Weird Fact: After 102 cane toads were introduced to Australia in 1935 to quell beetle populations, the venomous beasts multiplied to more than 200 million in number and have seriously damaged the local ecology.
Hindsight is 20/20.
If only the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations could have known this back in 1935… They wouldn’t have dreamed of releasing 102 sprightly young cane toads in northeastern Australia in an attempt to bring down the local cane beetle population.
Despite similar successful campaigns to save sugar cane fields in Hawaii and the Philippines, the introduction of cane toads in Australia was a total disaster.
Not only did the toads fail to suppress the target beetle population, they quickly made pests of themselves by reproducing at an astonishing rate – laying 30,000 eggs in a single year.
Worse, though, was their widespread effect on indigenous animals. The venomous cane toad harbors a mix of toxins throughout its body, which is secreted as a cloudy liquid via glands in its shoulders. Once ingested, the toxins affect heart function, and cane toads can easily kill snakes, lizards, water birds and crocodiles. They have even poisoned curious pets and humans.
This is what happens when scientists introduce a novel animal (in this case from the Americas – and never before seen in Australia) to a complex ecological system that evolved along entirely separate lines. With few natural predators, plenty of food (they’re not choosy eaters), and an astonishing reproductive rate, the cane toad is taking over Australia and remains a massive problem to this day.
To make matters worse, the warty beasts have evolved longer legs and are now spreading five times faster than when they first arrived in the country nearly 80 years ago. Some nights, they can expand their territory by nearly 1 mile.
Australian scientists now consider cane toads an “ecological nightmare”. Even with highly motivated citizens killing off toads themselves, they simply aren’t killing them fast enough to slow down the out-of-control population growth.
Chatback: Do you live in Australia? What’s your experience of cane toads?