The deadly chytrid fungus has wiped out 90 species of amphibians, and is threatening ecosystems. Now there’s hope that several new treatments could help us fight the plague
14 July 2021
UP IN the mountains of northern Majorca, a group of toads live in a series of rocky, rain-fed pools. They aren’t much to look at, with their spotted, greyish-brown skin and pale underbellies. But they are, in their own way, very special amphibians.
If you had visited the rocky pools a few years ago, you would have found the toads in an awful state: those not dead would have been lethargic, some with red, peeling skin. They were infected with a deadly fungus that has been careening through the world’s amphibians, and has already wiped out dozens of species of frogs, a group of animals that includes toads. The Majorca midwife toads are the only species of frogs in the wild in which the disease has been eradicated.
Now there is a feeling among conservationists that we have to protect our remaining frogs before they croak their last. “It’s such a race against time, because as this fungus spreads further, it’s affecting more and more species,” says conservationist Jonathan Kolby. “It’s not being controlled at all and we’re running out of clean habitat.”
Failing to put the brakes on this situation would be disastrous, and not just because frogs are beautiful animals that act as linchpins for their ecosystems. We have also recently learned first-hand how terrible it can be when animal diseases spill over into other species. Luckily, we are making progress. We know where this “frog pandemic” came from and – although it will be difficult – we are in the early stages of a global fightback.
We first realised frogs were in trouble in 1993, when …