Updated German toad experts are baffled by an acute outbreak of exploding toad syndrome which has totalled hundreds of the amphibians since the beginning of the month. The former inhabitants of a Hamburg pond - now chillingly renamed the "pond of death" - spontaneously swelled to enormous proportions before going bang, in the process propelling their entrails for up to a metre.
Hamburg nature protection society spokesman, Werner Smolnik, told the Hamburger Abendblatt daily: "It looks like a scene from a science-fiction movie. The bloated animals suffer for several minutes before they finally die."
Janne Kloepper, a boffin at Hamburg-based Institute for Hygiene and the Environment, added: "It's absolutely strange. We have a really unique story here in Hamburg. This phenomenon really doesn't seem to have appeared anywhere before." She added that lab tests have ruled out a bacteriological or viral cause of the explosions, and have further shown the pond water to be normal. Tests for another possible agent - a fungus accidently introduced from South America* - have also proved negative.
The authorities have moved swiftly to protect the public from the exploding toad menace. The pond is now closed and a biologist is on station every night between 2 and 3am, when toad explosions reach a peak.
In Australia, meanwhile, we're certain that toadologists are awaiting with eager anticipation the identification of the cause of the exploding German toad. Oz currently hosts 100 million unwelcome cane toads and there's nothing the Aussies would like more than to see a landscape littered with the corpses of eviscerated, exploded toads. ®
Mystery solved. We're obliged to those readers who sent us the breathless news that today's Der Spiegel says crows have been fingered as the culprits. Apparently the crow pecks a small hole in the toad to get at the liver. The toad begins to inflate itself - its normal defence mechanism - but because there is no separation between lung cavity and abdomen, the poor blighter keeps on expanding until it goes pop. That's the gist of it, at least. We're going to conclude by noting that if you tried to make this up, your friends would probably advise you to seek professional help.
Ta very much to regular reader Rose Humphrey for the exploding toad alert.
*We have no further information about the Latin American toad-detonating fungus. The mind boggles.