The Strange Case of the Nocturnally Exploding Bufonidae

English: Front of Common toad or European toad...

Latest terrorist weapon? Common toad or European toad (male), Bufo bufo, Family: Bufonidae, Location: Southern Germany, Beiningen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An extremely odd story is currently taking over the Internet faster than the Anna Kournikova worm. All right, all right, I admit I contributed to the spread. Nevertheless…

The basic tenet of the story is that, for some as-yet undiscovered reason, toads living in a particular pond in Germany have suddenly started dying in a rather loud and unpleasant way, similar to Terry Pratchett’s swamp dragons. Admittedly, it sounds like an April Fool’s joke, but 1 April is long past and perfectly reputable news agencies are carrying the story.

However, when we compare the tale as told in the Serious Press and that spread via blog gossip and the electronic tabloids, a difference appears. Not in the story itself, but in the possible causes of the epidemic (it’s apparently spreading to another pond). So, let’s list plausible causes of sudden violent and fatal expansion in toads, even if some are unlikely:

  • Something they may have ingested, such as a fungus, that causes excessive amounts of intestinal wind
  • A viral infection
  • Chemical effects of some kind of pollution
  • Something attacking the toads, who instinctively inflate themselves and then explode when punctured

What is not plausible IMO includes:

  • An ogre practising making balloons for his beloved
  • Attacks by crows. Crows are diurnal. The majority of toad fatalities occur in the middle of the night. Also, crows can be found practically the world over, like toads, but the latter are only dying in one little German pond. Think, people, think.

Note: The picture is of bufo bufo, aka the common toad. Useful animals: they eat insects, slugs and snails. Gardeners, turn your compost over lightly, a toad might be hibernating in it.

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