Why Chernobyl’s Tree Frogs Are Raising Eyebrows


| LAST UPDATE 10/23/2022

By Amie Alfaro
Tree Frog Chernobyl Radiation
Lev Savitskiy via Getty Images

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is one of the most infamous accidents in history. It has been forbidden to visitors due to the extremely high radiation levels, and since then, it has become one of the largest nature reserves in Europe. Recently, scientists studying the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have published an odd discovery – the tree frogs around the site have been adapting.

In 1986, a reactor went out of control during a test and contaminated the surrounding areas with radioactive materials. The entire town of Pripyat was evacuated, and the site has been carrying on without human presence. Due to the Chernobyl disaster, the area's organic life has been dramatically impacted, and scientists have been studying the effects. Leaves have changed shapes, and some animals have shown deformities. Then, in 2016, researchers noticed tree frogs with an unusual black tint when usually that species, the Hyla orientalis, boasts a bright green hue. Upon seeing this difference, researchers began to study melanin in the Chernobyl wildlife.

Ukraine Chernobyl Disaster Site
German Meyer via Getty Images
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Melanin is a dark pigment that is responsible for making organisms darker. Additionally, melanin protects against the adverse side effects of ultraviolet radiation. It absorbs and dissipates the radiation, which increases the survival chances of those affected. Over the next few years, the researchers studied more than 200 male frogs. Since the frogs with darker pigmentation had a better survival rate against radiation exposure, they could reproduce more successfully. Now, the darker frogs are the more dominant variety of the species in the forbidden zone. Researchers wrote, "The results of our study suggest that Chernobyl frogs could have undergone a process of rapid evolution in response to radiation."

The frogs of Chernobyl have given scientists an exclusive look at the evolutionary process. Also, the scientists note that this discovery "opens the doors to promising applications in fields as diverse as nuclear waste management and space exploration." Read the study in its entirety for more information.

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