High prevalences of hindlimb deformities were recorded in wild-caught green frogs (Rana clamitans), northern leopard frogs (Rana pipiens), American toads (Bufo americanus), and bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) from agricultural sites exposed to pesticide runoff in the St. Lawrence River Valley of Québec, Canada, between July and September 1992 and 1993. Of 853 metamorphosing anurans examined in 14 farmland habitats, 106 (12%; range 0 to 69%) had severe degrees of ectromelia and ectrodactyly, compared to only two (0.7%; range 0 to 7.7%) of 271 in 12 control sites. However, the variation in the proportion of deformities among sites was too large to conclude that there was a significant difference between control and pesticide-exposed habitats. Clinical signs varied and were characterized by segmental hypoplasia or agenesis of affected limbs. Conspicuous abnormalities interfered with swimming and hopping, and likely constituted a survival handicap. Because of circumstances and the frequency of these malformations in nine distinct habitats, and in three different species from one of our study sites, we propose a teratogenic action of exogenous factors. Despite the fact that many biotic and abiotic agents are potentially harmful to limb development, agricultural contaminants were suspected as primary aggressors. Thus, clinical examination and frequency of deformities in anurans might be an economical screening tool to assess ecosystem health and the presence of environmental contaminants.
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