Cane Toad


Cane toads are pest animals - at least in Australia.

They are big, they are ugly, and in some places they are everywhere, so you have to watch your steps to not to step on one.

They are too poisonous to touch and too disgusting to step on, so all you can do is to walk around one and do your best to ignore it.

And that's hard to do too because they don't belong here, being introduced pests that kill and compete with native animals.


The toad (Bufo marinus) is native to central and south America and has, besides Australia, been introduced to about 15 other countries.

I am not sure if they have other popular names in the other countries, but at least its name in Australia - cane toad - comes from sugar cane that the toad was meant to save from cane beetles (never did).

cane toad

You cannot travel through eastern Queensland, not even along the main coastal highway, without noticing just how widely grown sugar cane is.

A lot of the time you have cane fields on both sides of the road anywhere between Daintree in the north and Hervey Bay in the south.

The cane has been grown here since the early 1900s, mainly by generations of south European immigrants.

In the early 1930s, before chemicals (and don't even get me started on that subject..) started being used in the sugar cane industry, they had problems with cane beetles that destroyed the cane.

Somebody smart said that a big American toad could be the perfect solution as it was known for being a hardy animal and an efficient predator.

So
Bufo marinus was introduced from Hawaii, and after a period of time growing and breeding in captivity, was released to the wild in many spots along coastal Queensland (Cairns, Innisfail, Ingham, Ayr, Mackay and Bundaberg. The first lot was released in 1935 in Gordonvale just south of Cairns).

Like many other introduced animals, cane toads were and still are very successful, and have by now spread all the way south to the border of New South Wales, and west, through Northern Territory to the border of Western Australia.

And they did not affect the cane beetles (why - you will have explained at the Cane Toad Races).

What Do the Cane Toads Look Like?

Cane toads can look a bit like some of our native frogs (such as giant burrowing frog and eastern pobblebonk frog), but their skin is warty and drier.

They can grow up to 10-20cm long but the largest one recorded was 24cm.

Big for an amphibian. And they sit upright.

They are most often brownish, but can also be grey or yellowish, and the belly is paler but has a pattern with dark mottlings.

Their head can look almost swollen because of their large poison glands behind their ears.

cane toads
            
They are easier seen during darkness hours, as they like to burrow themselves into moist soil during the midday and afternoon heat.

What Do the Cane Toads Eat and What Eats Them?

Cane toads eat mainly insects (bugs, beetels, crickets, termites, ants, bees) but will also eat food scraps, dead animals and steal pet food.

Occasionally they also take a snail, a small native frog, a small snake and even a small mammal.

Tadpoles eat water plants such as algae, and filter organic matter from the water. Occasionally they cannibalise on cane toad eggs.


Tadpoles are eaten by keelback snakes, saw shelled turtles, water beetles and dragonfly nymphs.
 
The animals, and birds, that eat adult cane toads include crocodiles, water rats, wolf spiders, kites, crows, bush curlews, tawny frogmouths and white faced herons.

Some predators
, such as keelback snakes and saw shelled turtles can tolerate their poison, but most have learned to avoid eating the poison glands.

Breeding and Life Cycle

Their breeding season is the Wet Season, and mating starts after the first storms. In some places they can also mate and breed all year around.

Females lay about 20,000 eggs that hatch in about 48 hours. Once they hatch they become tadpoles and that stage lasts about 10 weeks but can vary depending on water temperatures and food resources.

The next stage is toadlets that get out of the water, and that stage can last a year (in the tropics including Cape York) or two (further south) before they reach maturity.

They can live for up to 15 years (in captivity) but in the wild up to five year olds have been recorded.

How Are They Bad for Environment?

No introduced species is good in an environment where they don't belong.

* Like other introduced animals, they compete with native species about food resources and habitat.

* They kill native wildlife that feed on amphibians, because they are poisonous.

* They can also carry diseases that can be transmitted to native wildlife.

cane toad pest

Indirectly the above affects other species in the food chain and finally the entire food web and ecosystem.

Native frogs and reptiles (geckos, skinks, and other small lizards) whose niche they use obviously decrease in numbers.

Native animals that feed on them include freshwater crocodiles, goannas, quolls, dingos, red bellied black snakes, tiger snakes, and death adders.


But goannas for example feed on crocodile eggs. So obviously that increases the amount of crocodiles.

And that's only one example. The ecosystem eventually gets out of balance, some species may be favoured, others may finally go extinct.

They Are Also Dangerous to Us and Our Pets

They also poison a dog or a cat that eats a cane toad.

The signs include
shallow breathing, vomiting, twitching, profuse salivation and collapse of the hind limbs.

It is a kind of poison that affects heart function, and the death may happen as quickly as within 15 minutes.

There have been no human deaths in Australia, but there have been human deaths in other countries where cane toads or their eggs have been eaten by humans.

cane toad australia
     
However, their poison can also affect us externally.


If a cane toad feels threatened, it turns sideways towards the attacker so that the venom glands are in the best position, and lets the poison ooze out of the glands.

If you stick your arm or leg even closer or try to pick it up, it can squirt a spray of poison over a short distance.

Don't let that happen close to your face, because eyes, nose and mouth have the kind of membranes that absorb the poison.


It can cause strong pain, inflammation, skin irritation, burning of the hands and eyes, and even temporary blindness.

If that happens, wash your eyes, nose and mouth with plenty of water. If the symptoms don't go away, seek medical help.


cane toad races hartley crocodile adventure

Control of Cane Toads 

There are no simple methods to get rid of them however the research is happening and different methods have been proposed to control them.

Some of the ideas include releasing sterile males, removing eggs from ponds, and blocking access to waterholes.

If you have a native frog / fish pond that you want to protect, a half a metre high fence around it does a pretty good job.

Cane Toad Races

If you are from southern parts of Australia, you may have never seen a cane toad.

cane toad races port douglas

You will most likely see them in the bush and around human dwellings while you are up here, but if not there is a great chance not only to see them but also to get up and close.

cane toad races iron bat

The place is the famous Iron Bar in Port Douglas, and as you see people are quite happy not only to hold them but even kiss them!

cane toad races iron bar port douglas

Run by a guy from the Hartley Crocodile Adventure, it's good fun and a chance to win some prizes.


cane toad races

Every participant will have to get their toad going, and the quickest ones win drinks, dinner vouchers and entrance tickets to the Hartley Crocodile Adventure, but most of all it's worth watching for a good laugh :-)





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