Freak frogs catch nature-lovers on the hop

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Nature-watchers across Britain have been taken by surprise by the emergence of orange-coloured frogs in garden ponds indulging in early spring mating displays.

"If you put one of them on top of an orange, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference - they even have red eyes," said Mark Nicholson, a herpetologist at the Cornwall Wildlife Trust centre in Truro.

"We have two male orange frogs and would like some orange female ones for them to mate with. I would particularly like to study the spawn. There have been phone calls from people mostly in the South, but also in Yorkshire who have seen orange frogs.

"Some are also in various shades of yellow, cream and pink."

The freak frogs are simply uncamouflaged genetic deviants of the common green frog and Mr Nicholson believes warm weather could be the key to their unexpected survival.

Tadpoles depend on warmth absorbed from the sun to speed their development through their most hazardous stage of life.Without the normal dark pigments, albino tadpoles are less able to absorb warmth and would usually die. But their chances of growing up quickly enough to survive are better in warmer areas.

Some observers have suggested that this year's dramatic increase in the numbers of the mutant strain could be further evidence of global warming. Mr Nicholson said: "It's possible. But we need evidence from people who have studied ponds for 20 years or so to say whether there is a real increase in orange frogs or whether there are just more people looking.

"We can say that frogs are about the most thin-skinned animals on the earth's surface, so they might be expected to feel the effects of some environmental changes before others do."