Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Urban Legends - The Fascinating Tale of the Exploding Toads and The Clever Crows

Nature can be very mysterious and The Fascinating Story of the Exploding Toads and The Clever Crows is the perfect example. Maybe, if this is the first time you've ever heard of this, you’d probably think I’m going to talk about a fairy tale. Interesting, but simply a funny story. And maybe with some kind of moral in the end. Believe me, this actually happened. When I first heard of it, I was extremely surprised. Now let’s go back in the spring of 2005, shall we?

In Hamburg (Germany) a documented film about the phenomenon reported this:

About 1.000 dead toads were discovered lying around the edges. Their bodies appeared to have exploded. Eye-witnesses said they swelled up to about three-and-a-half times their normal size and then simply burst. And they burst with such an explosive force that their entrails were blown over several square meters.

As you just read, toads randomly began exploding. Spewing guts, blood and skin for nearly a yard in every direction. For several weeks, the European toads received an international attention. Scientists were totally confused. Nobody was able to provide a scientific explanation for the unnatural deaths. Some of the little animals were observed near two ponds during that spring, one in the Altona district of Hamburg and the other near Laasby in Jutland, Denmark, and some of the explosions were actually witnessed by environmentalists and scientists.

First, they began with several minutes of agonized twitching, followed by the toads blowing up like joyful  balloons and then exploding. And just to make the thing a little bit more disturbing, when the toads burst, the entrails slid out. But the animals weren't immediately dead, they keep struggling for long amounts of time.

Health officials panicked . They thought a strange virus was spreading by South American race horses from a nearby track. The press had a field day with the area, affectionately calling it “The Pond of Death”. Things got worse when the epidemic spread across the border to a nearby Danish lake.

Still with no explanation at hand, scientists collaborated  with Hamburg’s Institute for Hygiene and the Environment. They started testing the pond’s water, searching for this elusive fungus or virus. It was even considered the exceedingly fantastical notion that the toads were killing themselves to prevent overpopulation. 

Mass Suicide…..Something is not working here.

Each of these theories were completely rejected and authorities were forced to warn residents away from the pools. Until finally an answer was found. An eminent amphibian expert from Berlin, Dr. Frank Mutschmann, carefully examined live and dead specimens and cracked the case. The explanation was unbelievable.

The massacre was, apparently, the work of a highly intelligent species of crows (if you wanna discover something more about this fantastic bird click here). Dr. Mutschmann found out something very strange. Looking at the anatomy of the poor animals, there were identical circular incisions on their backs, just the size of a bird’s beak. He also figured out that all the amphibians had their livers missing. Knowing how clever crows are, Dr. Mutschmann theorized the birds were aware that the toad’s skin was poisonous, but that the nutritious liver could easily be popped out with a little toxic exposure. In fact, he actually said:

There were no bite or scratch marks, so we knew the toads weren't being attacked by a raccoon or a rat, which would have also eaten the entire toad. It was clearly the work of crows, which are clever enough to know the toad’s skin is toxic and realize the liver is the only part worth eating. Only once the liver is gone does the toad realize it’s been attacked. It puffs itself up as a natural defense mechanism. But since it doesn't have a diaphragm or ribs, without the liver there is nothing to hold the rest of its organs in. The lungs stretch out of all proportion and rip; the rest of the organs simply expel themselves.

His theory also explained how the toads’ exploding reaction appeared to come well after they lost their livers. Since it was mating season, the toads were very attracted to one another. So they would have been so distracted by their biological imperative that they wouldn't have paid heed to a few quick pecks. In fact, Dr. Mutschmann also said:

They would have noticed something as the crow pecked at them, but it wouldn't have been particularly painful

The documentary about the phenomenon claimed:

No one knows how they (the crows) learned where the liver was located. But we do know that toad’s skin is so poisonous that many animals can have a fatal reaction to it. But the liver is so nutritious it’s worth working out how to extract it safely.

And this is what actually happened. The crows were so clever that were able to extract the liver from the toads, without letting them know what a disaster they were causing.

One of the world’s earliest cases of exploding toads was recorded in Germany in 1968. Similar cases have been observed in Belgium, Denmark and the US. But no other case was as gruesome as the Hamburg incident. This because toads are very much loved by the Germans. In fact, they are a protected species over there. Some citizens were so concerned about the massacre they started e-mailing Dr. Mutschmann. But he engagingly replied:

There’s no reason to worry. It’s just a part of nature

What do you think about this story? I personally believe that has all that is needed to become a popular fairy tale. This is one of the mysteries of nature. It can blow up your mind. If we were toads, it would literally do.


  1. That is really horrible, though fascinating too.

    1. When I first read it I thought "Poor little toads" :)

  2. Incredible. Sometimes the workings of nature amaze me. As you point out, the story seems untrue until you find the explanation. The sex drive overrules pain.

    1. That's true ! Nature is simply amazing. Maybe sometimes a little bit brutal, but the "natural law" works like this :)

  3. Sorry I didn't read through! I have to skip it when I saw the pictures. Frogs are on top of my "scariest things" along with other reptiles. :P

    But I'm sure it's another good article. :)

    1. If you don't like frogs is more than comprehensible. It's a shame....this episode was so strange and mysterious you would have loved it ;D

  4. Frogs are strange animals, I know, but this is really strange...

    1. Ecco perchè adoro queste storie...mistero e stranezza sono le mie preferite!!!
      P.S. Grazie mille per tutto il lavoro che fai con noi blogger, ci fa conoscere l'uno con l'altro :)
      Un bacio :*


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...