The title of William Souder's book is meant to shock and attract attention; A Plague of Frogs is not so much about a particular area stricken by a plague of frogs, as it is the frogs themselves being plagued. This curious phenomenon involves the discovery of several species of frogs afflicted at birth with the most grotesque deformities: multiple limbs, stunted or absent limbs, eyeballs growing inside frogs' mouths the list of abnormalities is endless. Although recent studies have found that this plague has affected frogs throughout history in varying regions of the world, it was in central Minnesota that the frogs' predicament recently attracted the attention of scientists. In 1995, a group of school children and their teacher found an alarming number of deformed frogs at a farmer's pond during a field trip, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) was among the first of many groups and individuals to get involved. William Souder first reported on the case of deformed frogs in Minnesota for the Washington Post. He then became embroiled in the quest for knowledge alongside representatives of many governmental agencies. As in all good investigative journalism, Souder presents readers first and foremost with a story. The journey toward knowledge is, in fact, the story here. The cast of characters includes a group of middle school students from Le Sueur, Minnesota; the farmers and landowners on whose land the frogs were found; many branches of governmental agencies; university scientists; and Bruce Babbitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior.
Although many hypotheses have been proposed for the causes of the frogs' deformities including UV radiation, parasites, and pesticides nothing conclusive has been found, other than evidence that the maladies originate in the water inhabited by the frogs. This theory poses a threat for all animal species, including our own. With many frog species throughout the world becoming extinct, the ever-present question is, what is behind this plague? Souder's timely book presents readers with a well-informed set of researchers who are working hard to find this very answer.
Krista Finstad Hanson is a writer and teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota.