36 years after catastrophic event, Chernobyl nuclear disaster spawns ‘mutant frogs’

36 years after a catastrophic meltdown at the Chernobyl power plant triggered one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters, ‘mutant’ black frogs are now breeding in the vicinity.

The species of frogs found in this region, known as Oriental tree frogs (Hyla Orientalis) typically have bright green skin, but now many have arisen with dark or pigmented skin.

A study published in Evolutionary Applications details the research surrounding the evolution of these frogs. Scientists believe that darker skin could help frogs survive in the exclusion zone.

Watch | Chernobyl disaster: what happened in 1986?

Germán Orizaola, a researcher at Spain’s University of Oviedo and co-author of the study, said his team became aware of the frogs on their first night in Chernobyl.

“We know that melanin protects against damage from different types of radiation, from UV to ionizing radiation – the Chernobyl kind,” the Daily Mail quoted Orizaola as saying.

Orizaola and her co-author, Pablo Burraco, collected more than 200 specimens of male frogs from a dozen different breeding ponds with varying levels of radiation between 2017 and 2019, TWC reports.

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The frogs in the 10,000 square mile exclusion zone around Ground Zero were much darker than those outside.

However, the most radioactive places today did not correlate with the darkest frog populations. Although darker frogs were most prominent in the hardest hit areas at the time of the disaster.

Drawing: Study | (a) Ionizing radiation and melanism in Chernobyl tree frogs. Dorsal skin luminance in male eastern tree frog (Hyla orientalis) inhabiting across a radiation gradient inside (CEZ) or outside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (outside the CEZ). (b) Dorsal skin luminance range in H. orientalis males (left to right: luminance values ​​of 5, 20, 30, 40 and 60).

Darker frogs would have had a better chance of surviving the 1986 calamity, meaning natural selection of the fittest could have helped them thrive and dominate the exclusion zone.

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“In this scenario, they should have survived and reproduced better than normal green frogs.”

“Over time – 10-12 generations of frogs have passed since the accident – this would have resulted in these black frogs becoming predominant in the exclusion zone.”

The researchers added that further study is needed to “determine the underlying mechanisms and evolutionary consequences of the patterns found here.”

(With agency contributions)

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