Frogs sport too many legs

  Eight-legged frogs give biologists the willies. They say the deformed amphibians - like canaries in a mine - indicate environmental problems that could affect the two-legged as well. So when extra-legged Pacific tree frogs surfaced in three westside Oregon communities last summer, researchers took notice.

No one knew what to make of the phenomenon until a couple of 10-year-old schoolboys from Aloha, Ore., Fed-Ex'd one of the dime-sized frogs to Stan Sessions, an amphibian expert at Hartwick College in New York. Now, Sessions' close examination of the eight-legged specimen has yielded a few answers.

The growths weren't genetically caused, he says. Instead, a trematode parasite burrowed into the fleshy limb buds of tadpoles, disrupting normal cell growth. That rules out chemical pollutants and other human factors as primary causes, but the question remains: Why so many trematodes?

It could be a natural cycle, says Sessions, although pesticides may also be to blame. The biologist is looking for more clues in pond snails that often host the parasite's larvae.

* Sarah Dry

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