Exploding Frogs = Intelligent Design?


PZ Myers notes that toads are exploding for reasons unknown in Hamburg, Germany. This story is apparently not made up, although I am not yet convinced that we are getting the straight story from the media – after all, the widely reported three-headed British frog of 2004 was, after vigorous discussion, decided to most likely merely be multiple amplexus, inexpertly observed, on one Evolution/Creationism forum (see also “Three-headed frog – not!” for the apparently definitive analysis).

Let’s assume that frogs really are exploding. Unexplained phenomena like this are a great chance to test William Dembski’s Explanatory Filter to see if it detects intelligent design. Let see: Is the phenomenon specified? You bet. In fact, it is specifiable in advance. Humans have been blowing up animals for some time now – for example, in 1970, the Highway Department of my beloved home state of Oregon decided to dispose of a stinky eight-ton whale carcass with 20 cases of dynamite. See the Exploding Whale Website for the video. Can known natural laws account for the explosion of live frogs? Apparently not. The known natural laws say that frogs, particularly live ones in a cool climate, shouldn’t be exploding (dead ones in the hot sun might be another matter – see the story about the natural exploding of a 60-ton sperm whale in Singapore in 2004). Can chance explain exploding frogs? Nope. Chance might explain some dead toads, but I estimate the chance of 1,000 dead toads, exploding rather than just dying, and all in Hamburg, to be less than 1 in 10^1,000 (and this is very generous probability estimate). Furthermore, we know that intelligent designers can and do blow animals up intentionally. So, we can safely conclude intelligent design is the best explanation for Hamburg’s exploding toads. QED. Somebody alert the authorities.


Does the President happen to be in Hamburg?

Curses. You have stumbled upon our fiendish plot to rid the world of toads. We shall send the Enforcers around to re-educate you.


The Evil *th**st Conspiracy

I may have hurt myself laughing at the Oregon explosion. The stupidity of humankind never ceases to amaze me.

Posted by k.h.ranitzsch on April 26, 2005 02:43 AM (e) (s)

First, congatulations on your nice weblog, which I read regularly.

I live in Hamburg and the story is true (though it has been blown up in the transmission through the media). It has been reported in the local press.

If you can read German, here are three stories from the “Hamburger Abendblatt”, which is a solid paper and not prone to sensationalism:

9.April http://www.abendblatt.de/daten/2005[…]/419493.html It is a localized outbreak in a single pond in the suburb of Hamburg-Altona. It is not people blowing up frogs with firecrackers or crows picking them to death. The sick frogs have been observed “exploding” by watchers from an environmental groups. They do not actually explode with a big bang. Rather, they blow their body up to large size (normally, a natural reaction when threatened to look more imposing to attackers), but then, the stomach comes out and the animals die.

12.April http://www.abendblatt.de/daten/2005[…]/420435.html The epidemic seem to be over. Healthy-looking toads have been observed at the pond

16.April: http://www.abendblatt.de/daten/2005[…]/422357.html Reason for the frog deaths still unclear - they are being examined by the “Hygieneinstitut” health laboratory. No bacterial infection or environmental pollution that could cause it has been detected.

21.April http://www.abendblatt.de/daten/2005[…]/424147.html Reason for the frog deaths still unclear. The laboratory is investigating for viral infections.

One suspicion is that the agent causing this has been carried in by horses from the nearby racetrack. Apparently, similar phenomena are known from South America.

Greetings Karl Heinz

[duplicate comments, fued by Nick]

Sorry for the double posting. The response when I posted the first time looked like an error message.

Note that the second message refers to an extra article reporting that the epidemic is over.

Please, next time, post warning tags to alert for exceedingly humorous links ahead. I hurt my sides about the Oregon whale, and the Taiwanese ‘Thar she blows!’ specimen is still giving me snorts of laughter.

I predict that it requires the intelligent agent kiss the frog before it can explode.

So, I predict that at least we know a few things about the intelligent agent that causes frogs to explode.

It has lips, an inordinate fondness frogs, and explosives.

I predict the intelligent agent is an ID lawyer.

I blame Anne Coulter.

GACK! I can’t believe I’m seeing this on Panda’s Thumb, of all places. Repeat after me:

Toads != frogs. Toads != frogs. Toads != frogs. …

According to the “Predigested Evolutionary Hyperthesis” the frogs were encoded to explode. Right on time, I might add. Uncontested proof of PEH.

How do you like them tadpoles?

> Toads != frogs.

Yep: The Hamburger Abendblatt is clear on this point; they use “Erdkroete” (oe = o umlaut), which is the common toad, Bufo bufo. Frog would be Frosch.

That blowed up real good.….too funny.

Toads != frogs. Toads != frogs. Toads != frogs.

Would they not be the same “kind” from an ID perspective? The only differences between frogs and toads would be the result of simple “micro” evolution ;-)

The Hamburger Abendblatt is clear on this point

Toad-burger anyone?

Toads != frogs.

As a chemist they look the same to me. Mostly water and some sludge.

Ambushing Ants = Intelligent Design

Nature 434, 973 (21 April 2005) | 10.1038/434973a Insect behaviour: Arboreal ants build traps to capture prey

Alain Dejean, Pascal Jean Solano, Julien Ayroles, Bruno Corbara and J�r�me Orivel1

Abstract: To meet their need for nitrogen in the restricted foraging environment provided by their host plants, some arboreal ants deploy group ambush tactics in order to capture flying and jumping prey that might otherwise escape. Here we show that the ant Allomerus decemarticulatus uses hair from the host plant’s stem, which it cuts and binds together with a purpose-grown (emphasis added) fungal mycelium, to build a spongy ‘galleried’ platform for trapping much larger insects. Ants beneath the platform reach through the holes and immobilize the prey, which is then stretched, transported and carved up by a swarm of nestmates. To our knowledge, the collective creation of a trap as a predatory strategy has not been described before in ants.

See graphic here: http://www.charliewagner.net/ants.jpg

Um, so, Charlie: Do you propose that someone is teaching the ants how to do this?

A refugee from a flea circus, an evil refugee from a flea circus, teaching the ants to ensnare larger critters? Do you think this intelligent agent is from North Korea, Al Quaeda, or the Republican National Committee, perhaps?

Who, do you think, is training these ants?

A few days ago a Russian TV channel ran a brief news piece (in that marqee running at the bottom of the screen) saying that thousands toads (not frogs) exploded all over England.

Something about this reminds me of some scenes from the “Tremors” movie series. Yuck. And also Ewwww.


Ed Darrel Wrote:

Who, do you think, is training these ants?

Another interesting question would be HOW are these ants being trained. Do they attend class and are shown diagrams on PowerPoint? Are the neural pathways “zapped” into their tiny little brains? If so, how is that done?

I would really like to hear at least ONE mechanism proposed to support the notion [it is no more than a notion] of some unknown intelligent agent that can perform all of this otherwise “impossible” stuff while still using natural processes [since the agent is not necessarily God according to ID].

Ed Darrell Wrote:

Um, so, Charlie: Do you propose that someone is teaching the ants how to do this?


Not directly, of course, but this behavior is apparently hard-wired into the ant’s brain* and emerged as a result of information encoded in the genome. That information, in my humble opinion, was intelligently generated.

*the truth is, the ant colony is behaving like a single organism, with each part (ant) contributing to the functioning of the whole colony to accomplish a single task. This is beyond fascinating and I just don’t see how it can be explained without intelligent input. Certainly there’s no evolutionary explanation that I’ve ever heard.

I just don’t see how it can be explained without intelligent input. Certainly there’s no evolutionary explanation that I’ve ever heard.”

There we have it folks.

Interesting drawing of the ant-built grasshopper trap. It looks to me like an example of something built for one purpose and co-opted for another use.

The ants build a framework that surrounds the stem. This would allow them safe access to other parts of the tree since they would be hidden from predators.

Ants build nests all the time.…not much of a stretch to extend it out to cover the twigs they walk on.

As other insects walk along this covering, they provoke a defensive response from the ants, who attack the insect en masse.

Once they have killed the interloper.…they might as well cut him up and take him back to the larder.

So…a protective covering for the ants becomes a trap for other insects.…evolutionary processes can explain this much better than design.

Charlie Wagner Wrote:

That information, in my humble opinion, was intelligently generated

How? What is the mechanism? What observations have been made to support the existence of this mechanism?

enough Wrote:

There we have it folks.

Doesn’t that make your job so much easier? All you have to do now is explain it to me without intelligent input and in accordance with evolutionary theory.

I think the ants are causing the toads to explode with their psychic powers, a phenomenon documented, e.g., in David Cronenberg’s “Scanners”.

Such psychic activities are well-known to consume high levels of nitrogen (hence the documented “sweet” smell of urine excreted by telekinetics and clairvoyants).

Somewhere in my files I have several papers which describe a similar set of events in the foothills of the Xia-Jing range in northwest China where a profoundly psychic Stetter’s Gray fox caused over 3,000 domestic chickens to explode in an 8 week period.

I know somewhere there is extensive 35 mm footage of a colony of psychic humans living underneath a dilapidated section of the New York City subway system. I have been waiting for scientists to revisit that observation, although I’ve heard rumors the colony was moved in order to construct a Starbucks on the site.

The development of behavioral routines in arthropod species matches up with their phylogenies. It isn’t just body plans or biochemistries that evolve in sequences. Two classic series are the ways in which wasps bury their prey and the gradual elaboration of spider webs. Russian entomologists did a lot of work on the former topic. Any good book on spiders will lay out the evolution of spider webs.

Charlie’s ant story (complete with Ripley’s Believe it or Not! style cartoon, no less) took me by surprise. I didn’t realize Charlie was an ID proponent since this is such a clear example of the power of UNINTELLIGENT design. The ants, which individually have nothing that could remotely be called intelligence, are able to, collectively and through the execution of a handful of simple “commands,” construct a complex trap. Well, not too unlike a mousetrap, I suppose. Yet clearly there is not guiding “intelligence” at work in this construction–just the simple blind obedience of basic laws acting through the random and the necessary. In other words, if blind agents acting in accordance with simple rules can construct an impressive mechanism, is it not obvious that analogous blind processes could have (and did) construct the trap-builder? I have never seen a finer example of shooting oneself in the foot.

As counterproductive as Charlie’s story might be to his point of view, I am grateful that he brought it to my attention. I was not previously aware of this remarkable adaptation. It certainly inspires awe and wonder. But as Douglas Adams said, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

I see no sign of Intelligent Design in Exploding Toads. I see typical Nieders�chsisch humor.

Charlie Wagner said:

I just don’t see how it can be explained without intelligent input.

Is there any life process whose origins, in your opinion, CAN’T be explained by intelligent input or is that explanation universal? For instance, does intelligent input explain tectonic plate theory, relativity, radioactivity, dark matter, supernovae and nebulae too?

To Mr. Karl-H. Ranitzsch: Any follow up on the Hamburg Exploding Toads (Kr�tensterben)? I remember watching toads explode when jumped on by children. Not me, of cause.

To Mr. Karl-H. Ranitzsch: Any follow up on the Hamburg Exploding Toads (Kr�tensterben)? I remember watching toads explode when jumped on by children. Not me, but those bad “street boys”, of course.

Explanation for ‘exploding toads’

Now a veterinary surgeon, Frank Mutschmann, who has examined the remains of the toads, said they had been pierced with a single peck by crows trying to eat their livers.

This in turn caused the toads to explode.

“The toads swell up as a form of self-defence. But when their livers are taken away and their stomachs are punctured, their blood vessels explode, their lungs collapse and the other organs come out,” Mutschmann said.

I’m having trouble buying this. Is he saying that the crows are stealing the livers of still living toads, who then burst the next time they swell themselves up? Or is he saying that the crows are directly and immediately causing the explosions? Eyewitnesses have reportedly seen the toads explode, it was in the middle of the night and no crows were at the scene.

News flash: It was probably all bogus after all. The depressing thing about being a skeptic is being right so often…

Has bubble burst over exploding toad tale? Michael Hopkin Evidence points to bloated toads and hungry birds, but not explosions.

A mystery of exploding toads has turned many people into armchair zoologists this week. Amphibians in a previously obscure German pond have reportedly been blowing up in their thousands, leaving a grisly trail of innards stretching several feet in their wake - and observers desperately trying to work out why.


In the wake of the confusion, reports have also emerged of toads meeting a similarly gruesome fate in Denmark.

Despite much puzzling, experts have yet to find any reason for the amphibians to balloon to three times their size before literally exploding, as eyewitnesses to the unfortunate incidents have claimed.

Various theories independently explaining observations of bloated toads and messy remains lead many biologists to think that observers have been leaping to conclusions, and that the toads are not really exploding.


The water from the pond and from the nearby River Elbe contains no pathogen or pesticide that is known to be lethal to wildlife. And when Himmelreich and her colleagues carried out a biotest on the water (they put fish and shrimps in to see if they could survive) it came out clean.

Frank Mutschmann, a Berlin-based veterinarian, has examined some of the corpses and says that they bear the scars of a predator’s attack. He thinks birds may simply have made a very messy job of eating their favourite parts of the toads, such as the liver.

April and May are the months when toads migrate to ponds to spawn, Himmelreich points out, which means that this season could represent easy pickings for birds. Perhaps the walkers let their imaginations run wild when they chanced upon the victims, she proposes. Himmelreich says she has never seen a toad explode.

There are some symptoms that might lead an observer to think that a toad was on the verge of blowing up, Himmelreich adds, particularly if a wounded toad wandered into a pond. “Maybe they were full of water, and in their agony they were also trying to suck in air,” Himmelreich says. People watching bloated, rasping toads might well think an explosion was imminent, she says.

Some toads are also known to puff themselves up as a defence reaction, perhaps as a means of warding off attack by snakes aiming to swallow them whole. But zoologists doubt that a toad could swell to three times its usual size.

“I really think someone needs to go back and check the primary source,” comments Barry Clarke, a herpetologist at the Natural History Museum in London. “I’ve learnt never to say with animals that anything is impossible. But the idea of exploding toads - well let’s face it, it’s pythonesque.”

So, perhaps all anyone actually saw were puffed-up toads, then later dead toads with their entrails dragged out by birds. Someone concludes, “The frogs MUST have EXPLODED!!” and an international media firestorm begins.

Oh, good - guess that means that while a few of them croaked due to birds, they weren’t croaking en masse.

While I’m curious about the crow theory, my understanding is that crows are not generally nocturnal birds; since the toads seem to be “exploding” mostly around 2 and 3 a.m., it seems a bit uncharacteristic of the crows to be the sole cause for this. I’ve also heard that biologists have been posted at the sites in order to monitor any possible predatory causes for the phenomenon - does anyone think they might notice crows pecking the livers out of hundreds of toads? I’m just saying…

Exploding toads are obviously the future of toad ‘design’ as only someting intelligent can be behind explosions such as these. After all, we’re the most intelligent animal on the planet and we blow things up all the time; bombs, cars, mountains, Iraqi civlians and many other things.

Do you think ants can comprehend who we are? If we were created you think we could comprehend who made us?

Ants may not be able to understand what we are, but an ant is still very much aware of an ant-eater that tries to break into its nest or a human for that matter. In terms of some designer, we have more chance of being able to understand such a designer than an ant, unless you are claiming that ants and humans are equally as intelligent? Of course, you can never establish if there is any intelligent designer so this is nothing more than an appeal to ignorance. Not a good debating style I’m afraid.

You might want to look at the German sites (just a thought). You will note that the municipal site http://fhh.hamburg.de/stadt (Your editer wouldn’t let me include the rest of this url) says only that hundreds of toad were found dead. Nothing about exploding. You have to look in the popular press for exploding stories eg http://www.sueddeutsche.de/,trt2m1/[…]el/65/52013/ Such stories mostly seem not to be from Hamburg papers.

We need to get some camera men to hang out at the Pond Of Death for a few days so I can see all the action :D

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on April 26, 2005 1:30 AM.

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