Deadly frog fungus

The humble frog is a very important part of our ecosystem. Frogs help keep insect populations down and also act as a food source for many other animals at various stages of their life-cycles. A healthy frog population also indicates a healthy waterway. Furthermore, frogs have a huge biomedical value in the production of medicines and vaccines.

But frogs all over the world are under threat – not just from pollution, global warming and general environmental destruction, but from a mysterious fungus – which of course has a human link. Seems we have a hand in just about every aspect of environmental degradation these days.

Up to 170 species of frogs have become extinct over the past 10 years from this fungus and 1,900 species are threatened. Frog Chytridiomycosis is caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and is a global epidemic that is spreading rapidly.

The fungus attacks the skin of frogs and many die as a result of the infection as frogs utilize their skin for respiration. The fungus also attacks the frogs’ nervous system.

While the origins of the fungus are unclear, it’s thought that the African clawed frog (Xenopus Laevis) may be the culprit. The African clawed frog is a carrier, but is immune the effects of the fungus.

So how did a frog from Africa act as the catalyst for global amphibian devastation? In recent times, the species has become popular as a pet in many countries. In the 1930s and 40s, African clawed frogs were also used all over the world for human pregnancy tests. The frogs brought the fungus along with them and it’s just spread from there.

The fungus problem has become so serious that some scientists are now lobbying for a special breeding program, a ‘Noah’s Ark’ for frogs – simply to provide some breathing space while they attempt to find a way to stop the spread of Frog Chytridiomycosis.

Given then widespread nature of the fungus, it’s suggested that we should never touch frogs unless we absolutely have to and if we need to do so, to either wear gloves or wash our hands before and after handling.