Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 29, 2017

Contact: Jenny Loda, (510) 844-7100 x 336,

Study: Frogs in Pet Trade Carry Deadly Salamander Disease, Threatening Wild Populations

WASHINGTON— The journal Amphibia-Reptilia has published a study documenting a new pet-trade frog pathway for a deadly salamander fungus to enter the United States.

Previously only found on salamanders, the deadly fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) was discovered by the study’s authors on small-webbed fire belly toads recently imported in Germany. Bsal is a highly virulent pathogen from Asia that has already nearly wiped out wild fire salamanders in the Netherlands and Belgium.

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and Save the Frogs, in  January 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put a rule in place restricting imports of 201 species of salamanders for the pet trade. This restriction was designed to prevent the introduction and spread of the disease across the United States. Bsal is not currently known to be present in North America, in part thanks to those 2016 restrictions.

“This study shows that every new shipment of amphibians into the United States could introduce this deadly disease,” said Jenny Loda, a Center biologist and attorney dedicated to protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “We just can't take that risk. The Fish and Wildlife Service has to act fast to expand import restrictions on amphibians and keep this disease from infecting our wild salamanders.”

Although small-webbed toads are a relatively rare species in the wildlife trade, this finding is of great concern because their close relative, the oriental fire-bellied toad, is traded in huge numbers. More than 3.5 million oriental fire-bellied toads were imported into the United States between 2001 and 2009.

A 2014 study revealed that Bsal is lethal to salamanders in the United States. Scientists and conservation groups called on the Fish and Wildlife Service to take swift action to suspend salamander imports to prevent the spread of this disease. Since then Bsal has spread to Germany, and Bsal infections were discovered in three species of European salamanders imported to the United Kingdom.

“The introduction of devastating animal diseases, like the pathogens that have wiped out millions of bats in the eastern U.S. and frog populations across the country, has become frighteningly common,” Loda said. “This new study confirms that there are a multitude of carriers that can spread this deadly pathogen throughout the world.”

Bsal is a relative of the better-known killer chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), one of the major drivers of amphibian declines and extinctions throughout the world. Bd has contributed to declines of numerous species in the United States and is a primary factor in the rapid decline of mountain yellow-legged frog populations.

Bsal is especially lethal to newts, including the eastern newt, a widespread species found across 33 states. The disease also poses a severe threat to rare populations of salamanders, especially since a third of the nation’s salamanders are already at risk of extinction from threats like habitat loss and climate change. Bsal infections could extirpate remaining populations of the striped newt, a rare species that has been a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection since 2011.

Eastern newt

Eastern newt photo by Patrick Coin. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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