Frog Mutations [and the Fukushima Butterfly Mutations]

Genetic male frog growing eggs in testes
According to studies and a documentary released by PBS, the world is currently experiencing the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs.  We are losing frogs of all types worldwide in a dramatic fashion, and many of those that are left are exhibiting never before seen mutations.  And the primary cause identified is the effect of mass amounts of hormones, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used worldwide by homes, businesses, cities, and the agricultural and farming industries.

Frog with no legs

Frog with too many legs
But back to the study that has captured the world's attention in the last couple weeks: the malformations of the pale grass blue butterfly in Japan presumed to be due to the Fukushima nuclear accident resulting from the natural disaster.

Diagram from the study on aberrant wings
First, a couple things to keep in context.  Japan has been emitting record amounts of pollution and CO2 since Fukushima which can cause significant problems (reported here in April, confirmed this month by Bloomberg).  It must also be kept in context that the earthquakes and tsunami seen in Japan were not "business as usual" in Japan, as is our use of agricultural chemicals.  Tens of thousands of people died.  Billions of dollars of damage was caused.

The butterfly mutation study, unfortunately, has some rather unscientific facts not made clear through the media:
  • The study had small numbers of samples from arbitrary locations between the May and September samplings.
  • It was stated that there was a correlation between radiation exposure and abnormalities, but given with potential errors far higher than accepted in statistics to make any statement.  ("p" should be less than 0.05, here, it was 0.13)  This is not good science or good research.
  • The study picked only a few of these to breed (ranging between 1 and 6 of each sex, usually 2-3) to form the first generation ("F1") including those with abnormalities.
  • For the second generation ("F2"), the study only used 1 "significantly aberrant" female with a couple males from a single locality.
So, the astounding [sic] results of breeding abnormal butterflies is that there are more abnormalities in the next generation.

Compounding the small sample sizes, out of the 11 different locations sampled only 7 had similar locations sampled in both May and September.  Not surprisingly, the paper does not offer many direct comparisons between the two time periods.  There might be statistical significance to the increase in abnormalities between the two sample periods, but statistical information between the two are not provided.

What of the external radiation exposure with abnormality correlation?  The dose used was 1,000 to almost 100,000 times higher than external exposure listed at the sample collection sites.  There is a difference between natural and low levels of radiation and levels hundreds of thousands of times higher- low levels can be beneficial, and high levels obviously can cause damage.

Last, the internal radiation exposure had two main statistical results: mortality effects and forewing size differences.  The mortality effects were found not to be statistically significant.  There was found to be forewing size differences between different male pairs from different locales and even female pairs from different locales to a significant statistical degree.  This may be due to different radiation levels, or different pollution levels, or it may be due to any number of factors present at each locality or even regional differences.

Here is the good news: regardless of whether higher radiation has increased abnormalities, nature is accustomed to radiation and weeds out detrimental mutations and keeps the beneficial mutations--the species ends up growing stronger.  On top of that, radiation levels decay and within a couple decades radiation from Cesium 137 will be more negligible.  

This brings us to the sad news facing the frogs.  Nature does not have a good way to deal with ever-accumulating unnatural chemicals in our food chain.  This includes any kind of chemical pollution- whether from pesticides for agriculture, isolating rare earth metals for magnets in wind turbines, or from the many tons of mercury and lead released by coal burning worldwide, from the 50+ chemicals used to make solar panels, or from millions of pounds of chemicals injected into the ground for fracking.  We must make changes now before it is too late.  What can you do?  Buy organic produce and organically grown meats, and think twice before using pesticides and other dangerous household chemicals.


  1. I will never support animal torture and buy organic animal products. If you want to produce organic animal products in USA you practically cannot medicate your sick animals with anything else than magic water (homeopathy), in Europe there is some loop holes in this, but homeopathy is the preferred form of "medicating".

    1. It's a fair comment. However surely you know as well that true animal torture (no light, no air, inability to move, broken and weak bones, cut off beaks and tails, polluted and unnatural food and water) is notably rampant and much worse in non-organic farms (check out Food Inc, etc).

      Unfortunately, there is not an easy way to make a standard in between the farming industry using 30 million pounds of antibiotics a year in the US (per FDA: (fun fact- for 91 billion pounds of meat per year in US), and the organic standard of no antibiotics at all. If the animal needs antibiotics to recover, they can administer the antibiotics, let it recover, and then sell the animal as it would be sold in any other way.

      I agree somewhat in that the key is reducing meat consumption and that organic vegetable products are far more important than organic meats, especially in context of reducing the pollution that is making the frogs extinct.

  2. Very, very well written information blog about the "Fukushima butterflies". I noticed the possibility of the in-lab exposures being much, much greater than what was the case in the field. Your blog has provided some confirmation on my interpretation of the report. Keep up the good work...your blogs are excellent and I've shared a few with Japanese readers of my Fukushima Updates page...I update thrice weekly using mostly Japanese sources.


Only comments that intelligently add to the discussion will be allowed.