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Chernobyl is spawning MUTANT frogs: Bizarre black amphibians are spotted near the nuclear plant

Mutant black frogs are spawning near the Chernobyl power plant, 36 years after its catastrophic meltdown unleashed one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.

Eastern tree frogs are meant to have bright green skin but scientists working near Chernobyl have found many with darker or black pigmentation.

In 1986, the site in northern Ukraine – then under Soviet rule – witnessed the largest release of radioactive material into the environment in human history.

Now scientists think the mutated frogs’ darker skin may have helped them survive in the exclusion zone, which today restricts access to 1,0000 sq miles around ground zero.

Eastern tree frogs are meant to have bright green skin but scientists working near Chernobyl have found many with darker or black pigmentation

In 1986, the site in northern Ukraine – then under Soviet rule – witnessed the largest release of radioactive material into the environment in human history

In 1986, the site in northern Ukraine – then under Soviet rule – witnessed the largest release of radioactive material into the environment in human history

Crops growing 30 miles outside of Chernobyl are still contaminated with dangerous levels of strontium 

Crops grown near Chernobyl are still contaminated, more than three decades after the worst nuclear disaster in history.

Almost half the grain analyzed by scientists in Ivankiv, about 30 miles from the power plant, showed levels of strontium 90 far above recommended levels.

It was also present at unsafe levels in firewood and wood ash used to fertilize crops.

The Ukrainian government stopped testing goods for strontium 90 in 2013.

A radioactive isotope, it collects in the teeth, bones and marrow like calcium, and can cause numerous kinds of cancer.

Germán Orizaola, a researcher at Spain’s University of Oviedo, who co-authored the new study, said: ‘We become aware of these frogs the very first night we worked in Chernobyl.

‘We were looking for this species near the damaged power plant and we detected many frogs that were just black.

‘We know that melanin is responsible for dark or black colouration in many organisms, including frogs.

‘At the same time, we know that melanin protects from the damage caused by different types of radiation, from UV to ionizing radiation – the kind at Chernobyl.’

For their study, Dr Orizaola and his co-author, Pablo Burraco, collected more than 200 male frogs from 12 different breeding ponds with different levels of radiation.

They found that frogs within the exclusion zone were much darker than those from outside it.

And though there was no correlation between the darkest frogs and the most irradiated places today, there was a correlation with the worst-affected places from the time of the accident.

In other words, the darker frogs had stood a better chance of survival when disaster struck in 1986, making them more numerous today.

Dr Orizaola said: ‘With this species it’s possible to find, under normal circumstances, a small percentage of frogs with unusual colouration.

For their study, Dr Orizaola and his co-author, Pablo Burraco, collected more than 200 male frogs from 12 different breeding ponds with different levels of radiation

For their study, Dr Orizaola and his co-author, Pablo Burraco, collected more than 200 male frogs from 12 different breeding ponds with different levels of radiation

On April 26, 1986 a power station on the outskirts of Pripyat suffered a massive accident in which one of the reactors caught fire and exploded, spreading radioactive material into the surroundings

On April 26, 1986 a power station on the outskirts of Pripyat suffered a massive accident in which one of the reactors caught fire and exploded, spreading radioactive material into the surroundings

‘This small percentage would have benefitted from the protection of melanin, especially at the time of the accident, when radiation levels where much higher, and the diversity of radioisotopes wider.

‘Under this scenario, they should have survived better and reproduced better than the normal green frogs.

‘Over time – 10 to 12 generations of frogs have passed since the accident – this would have resulted in these black frogs being predominant within the exclusion zone.’

However, with radiation levels much lower today, the jury’s out on whether the black frogs will remain dominant.

Wwith radiation levels much lower today, the jury's out on whether the black frogs will remain dominant

Wwith radiation levels much lower today, the jury’s out on whether the black frogs will remain dominant

Dr Orizaola said: ‘Since the protective role of melanin is not that crucial right now, with much lower levels of radiation, they may fade away.

‘However, our study also shows that the maintenance of this black colouration seems not to incur a high cost – there’s no increase in oxidative stress levels, for example.

‘So it may persist.’

On April 26, 1986 a power station on the outskirts of Pripyat suffered a massive accident in which one of the reactors caught fire and exploded, spreading radioactive material into the surroundings.

More than 160,000 residents of the town and surrounding areas had to be evacuated and have been unable to return, leaving the former Soviet site as a radioactive ghost town.

WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE 1986 CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR DISASTER?

On April 26, 1986 a power station on the outskirts of Pripyat suffered a massive accident in which one of the reactors caught fire and exploded, spreading radioactive material into the surroundings.

More than 160,000 residents of the town and surrounding areas had to be evacuated and have been unable to return, leaving the former Soviet site as a radioactive ghost town.

Last year, scientists from Nasa sent eight fungi species from the Chernobyl exlusion zone (pictured in red) into space where they were placed on board the International Space Station

 A map of the Chernobyl exclusion zone is pictured above. The ‘ghost town’ of Pripyat sits nearby the site of the disaster

The exclusion zone, which covers a substantial area in Ukraine and some of bordering Belarus, will remain in effect for generations to come, until radiation levels fall to safe enough levels.

The region is called a ‘dead zone’ due to the extensive radiation which persists. 

However, the proliferation of wildlife in the area contradicts this and many argue that the region should be given over to the animals which have become established in the area – creating a radioactive protected wildlife reserve.

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