'Three-headed frog' leaves experts on the hop

Chris Bunting
Saturday 06 March 2004 01:00

A mutant frog with three heads and six legs was on the run in Somerset yesterday after being photographed in the garden of a children's nursery.

Wildlife experts said they were stunned by the weird creature which was briefly captured by a group of children at the Green Umbrella nursery in Weston-super-Mare yesterday morning.

Rebecca Twinn, the nursery manager, said the children had put the frog in a bucket and brought it to show to the teachers.

"At first we just thought it was three few frogs piled on top of each other but then it leapt up at us as one thing. The skin of the three heads all seemed to be one piece of skin," Ms Twinn said. "The children were all excited. They are all under four, so I suppose they were too young to be scared. I suppose they thought it was a bit of Harry Potter come to the Green Umbrella."

"He got away quite shortly after we captured him. One of the children went to look at him and he jumped out. We've had Sky News, the local television people and the children trying to find him all afternoon. They've been looking all over the garden and in the pond but with no success."

John Wilkinson, a frog ecologist at the Open University, said it appeared, from pictures taken before the escape, to be an extremely unusual find. "I have certainly never seen anything like it before. It seems to be an example of Siamese birth whereby three individual animals all have arisen from the same fertilised embryo but they haven't divided properly. We know this can happen because it happens in other animals," he said. "I do retain some scepticism, however. If you look at the pictures, the lower frog does appear to have different characteristics to the two other frogs. It is not unusual to find more than one male frog clinging very tightly to a female. They get very randy, as we all do, and will not let go. We are in the breeding season."

Mike Dilger, a wildlife biologist, said: "As far as I am aware it is unprecedented. Frogs have a very primitive embryology - so the occasional extra toe is not that unusual. But this is something different."

He said the reason for the three-headed frog's development could have been damage to the embryo, a spontaneous mutation such as that of conjoined human twins or factors in the environment, including pollution.

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