Frogs have served as a canary in the coal mine for many cultures for many years. Through the ages, societies that live closer to the soil than we do here in the west, have realized that frogs are among the first creatures to begin to suffer when pollutants in the water and soil are too highly concentrated.
These amphibious creatures are thin skinned. They live in the water and on land. These attributes make them especially vulnerable when the chemical composition of the land or water becomes less accommodating. Frogs do not have scales or fur like other creatures, and they live in direct contact with the elements. Even when on dry land, they spend much of their time with their bellies pressed flat against the soil.
The infamous radio show host Alex Jones has been roundly mocked for a segment in which he decried the pollution of the water supply with a chemical substance known as atrazine. Jones misspoke when he said that the chemical is, “turning the frickin’ frogs gay.” But, what’s funny about this is, Jones was not entirely wrong.
Frogs are suffering what LiveScience.com calls a global decline. This is due to the fact that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor and has a marked effect on the sexual expression of frogs. Frogs have the unusual ability to transform from males to females again. This is a survival mechanism that the species uses to overcome disproportionate male to female ratios. If there are too many “blokes at the party,” frogs have a solution- enough of them will transform into females to enable the successful production of the next generation.
The abundance of atrazine in the water and soil is disrupting the frog’s ability to regulate their sexual expression the way they normally would. Frog populations all over the world are changing in disproportionate numbers into females- making the re-population yields smaller than they need to be for subsequent generations to replace the previous generations.
In a study by Berkeley biologist Tyrone B. Hayes, Hayes says, “If you have problems in amphibians, you can anticipate problems in other animals.”
In the study, Hayes raised 40 male African frogs in water containing the weed killer atrazine. The samples were polluted to a level commensurate with water samples taken from locations all over the world where the pesticide is used to protect corn crops from invasive plants. By the end of the trials, the frogs placed in non-polluted water remained male. But in groups kept in the atrazine polluted water, 10% transformed completely into females.
The feminized frogs retained their male DNA, but they developed female sexual reproductive organs capable of mating with a male and producing fertile offspring.
According to Hayes, results like this in the wild will contribute to a decline in frog populations. While some argue that the introduction of atrazine into the water enabled the frogs to reproduce where they would not be able to otherwise, Hayes says that when frogs that have transformed from male to female become pregnant- their offspring are always male.
On top of this, all of the frogs- even those that remain male- have reduced testosterone. This alters their behavior, making them less aggressive. The result is generation after generation of increasingly feminized male frogs.
It is a phenomenon that skews the population further and further away from the healthy sexual dimorphism until the frogs lose their ability to reproduce entirely.
To make the matter worse, this is not only a problem for frogs. Atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that increases estrogen production in other species- including humans. Hayes commented, “Anytime you see dramatic declines like we’re seeing in amphibians and fish… we should recognize that we drink and swim and bathe in that same water.”
As humans, we have natural and behavioral defenses against chemicals like atrazine. We do not live in the water, and we do not dwell in direct contact with the soil. But we do bathe in and drink water that can be contaminated by atrazine. Studies going back to 2011 show that exposure to atrazine “demasculinizes” and “feminizes” the male gonads of vertebrate creatures. That means everything with a spine and central nervous system can be affected.
Worse yet, atrazine is far from the only endocrine disruptor humans are exposed to. Endocrine disruptors are present in all of the petroleum products and the plastics that we are surrounded by and place our food in every day.
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