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Japan’s first case in the wild of a deadly fungus that has been wiping out frogs around the world has been confirmed just months after the fungus was detected in captive imported frogs, a team of scientists announced.

The scientists from Azabu University in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, and the National Institute for Environmental Studies said at a weekend conference that the case involving four American bullfrogs in Kanagawa Prefecture was detected as they examined 132 frogs and newts of 23 species that inhabit Japan as part of an initial study.

Out of the total, genetic traces of the parasitic fungus were detected in 42 of the amphibians, or 31.9 percent.

Besides the four bullfrogs, which had no human contact before they were directly taken from the wild and tested, the figure includes 38 frogs and newts from Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki and Okinawa prefectures that were acquired through pet shops or Internet auctions.

Because the latter conceivably could have been infected during the period of captivity, however short, the scientists said it is too early to tell whether the fungus has spread to the wild in prefectures other than Kanagawa, although that cannot be ruled out.

The chytrid fungus, first detected in 1998, is blamed for frog population plunges and even the extinction of species in Central America and Australia in recent years, though it has not been nearly as damaging to frogs in North America and Europe.

Scientists are now scrambling to acquire data to help gauge the extent of the problem and to assess the impact it would have on Japan’s ecosystem and biodiversity if the fungus, which spreads through water or by direct contact, were to sweep the country.

“It’s crucial that we move fast to gain an understanding of the chytrid fungus situation in the country so we can come up with plans to address it,” said team member Yumi Une, an assistant professor at Azabu University’s school of veterinary medicine.

The fungus, only known to affect amphibians, was first detected in Japan by Une’s team of researchers Dec. 25 in imported frogs kept by a Tokyo frog enthusiast that had suddenly taken ill and subsequently died.

For related stories:
Lethal fungus in Okinawa frogs
Lethal fungus so far hits 20 captive frogs, a threat to nation’s amphibians

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