From Green to Black: The Color-Changing Frogs of Chernobyl

Oct 7, 2022

It’s not easy being green. That's especially true if you’re a frog in Ukraine's Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. A destructive nuclear meltdown happened there in 1986. Scientists have discovered that one species of frog found a way to handle the disaster, though. How? The frogs turned black.

A pair of ecologists first discovered the black frogs in 2016. “That year, close to the damaged nuclear reactor, we detected several Eastern tree frogs with an unusual black tint,” they wrote in a new study. Eastern tree frogs are normally bright green.

The Chernobyl meltdown occurred about 60 miles north of Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv. It is the worst nuclear disaster ever recorded. It spread radiation that caused sickness and genetic changes. Many of these prove harmful or even fatal. But some, like the frogs’ darkened skin, may be lifesavers. 

“Dark coloration is known to protect against different sources of radiation,” the ecologists said. In the frogs’ case, that shiny black color is the result of melanins. Those are skin pigments found in many species. Humans have them, too. Melanins can help counter radiation. So, frogs with higher melanin levels were more likely to survive. Over time, the darker frogs bred more successfully than the green frogs. That resulted in the newest batch of pitch-black amphibians. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced a pause in the research. Still, the scientists are excited to continue their work. They believe it could help in many fields in the future.

Not bad for a little frog that nature painted black.

Photo by Joel Herzog courtesy of Unsplash.

Which paragraph explains how Chernobyl’s frogs turned black? (Common Core RI.5.5; RI.6.5)
a. 1
b. 2
c. 3
d. 4
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