28 -- More than 1,000 toads have puffed up and exploded in a Hamburg pond in recent weeks, and German scientists have no explanation for it. The pond water 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 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 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. "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.

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

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