Cane toads

These toads were being used successfully in the Caribbean islands and in Hawaii to combat the cane beetle, a pest of sugar cane crops. After good reviews from overseas, Hawaii shipped a box of toads to Gordonvale, just south of Cairns. These were held in captivity for awhile and then they were released into the sugar cane fields of the tropic north. It was later discovered that the toads can’t jump very high so they did not eat the cane beetles which stayed up on the upper stalks of the cane plants. At the time of year when the beetle’s larvae were emerging from the ground, no toads were about. So the cane toad, as it came to be known, had no impact on the cane beetles at all and farmers had to go back to the use of chemicals to kill the beetle. Meanwhile, the ‘cat was out of the bag’ or, more accurately, the toads were out of the box! But there were only 102 of them so nobody gave any thought to catching them up again and disposing of them. The toads were on their own and they proved to be very hardy survivors. They turned out to be a lot more than they bargained for and it didn’t take long to find out how well the toads would do in their new Australian home. Firstly, they breed like flies, as the saying goes. Each pair of cane toads can lay 20,000 per breeding season. Their ‘toadpoles’ develop faster than many Australian frogs so they can out compete our frogs for food. Toads and toadpoles seem to be resistant to some herbicides and eutrophic water which would normally kill frogs and tadpoles. All stages of a toad’s life are poisonous so they have no natural predators to keep their numbers in check. Finally, toads not only eat the food normally available to Australian frogs, there is growing anecdotal evidence that they eat frogs as well. Captive cane toads will eat everything from dog food to mice and they keep growing until they reach 25cm in length and over 2 kilos. In recent years, it has been noticed that toads in the Cairns are…

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