In January 2003, we received three batches of really sick looking tadpoles, all of which died as tadpoles and some of which were sent to a lab. These were the last remaining tadpoles found in three different backyard ponds. They were grey in colour (the species is usually speckled brown), very sluggish and had pourly formed legs. We asked a virologist to have a look. With the condition they were in, not a lot of testing options were available but sequencing could be done and the result was that they had an unidentified virus. Since then, more virus tests have been performed and two herpes viruses appeared using PCR but little has been done since to progress through further required tiers of testing (no funds).
Ever since then, we have cataloged a repeating pattern of deformities, malformations, growth deficiencies, colour mutations and symptoms which resemble Metabolic Bone Disease but go way beyond that. We eventually came to name this collection of symptoms the "Redlynch" virus after the suburb the original specimens came from and because virus testing had revealed that at least one virus was present. There may be a lot more to this story however but to prove what is really going on, we need to raise about $20,000 for toxicology work. Why toxo work? Because the viruses present may have only been a secondary matter because of immune deficiency - the real culprit is likely to be chemical. Before you start thinking about farmers, think about domestic households. This problem didn't first appear in agricultural areas - it appeared in residential suburbs UPstream of any agriculture.
After we had a proven pattern of what to look for in both tadpoles and juveniles, a vet lab in Brisbane did some histology on a sick Common Green (White's) tree frog juvenile that had been sourced from south eastern Queensland. We were looking at the details of this case to track incidences of this disease in South Australia and obtained a copy of the lab result. The technician had found a virus in the liver of the animal and we chased him for the clinical presentation. This animal matched the same clinical symptoms we were seeing on juveniles locally. The Brisbane lab then asked CSIRO's animal health lab (AAHL) in Geelong to identify the virus he found. A herpes virus was the answer but formal isololation did not occur.
We have observed a few important basics about this 'condition' even if we don't know the full causitive picture involved:
This condition - whatever we might name it - is definitely elsewhere in Australia besides Far North Queensland! We can hardly rescue ANY tadpoles from anywhere in Cairns without finding they have this condition but calls have come in from many other regions reporting the same thing (and we have the documented case of wild tadpoles caught in SEQ and sold interstate). We have received an exceptionally malformed batch of tadpoles from the Lake Tinaroo area in Atherton and reports from the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coasts of SE Queensland. Specimens from Mackay in October 2007 were confirmed by a lab as being the same problem.
We have been contacted by keepers in three states (SA, VIC and NSW) who have animals they have purchsed via the pet trade that have the clinical symptoms of this malformation problem. We have also received reports from several states in the USA which is where we believe this problem might have come from before it arrived here.
We have had four wet seasons in a row with excellent rainfalls and this has flushed many water bodies "clean" so to speak, so reports of this disease decreased but now that we are back into a very dry period from 2012 forwards, reports of frogs at all are becoming scarce. And of course that would be the case when their the populations' recruitment has all but been wiped out!
Since meeting with a European toxicologist in 2013, we have a new, VERY plausible explanation which can be proven if we can do the toxicology testing ourselves. The possibility is that chemicals are damaging the parents and they are producing defective offspring which don't survive. If this is true, this is a staggering issue that threatens to wipe out all amphibians (and we're sure they will not be the only ones impacted).
In the meantime, if you are relocating tadpoles PLEASE STOP. If you are a breeder of frogs and have experienced any batches of tadpoles which have the symptoms described on this page, DO NOT SELL OFF OR GIVE AWAY ANY OF THAT BATCH.
There are some specific predictable symptoms and behaviours we have been able to record so far. Please look at your backyard water bodies for any of the indications below and contact us asap if you see anything fitting the descriptions below:
What few juveniles that do survive past metamorphosis are deformed and/or suffering growth problems - some common indications in frogs are:
In the tadpoles, the signs to look for are:
In a water body, the signs to look for are:
(this applies to flowing creeks as well as enclosed water bodies)
Cane toads are especially susceptible to this problem and mortality rates at the tadpole stage are nearly 100%. If any cane toads are found with even the slightest deformity to their legs, eyes, or backs, please collect them for us and contact us right away.
In the long run, this is very likely to involve chemicals and the only way to get to the truth of the matter is to pay for our own toxicology testing. We actually have a very specific chemical group in mind that we suspect is involved based on when certain things were approved for market and when specific types of problems happened in the frogs. We will never be able to raise the money needed from government or foundations so a swell of public support will be needed for this one!