Mystery of the Malformed Frogs – Background Information

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The Discovery

On August 8, 1995, middle-school teacher Cindy Reinitz took a group of students on a field trip to explore life in a local farm pond. What started out as a routine trip soon changed into an experience that would change the lives of the Minnesota New Country School students, and of scientists who study amphibians, forever.

The students noticed several frogs with missing legs. At first they thought maybe they had stepped on the frogs and injured them. But by the end of the day, 11 of the 22 frogs they had collected had extra or missing legs, or some other deformity. The students, and later scientists and the lay public, were faced with a dilemma. Is finding a population of frogs in which 50 percent of the animals are malformed a normal event, or does it point to a serious problem, perhaps with an environmental cause?

For the students, discovering the malformed frogs brought instant media attention. First, they were interviewed by a local newspaper. Then a TV station featured their discovery on the evening news. On August 25, 1995, the story hit the Associated Press and the school was inundated with phone calls from media across the country.

The discovery also brought several environmental and monetary awards to the school. Furthermore, the students testified in front of the Minnesota State Legislature in favor of a bill that would fund research to determine the causes of frog malformations.

Perhaps most interesting, the students became involved in a community of scientists, who did not have an answer to their questions: Is the incidence of malformed frogs increasing in North America? If so, what is causing the malformations?

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