The Greatest Ecological Threat Australia Has Seen


Yes, the week before last I was talking to you about fire ants and the danger they pose to Australia. Indeed, one source described them as the greatest ecological threat this country has seen since……………..

This ugly little critter. Of course, it is the cane toad. Before I tell you about the cane toad I just want to say that there is a very interesting twist to the story at the end.

The cane toad was introduced to Australia in 1935 to control the cane beetle. Big mistake! It didn’t control them and has since become a massive pest here in Australia. I don’t know where to begin to describe the problem with cane toads, But this is a start.

They will eat anything, meat, insects and plants. They breed fast, apparently a female cane toad can lay as many as 40,000 eggs in one season. But probably the biggest, baddest thing about the cane toad is that it is toxic. So any other animal who decides to eat a cane toad can become very ill or even die. It has been known for a large cane toad to poison a dog. So, cane toads are very bad Australia bad things.

I remember seeing a programme about cane toads probably about 10 years ago, when I was still living in England. The way they described the problem, I had visions of an Australia where it was almost impossible to walk down the street without stepping on several cane toads.

Who knows, perhaps 10 years ago it was like that. But it’s not too bad now. I bet I don’t see one a month as I go about my business but, having said that, it wasn’t difficult to get the photograph of the cane toad above.

Knowing I was going to be writing about cane toads soon, one evening I went outside to see if I could find one. Within two minutes I had my picture. They’re not too difficult to find when you look.

Here in Australia it is illegal to kill much of the wildlife. Snakes, for example, are protected. But not the cane toad. Help yourself! In fact the government give guidelines on the best way of killing a cane toad.

Section 42 of the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 allows the euthanasia of pest animals including cane toads provided the method of control is ‘done in a way that causes the animals as little pain as is reasonable’. And the recommended way of killing a cane toad is to:

1.    Pop him in a plastic container.
2.    Chill him for an hour in the fridge.
3.    Then put him in the freezer compartment for 16 hours.
4.    Finally, bury him or place him in a compost heap, away from pets.

And you all thought I was going to say smack him with a shovel!

I said there was a little twist in this tale and this is it. As mentioned, had the fire ant become uncontrollable as the cane toad currently is, it too would have presented as great an ecological threat as our ugly friend does. But recently, scientists in Sydney have discovered that another ant, the meat ant, could well be the new weapon against cane toads.

Meat ants can grow to up to a centimetre long and have big strong mouths, and they just love the taste of baby cane toads. Toxins and all. Even better, the native frogs (which we don’t want to harm) run (or hop) like billio from these scary ants, while the stoopid cane toad continues moving towards them. Ideal!

And the cane toad is stoopid, you can’t even chase them away….

My one concern with all this? In 10 years time I could be writing a blog post about giant meat ants, six to 8 inches long, devouring possums, small pets and …. scientists bringing in Amazonian Anteaters to help control the situation.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Col B. (Colin Burns) August 17, 2010, 4:37 am |

    You’re right, Bob. I mispelt the scientific name for Cane Toads. My bad!.
    As for Jumping Ants (also known as Jumper-jacks) in the Byron Bay hinterlands are in the MYRMECIA group but the last Binomial name differs in this group. For instance, the Jumper-Jacks Bull Ants of southeastern Australia, Tasmania and southeast South Australia is called MYRMECIA PILOSULA. The Ants you mentioned as MYRMECIA NIGROCINCTA in the Brisbane area is in the same family of MYRMECIA Bull Ants .
    I do not know the last binonial name (that comes after the name MYRMECIA) to the Black and yellow Jumper-Jacks of Far North Coast NSW. But certainly they are all in the same MYRMECIA category.
    Wkipedia states that the MYRMECIA family of Bull Ants are 10 to 12 mm long. Are natives to Australia.
    – Black or red and black, and may have yellow or orange legs, antennae and mandibles.
    – Are highly territorial.
    – Their characteristic jumping motion when in an agitated state gave them their name.
    – Their nest may be inconspicuously hidden under a rock, or may be formed from a 20 to 60 cm diameter mound of finely granular gravel.
    – The venom from its sting is similar to stings of Wasps, Bees and Fire Ants.
    – Its venom is one of the most powerful in the insect world.
    – Are carnivorous and scavengers.
    – They are known to hunt Wasps and devour them.
    – In Tasmania, these Ants cause more Human deaths than Spiders, Snakes, Wasps, and Sharks combined.
    Oh yes, we could get together someday to talk about any topics, l’d be happy to, thanx Bob.
    Anyway, back to Cane Toads. The streets lined with these critters only happen in a sporadic population explosion when the town has non-stop wet weeks. Considering Byron Bay and its hinterlands is smack in the second wettest region in Australia. But I certainly see a few of them anywhere in this region on any other day that is even a little lesser wet.

    • BobinOz August 19, 2010, 12:35 am |

      Well Colin, you’ve given me a lot of new spider names to check, too many to do now. But when I get time, I will go through them all for spelling errors 8)

      But seriously, ants are a bit of a worry, especially some of those big critters you have described. I had Antbo invade my house last summer, he is/was depending on what really happened, which nobody will ever know including me, the and worlds equivalent of Rambo. You can read about my confrontation with Antbo here.

      But if it comes to a straight fight between these meat ants and those ugly cane toads, I’m siding with the ants. I’d rather try dealing with those than the ever swelling population of cane toads.

  • BobinOz August 3, 2010, 12:50 am |

    Of course, I googled it, which is what I do any time I “don’t know”. But even Google was stumped with “Bufus Marinas” but they do refer to the ugly warty cane toad as “bufo marinus”. Forgive me for the correction, but I’m nothing if not pedantic.

    Anyway, it sounds like some places are exactly like the documentary I saw back in England that I mention above. Streets lined with cane toads! They don’t mention that much in the tourist blurb for Byron Bay do they?

    As for those fire ants, I thought Brisbane had pretty much got them all under control. We have Jumper Ants here (Myrmecia nigrocincta) are they the same as Jumping Jacks? Possibly not. Ours are black and reddish-brown. But they jump and sting just the same.

    And as for those shellback ticks and prickly pear epidemic, well…….

    Well, I’m off to Google ’em.

    Anyway Colin, you sound like my kind of guy. Whilst I love the sun, the sea, the sand and the sky here in Australia, I love nothing more than a good Australian bad thing. We should get together someday and talk about rabbits, rats, mice and plagues.

  • COLIN BURNS August 2, 2010, 4:48 pm |

    Brisbane may not yet be invaded by a horde of BUFUS MARINAS. They kind of by-pass through the Tamborine Ranges as well as cohorts of them moving through Brissy in search of water accesses, of which the city has less accessible water and less rainfalls for these warty blowthroats to reside as compared to the immediate surrounding hinterlands. That’s why you don’t see them much on city streets as they are in small (cohorts) numbers. But the main movement (hordes) push on through the nearby Ranges southwards and down the NSW coastline and along the Great Dividng Range.They move into the rainfall areas like Byron Bay and Mullumbimby where you get to see on a wet-filmy towned day at least fifty of them in the streets!.
    Bufuses even perch themselves in bathrooms of human residences, in fact anywhere else where there are signs of any wet patches.
    I lived 7km out of Mullumbimby for 13 years and these are a bigger common sight than any other creatures you see when day or night is wet. Maybe l should have moved to Brissy instead if it was’nt for Fire Ants.
    Also commonly prevalent in the area (Byron Shire) are those other Ants called ‘Jumping Jacks’ which are medium sized black and yellow Bullants. These Ants actually charge and hop towards you and unleash their nasty stings into your skin if you’re in their territory albeit in my own yard!. You ask any local people in this shire and they’ll tell you they are commonplace and a pain in the ass with a sting as painful as a wasp!. I often tended to my vege patch and l see anywhere between a single Jumping Jack to an army of them doing the Incredible Hulk charging leaps toward me! One alone leaves you with a fat swollen left index finger twice the size as your right one.
    One other creature that is commonplace in the subtropicals are another equally but unseen nasty that smell your sweat are those parasites called SHELLBACK TICKS. Now these are about the same size as three or four common Fleas put together. You don’t notice them boring their heads into your skin and vein at first until a day or so when you start to feel an urge to scratch an itch. They’re poisonous but not always deadly to humans except sometimes Toddlers and small domestic pets like cats and small dogs if not treated with the anti-venom. I copped around 11 of these silent pests over a 13 year period. They even creep up on your bed or drop out of trees onto your body or via your shoes, and, you’ll find the next day that your right foot has swollen twice the size as your left foot, or anywhere on your body where sweat is concentrated.
    Both JUMPING JACKS and SHELLBACK TICKS are a force to beckon with.
    Wild RABBITS populations returning out of control. PRICKLY PEAR epidemic finally controlled in the middle of last century. hmm….RATS AND MICE still in mini-plague proportions every summer……

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