Not content with conquering the north of Australia, and slowly making its way to the south, the cane toad (Bufo marinus) seems to have set its sights on our neighbour across the ditch, New Zealand.
I’d seen the silver gulls harassing something on South Ballina Beach, and recognised the gait as that of a frog. And was bowled over to discover it was a big, boofy Bufo! Perhaps it was trying to escape from the gulls – it was a long way from the dune vegetation. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself, hopping its way into the seawater at South Ballina Beach – New Zealand here we come!
The cane toad was deliberately introduced to Queensland in 1935 to eat beetles doing damage to commercial sugar cane plantations. It is a native of Central and South America. It didn’t succeed in controlling the beetles, soon bred prolifically and has been making its way across the continent ever since. It reached our place in northern New South Wales about four years ago, and in summer we see several a night around the house. Its call is somewhat like a lawn mower – a steady rattle. The recommended humane method of disposal is to keep it in a refrigerator for a few hours (to put it into dormancy), then freeze it solid. Some other people are not so kind, but there’s no need for vindictiveness.
Cane toads are poisonous at all stages of their lives, from eggs to adults. Anything eating them – birds, lizards, other frogs, snakes, fish, crocodiles – will get very sick or die. Occasionally we hear or read reports about a particular species being able to survive, or a bird learning to turn over the body before attacking (the poison glands are on the top, behind the head), but in general the outlook is pretty grim for many species. Fortunately the eggs are very easy to tell from those of other frogs, so you can destroy them when you see them.
In the photo below you can see the poison glands right behind the eyes, level with the ‘forearms’. Pet dogs have been poisoned by drinking water from bowls a toad has been sitting in. Alas, there are so many of them, they’re here to stay.