Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places — Froggies Croak a Warning

March 3, 2010 | By | Comments (9)



Far be for the Grump to intrude on an intimate interlude, but this particular amphibious assignation my be even more intimate than you think. There may be more than two frogs involved here. In fact, there may be four.

Chalk it up to a widely used herbicide called atrazine. Farmers love this chemical, because it controls weeds in corn, sorghum, sugar cane, and other crops. Lawn care companies love this chemical because it’s one of the few herbicides out there that keeps common weeds from germinating and also kills weeds that are already growing. It’s a prime ingredient in weed-and-feed fertilizers formulated for use on Southern grasses, such as St. Augustine and centipede. And it’s the only garden chemical that I know of that regularly shows up in water quality tests done by municipal water systems.

How does atrazine wind up in our water? It’s water soluble. So if you put it down and either water a lot or it rains a lot, atrazine washes straight down into ground water, streams, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. It’s persistent too. In France, where it’s been banned for 15 years, it still shows up in ground water. In this country, if you have a well in the South or Midwest, there’s a fighting chance you’re drinking and washing with atrazine.

Now, you can install home filtration systems to take out the atrazine, but golly gee, I’d just as soon not have to depend on that. (FYI, atrazine is made by a Swiss company and is banned in Switzerland. That tell you anything?)

Now for the Bad News

Although atrazine is a very effective, broad-spectrum herbicide, its misuse inevitably causes problems. As I said before, it easily travels through soil. So if you apply it to your lawn to kill, say, dollarweed, it may flow with the water to the root systems of desirable trees and shrubs. Atrazine damage typically shows up as chlorosis in new foliage — the leaf turns yellow or even white and the midvein stays green. If the affected tree or shrub absorbs enough atrazine, it dies too. Whoops.

But atrazine doesn’t stop with plants, and here’s where the frogs come in. The EPA has set the limit for atrazine contamination in drinking water to 3 parts per billion. Tyrone B. Hayes, Associate Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California at Berkeley, recently exposed frog tadpoles to atrazine at 1/10 part per billion. And when those tadpoles turned into adult frogs, about 20% developed “reproductive abnormalities.”

* Some male frogs turned into females and copulated with unexposed male frogs and produced eggs.

* The voice boxes of some males shrunk, so now they croak soprano.

* Males showed decreased libido and lower sperm count.

* Some frogs turned into hermaphrodites with both male and female sex organs. This leaves open the possibility of one frog fertilizing itself. Wow — intimacy taken to a whole new level!

What This Could Mean for You

Don’t think because you and your spouse are not frogs, you get a free ride. A lot more research on this issue needs to be done, but it makes sense to me that what happens to frogs could happen to people. So, ladies, if an analysis of your drinking water shows the presence of atrazine, ask yourself the following questions:

* Does my husband show less interest in sports and more interest in shopping for shoes?

* Has my husband demanded that we pick out new curtains?

* Is my husband suddenly leaving the toilet seat down?

* Does my husband remember an argument we had over socks in 1996 and wake me up at 3 AM to continue it?

* Does my husband complain that we just don’t communicate?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may have an atrazine problem. Hopefully, the EPA will take action against this herbicide just as the Europeans have done, but until that happens, the Grump advises not using any garden product that contains atrazine. Which ones do? Read the labels!

Just the Two of Us

In the meantime, I just can’t help thinking about those hermaphroditic frogs. When you first hear about it, you feel sorry for them. But then you realize these lucky frogs will never have to worry about finding dates.

As so I’m reminded of  a love song by Bill Withers and Grover Washington Jr. that really speaks to this happy situation.

Just the two of us


We can make it if we try


Just the two of us

Me and I.


  1. Grumpy Gardener (His Grace)

    I understand that Canada has banned the use of chemical pesticides for ornamentals and New York is about to do the same. So what do I do about my stinking crabgrass?

    April 2, 2010 at 12:32 pm
  2. Jim Long

    Dr. Irwin, in Hudson, Quebec, has battled for years to get her town lawn chemical-free. The town was sued by the country’s largest lawn care company, a battle that went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court, but the town won in 2001. There’s a great, award winning documentary, “A Chemical Reaction” that’s worth watching and sharing. It’s available on DVD from http://www.SafeLawns.org. Our wildlife and our kids don’t need to suffer, there are safer alternatives. Thanks for the great post Grumpy.

    April 2, 2010 at 12:16 pm
  3. Leigh. Tales from Bloggeritaville

    Tales from Bloggeritaville

    March 9, 2010 at 10:51 pm
  4. Aunty Matter

    Aww, who hasn’t used the microwave to dry out your hamster?
    It also doubles as an excellent time-out room for the occaisionally misbehaving puppy.

    March 6, 2010 at 2:12 pm
  5. Aunty Grass

    Seems to me yet another argument for people getting rid of their lawns. We’re not England where it’s damp and rainy much the time, providing a suitable environment for swaths of grass. The amount of time, water, harsh chemicals, mower fuel and environmental damage done in American suburbia to get a green lawn seems to significantly outweigh any beauty people find in their patch of grass. So many other botanical options could fill that yard space!!

    March 5, 2010 at 9:25 am
  6. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Dave, the real test will be whether you get front row seats to a Cher concert.

    March 4, 2010 at 12:38 pm
  7. Dave

    That is some scary stuff. I just leave the whole weed and feed completely alone. I think too many people have this notion of what you “have” (i.e. fertilizers etc.) to do to a lawn which is actually way different from what you need to do! Now you have me paranoid about our drinking water!

    March 3, 2010 at 10:56 pm
  8. Cameron (Defining Your Home)

    Scary. Good warning to the world. Glad I haven’t used the stuff. Our bullfrogs are the size of chihuahuas and that’s bad enough.

    March 3, 2010 at 10:28 pm
  9. jan p.

    Great post! I’m chuckling over most of it. BUT, it’s disturbing that a chemical that’s been banned in France for 15 years is being used in this country. Europeans make fun of us for having so many warnings to protect us from our own stupidity, as with desiccants having labels that read, “DO NOT EAT,” or microwave ovens warning us not to place our pets in them. With realistic hazards that affect more than a handful of dimwits, we fail miserably.

    March 3, 2010 at 1:06 pm

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