Virus is blamed for killing off frogs

STEVE CONNOR

Science Correspondent

A combination of pollution and disease is killing thousands of frogs in an epidemic that is sweeping the country, scientists said yesterday.

Dozens of reports are flooding in to the national Frog Mortality Project of deaths from a lingering illness that may be caused by new frog viruses identified by scientists at the Central Veterinary Laboratory and the Institute of Zoology in London.

Tom Langton, who helps run the project set up in 1992 to establish why amphibians appear to be dying out, said his switchboard has been ''swamped'' in the past week with sightings of mass deaths. ''Every year there appears to be a slight rise in frog mortality. This week is particularly bad. We have a disasterous frog epidemic going on."

Scientists studying dead frogs have identified a virus that might be partly responsible. Sally Andrew of the Government's Central Veterinary Laboratory at Weybridge, Surrey, said the deaths could indicate a general rise in pollution in recent years that lowers their resistance to disease, similar to the case of seals found dying in the North Sea a few years ago.

Mr Langton said many of the reports reveal that frogs are found dying with massive ulcers and severe bleeding. More than 15,000 frog deaths have been logged, but the true figure could easily be a hundred times this number. The worst hit region seems to be the South-east.

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