Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Great Exploding Toads, Batman!

` I was cruisin' through my e-mail, and it turns out that Dory sent me this strange, sensationalist-type of article...

Exploding Toads Baffle German Experts

April 25, 2005 — Hundreds of toads have met a bizarre and sinister end in Germany in recent days, it was reported Saturday: they exploded. According to reports from animal welfare workers and veterinarians, as many as a thousand of the amphibians have perished after their bodies swelled to bursting point and their entrails were propelled for up to a meter (three feet). It is like "a science fiction film," according to Werner Smolnik of a nature protection society in the northern city of Hamburg, where the phenomenon of the exploding toad has been observed.
` "You see the animals crawling on the ground, swelling and then exploding." He said the bodies of the toads expanded to more than three times their normal size. "I have never seen such a thing," said veterinarian Otto Horst. So bad has the death toll been that the lake in the Altona district of Hamburg has been dubbed "the pond of death." Access to it has been sealed off and every night a biologist visits it between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., which appears to be peak time for the batrachians to go bang. Explanations include an unknown virus, a fungus that has infected the water or crows, which — in an echo of the Alfred Hitchcock movie "The Birds" — attack the toads, literally scaring them to death.

Revel in creative intellect: hug a writer. . . .
Dory's Law

What is really going on here? I decided to try my best to pick through the local Hamburg news...

` I found a string of articles in the Hamburger Abendblatt (Hamburg Daily Evening Paper). This is the first one, with a crucial difference; I have attempted to decipher it for English-speakers such as myself.
` Just to warn you - though I have my mom's 1952 German Dictionary ('The Latest and Best'), and a few other resources, my understanding of Deutsch sentence structure is only slightly better than cataclysmic.
` To make it even more confusing, I have scattered my translations throughout the text, with rearrangements of words pulled from here and there for grammatical reasons, but I am sure it isn't too hard to follow.

Altona: Erdkröten sterben qualvoll

(Altona: Toads die in agony)

Tümpel: (Pool:) Mehr als 1000 Tiere (More than 1,000 animals) sind bereits (have ?already) an mysteriöser Krankheit (a mysterious illness) verendet (perished).

Die Erdkröte (The toads) atmet nur noch schwach (weakly draw a deep breath), ihr Körper bläht sich auf wie ein Ballon (their bodies blow themselves up like a balloon) bis ihr Magen schließlich herausquillt (until their stomachs finally pop out). Es ist ein schauriges Schauspiel (It is a ?chilling spectacle), das sich am Tümpel am Altonaer Friedhof abspielt (which takes place at the pool at the Altona Cemetary). Mehr als 1000 Kröten (More than 1,000 toads) sind in der vergangenen Woche (in the past week) schon an einer geheimnisvollen Krankheit (that got a mysterious illness) qualvoll verendet (met a painful end). Die Ursachen für das Massensterben (The causal factors for the widespread deaths) sind noch ungeklärt (are still unsettled).

Am späten Sonntag abend vergangener Woche hatten Spaziergänger (On late Sunday evening last week, walkers had called) beim Naturschutzbund (Nabu) in Altona angerufen (?by the Nature-protection-league in Altona). Sie hatten Hunderte Kröten tot am Rand des kleinen Tümpels gefunden (They had found hundreds of toads dead around the edge of the little pool)
. Werner Schmolnik (58) vom Nabu (Werner Schmolnik (58) from Nabu) besuchte den Fundort (visited the ?discovery-site) und informierte sofort (and at once informed) das Bezirksamt Altona (the ?local-office of Altona): "Uns bot sich ein Anblick wie aus einem Science-fiction-Film (A sight like from a science fiction movie was offered us). Die aufgeblasenen Tiere (The bloated animals) quälen sich noch einige Minuten (suffered for some minutes), ehe sie endlich sterben (before they at last died)."

Zur Zeit (At present) untersuchen Biologen und Veterinärmediziner am Institut für Hygiene und Umwelt (Biologists and Veterinarians from the Institute for Hygeine and Environment) acht tote Erdkröten (examine eight dead toads) sowie aus dem Tümpel entnommene Wasserproben (obtained from ?water tests immediately out of the pool). "Ich habe so etwas noch nie erlebt (I have never experienced such at thing). Wir stehen vor einem Rätsel
(We stand before an enigma)", sagt Janne Klöpper (45), Sprecherin des Instituts (said Janne Klöpper (45) spokeswoman of the institute). Der Veterinärmediziner Dr. Horst Siems (63), der mit den Untersuchungen am Instiut betraut ist, (The veterinarian Dr. Horst Siems (63), which with the institute is entrusted) schließt auch ein Umweltdelikt nicht aus (does not exclude a ?crime against the environment): "Bei dieser Größenordnung (On this order of magnitude) müssen wir alle Ursachen in Betracht ziehen (we must take into consideration all causes). Viren, Bakterien, Schimmelpilze (Viruses, bacteria, mildews), aber eben auch eine Gewässerverschmutzung (but even also water pollution)."

Schmolnik hat schon einen Verdacht (Schmolnik already has a suspicion), woher die Krankheitserreger stammen könnten (from whence the pathogen could be derived): "Ähnliche Vorfälle (Similar incidents) sind uns aus Südamerika bekannt (are well-known by us from South America). Auf der nahe gelegenen Trabrennbahn (At the nearby horse-racing track) laufen auch Rennpferde aus Südamerika (run racehorses also from South America). Durch ihre Pferdeäpfel
(Through their dung) könnten die Erreger in das Oberflächenwasser und so in den Tümpel gelangen (the ?pathogen could get into the surface water, and in that way, reach the pool)." Bislang sind nur die Kröten im Tümpel betroffen (So far, only the toads in the pool are concerned), doch solange eine Gefahr für den Menschen (nevertheless, so long as the danger for humans) nicht ausgeschlossen werden kann (cannot be excluded), bleibt das Gelände rund um das Gewässer abgesperrt (the area remains ?railed-off around the water). hplk

erschienen am 9. April 2005 in Hamburg
(appeared on...)

Hmm... so they think it may be some kind of pathogen from South America carried by horses, but they're not sure what it is, so they've roped the lake off to the public... amazingly, this sounds like a regular, non-sensationalist news story, as much as it's a story to inform the locals.
The next article is called Krötensterben offenbar vorbei (
Toad-deaths evidently past) They found two live toads that 'do not exhibit disease symptoms,' and they also don't think that bacteria were the culprits.
The next follow-up is called
Krötensterben: Ursache unklar (Toad-deaths: causes unclear) - a small statement basically saying that they still have no idea what it could be if not toxins or bacteria.
And now, there's yet another article so as to keep readers up-to-date about their local 'Tümpel des Todes.' (Pool of Death) Do they ever figure it out?

Geplatzte Kröten - weiter Rätsel um Todesursache

Burst Toads - further mystery about cause of death

Das Rätselraten um die Todesursache von Hunderten Erdkröten (The speculation about the cause of death of hundreds of toads) in einem Tümpel am Altonaer Friedhof (wir berichteten) geht weiter (in the pool around Altona's Cemetary (we reported) continues). Seit gut zwei Wochen (For ?a good two weeks) werden einige der geplatzten Kröten im Hygiene-Institut untersucht (a few of the bursted toads were examined in the Hygiene Institute), doch die Wissenschaftler tappen noch im dunkeln (but scientists still grope in the dark). "Die Wasserqualität im Tümpel ist in Ordnung (The water quality in the pool is in order). Hinweise auf eine bakterielle Infektion oder Umweltgifte als Todesursache gibt es nicht (They do not hint at bacterial infection or toxins in the environment as a cause of death)", sagt Janne Klöpper (45), Sprecherin des Instituts (says Janne Klöpper (45, spokeswoman for the institute). Spezialisten untersuchen die Tierkadaver jetzt (Specialists now examine animal carcasses) auf eine Viruserkrankung (for a viral disease). Spekulation, die Kröten seien von Vögeln angepickt worden (Speculation that the toads were attacked by birds), hält das Institut wie der Naturschutzbund für unwahrscheinlich (the Institute, like the Nature League, holds to be improbable). "Wir hielten die Tiere (we held the animals), die an Land gekrabbelt waren (which had scrabbled onshore), in der Hand (in the hand). 15 Minuten später blähten sie sich auf und explodierten (15 minutes later it inflates itself and explodes). Vögel waren keine da (birds were not around)," sagt Werner Smolnik (says Werner Smolnik). Er glaubt, (He thinks,) durch ausländische Pferde auf der Trabrennbahn (through foreign horses at the racetrack) seien Erreger in den Tümpel gelangt (came ?pathogens that got into the pool). phlk

erschienen am 21. April 2005 in Hamburg

Still no clue as to what the agent is! Or perhaps they're looking in the wrong place... Apparently, it really is an ongoing issue for the people who live in Altona. I could be wrong, though.
Also, in Jutland, Denmark, toads have been reported to crawl up onto land - usually at 2 or 3 in the morning - and expand until their entrails are jettisoned. I found some articles from Danish papers, but I seriously have no way of translating them. Except maybe this part;

. I
Hamburg er op mod 1000 tudser døde, efter at deres kroppe er svulmet op til bristepunktet og eksploderet, hvorved deres indvolde er blevet kastet op til en meter op i luften.

. Basically:
"In Hamburg more than 1,000 toads died after they puffed up until they exploded, hurling their innards for up to a meter in the air." Apparently, they think the two incidents are related, though, like the epidemic has spread.

` As far as scientific studies go, I can't find any. They may exist, but if they do, I doubt they're in English. Therefore, I'll make up my own hypothesis:
` Anti-amphibian terrorists have been sneaking around ponds at night and force-feeding the animals Alka-Seltzer.

seo-blog comment:

There can be only one :)

Howard Hondo | 08/05/2005, 00:56

` According to an article in Nature, it appears it may be more of a case of mass-hysteria than mass death. I kind of thought it would turn out that way. As the articles read, the only people who report the phenomenon are not scientists. This struck me, but I let it go. I figured if something really weird was going on, I might as well not spoil the party.
` The Nature article looks on the evidence at what was objectively found, such as streamers of guts coming out of the toads, and the fact that no diseases or pesticides have been found which could explain it.
` The article, by Michael Hopkin, says:
` 'The toads first came to prominence when walkers noticed an unusually large number of corpses splattered on the ground near what has now been dubbed the 'Pond of 'Death'. The current count in Hamburg has reached some 1,300....
` 'Frank Mutschmann, a Berlin-based veterinarian, has examined some of the corpses and says that they bear the scars of a predator's attack. He thinks birds may simply have made a very messy job of eating their favourite parts of the toads, such as the liver.
` 'April and May are the months when toads migrate to ponds to spawn, Himmelreich points out, which means that this season could represent easy pickings for birds.... Himmelreich says she has never seen a toad explode.'

` In other words, this is not too much different than when salmon mass-migrate to their spawning grounds: There are always grizzly bears to catch so many that when they are assured a steady supply, they strip off and eat only the skin and fat, leaving piles of skinless fish rotting in the sun.
` I'm surprised that people don't make up stories about fish jettisoning their skins! (Or have they?)

` Apparently, if observers saw a wounded toad in the pond;
'"Maybe they were full of water, and in their agony they were also trying to suck in air," Himmelreich says. People watching bloated, rasping toads might well think an explosion was imminent, she says....
` '"I really think someone needs to go back and check the primary source," comments Barry Clarke, a herpetologist at the Natural History Museum in London. "I've learnt never to say with animals that anything is impossible. But the idea of exploding toads - well let's face it, it's pythonesque."'

` Wow, I never thought I'd hear a herpetologist utter the word; 'pythonesque.' Apparently, this phenomenon seems to be another case where scientists go running around like chickens with their heads cut off until they realize that there's no conclusive evidence of what they've been looking for in the first place. At least now we can go to bed at night without worrying about Alka-Seltzer-weilding terrorists.

And then I got a bunch of spam, though it had text in it:

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When I got that hankering to play me some texas holdem... I just goto one of the sites listed below and thez fix me right up whoooooo doggy!:
this is another comment. you should be aware... dont take it to heart, its just business.

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