Explanation for missing limbs in deformed amphibians



We present evidence that the most commonly found deformities in wild-caught amphibians, those featuring missing limbs and missing limb segments, may be the result of selective predation. Here we report that predatory dragonfly nymphs can severely injure and even fully amputate developing hind limbs of anuran tadpoles. Developmental responses of the injured/amputated tadpole limbs range from complete regeneration to no regeneration, with intermediate conditions represented by various idiosyncratic limb deformities, depending mainly on the developmental stage of the tadpole at the time of injury/amputation. These findings were reinforced by experimental amputations of anuran tadpole hind limbs that resulted in similar deformities. Our studies suggest that selective predation by dragonfly nymphs and other aquatic predators may play a significant role in the most common kinds of limb deformities found in natural populations of amphibians. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 312B:770–779, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.