Lessons From Nature
9th November, 2005
Episode Two - Poison Toads
Whooping like a cowboy, Bruce zigzagged his 4x4 through the Queensland dusk. On the road behind him – carnage. Scores of squished and warty bodies. Toads, dead and dying, up to 10 inches long, mottled yellow and brown and red, packed with poison.
Bruce didn’t enjoy taking life – not usually – indeed his farmer friends sometimes joshed him about being squeamish. But cane toads were an exception. They brought out an unsuspected violent streak in Bruce. Hard to blame him – two of his dogs had died from licking the toads’ toxic skin, and neighbours told of fatally tainted drinking troughs.
Bufo marinus, dubbed cane toad in Australia, is one of the few amphibians and reptiles to become naturalised around the world. It has certainly been the most destructive. A four-legged venom factory, it menaces all sorts of creatures – its predators as well as its prey – and is lethal even when dead.
In 1935, Queensland’s sugar-cane growers saw Bufo marinus as a potential saviour. This insect-gobbling toad, newly introduced from Hawaii, promised to make short work of the beetles ravaging the sugar plantations.
At last, the perfect pest...
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