Chernobyl tree frogs are darker in color, study explains why

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Tree frogs near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster have adapted to historic radiation with darker coloration, ranging from green to black, a study has found.

Photo by Pablo Burraco and Germán Orizaola via Wiley Online Library

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded decades ago, but tree frogs in the area are still showing its aftermath, researchers have found.

Nuclear reactor 4 au Chernobyl power plant in northern Ukraine became highly unstable during a regular test in April 1986, the Nuclear Association reported. The reactor exploded – twice – and released the largest amount of radioactive material in human history, researchers wrote in a study published by Evolutionary Applications.

Thirty-six years later, the site of the disaster is a nature reserve where endangered species have begun to thrive, researchers say. Bears, wolves and lynx live there.

The same goes for ‘black’ tree frogs, researchers have found, Phys.org reported September 29.

For more than two years, researchers examined the coloration of more than 200 eastern tree frogs in areas of varying radioactivity, Phys.org reported.

They found a color gradient, from the usual bright green of tree frogs to an unusual black, as shown in the photos. The closer a tree frog lived to Chernobyl areas with historically high radiation levels, the darker its coloration, the researchers found.

Frog coloration correlates to an area’s historical radiation levels, not its current radiation level, the researchers said.

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The researchers found frogs through the color gradient, as seen in the photos. Photo by Pablo Burraco and Germán Orizaola via Wiley Online Library

But why? Melanin — the pigment that makes organisms darker — also provides protection against ultraviolet rays by absorbing and dissipating some of this energy, the researchers explained.

The researchers attributed the color variation to natural selection, a process that began favoring darker colored frogs immediately after the Chernobyl disaster. Dark-colored frogs would have survived nuclear radiation better than light-colored frogs, allowing them to reproduce and – over time – grow from a minority to the dominant type near Chernobyl, according to the study published on August 29. .

“On average, tree frogs inhabiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone were remarkably darker,” the researchers wrote. The study hoped to provide information on environmental adaptations to nuclear radiation and suggested that further research be conducted in the Chernobyl region.

Chernobyl is about 95 miles north of Kyiv.

Aspen Pflughoeft covers real-time news for McClatchy. She graduated from Minerva University where she studied communications, history and international politics. Previously, she reported for Deseret News.

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