Reports of malformed frogs have increased throughout the North American continent in recent years. Most of the observed malformations have involved the hind limbs. The goal of this study was to accurately characterize the hind limb malformations in wild frogs as an important step toward understanding the possible etiologies.
During 1997 and 1998, 182 recently metamorphosed northern leopard frogs (Rana pipiens) were collected from Minnesota, Vermont, and Maine. Malformed hind limbs were present in 157 (86%) of these frogs, which underwent necropsy and radiographic evaluation at the National Wildlife Health Center. These malformations are described in detail and classified into four major categories: (1) no limb (amelia); (2) multiple limbs or limb elements (polymelia, polydactyly, polyphalangy); (3) reduced limb segments or elements (phocomelia, ectromelia, ectrodactyly, and brachydactyly; and (4) distally complete but malformed limb (bone rotations, bridging, skin webbing, and micromelia).
Amelia and reduced segments and/or elements were the most common finding. Frogs with bilateral hind limb malformations were not common, and in only eight of these 22 frogs were the malformations symmetrical. Malformations of a given type tended to occur in frogs collected from the same site, but the types of malformations varied widely among all three states, and between study sites within Minnesota.
Clustering of malformation type suggests that developmental events may produce a variety of phenotypes depending on the timing, sequence, and severity of the environmental insult. Hind limb malformations in free-living frogs transcend current mechanistic explanations of tetrapod limb development.
Additional Publication Details
Hind limb malformations in free-living northern leopard frogs (Rana pipiens) from Maine, Minnesota, and Vermont suggest multiple etiologies