It's not unusual to spot a cane toad if you're in Queensland. What is unusual is the increasing number of these warty, toxic pests making their way down Australia's east coast and into NSW.
Following reports of cane toad sightings on a private property an hour's drive north of Sydney, biosecurity experts are now concerned about the risk of a cane toad outbreak in NSW. As this is a biosecurity concern, we're going to take a look at what these toxic intruders are, how to spot them, and what you can do to stop them from spreading - in a humane way.
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What exactly are cane toads?
We all have some idea of what a cane toad is - They're scaly, warty, have big eyes, webbed toes, make loud croaking noises, and are poisonous. However, it can be surprisingly difficult to tell the difference between a cane toad and a harmless native frog as both species share the same features. Having said that, adult cane toads have these features unique to them:
Distinct bony ridges above the eyes, which run down the snout
A large paratoid gland behind each eye
Unwebbed hands and webbed toes
Dry warty skin
A range of colours from grey, yellowish, red-brown, or olive-brown, with varying patterns.
It's very important that you correctly identify a cane toad as native frogs are protected by law. If you're not sure, take all toads to a frog expert for confirmation and make sure to use rubber gloves if handling them.
Why are cane toads a biosecurity hazard?
To answer this, we need to quickly go back to the 1930s when cane toads were brought to Australia as part of a biological control program to manage the beetle pest problem affecting the sugar cane industry. However, there are a few problems with this:
Cane toads have no natural predator in Australia, which means they were able to roam and breed freely.
Cane toads are poisonous so any predators that do try to eat them will, ahem, croak and end up at the pearly gates rather than having a hearty meal.
Cane toads are prolific breeders with an breeding size female producing anywhere between 25,000 to 35,000 eggs in a single season. Rabbits have got nothing on cane toads.
Cane toads wreak havoc on the native ecosystem and native wildlife because they compete for food, carry new diseases and pathogens, and their poison is dangerous to wildlife.
In short, cane toads are a biosecurity hazard because they ruin the natural ecosystem, breed like crazy, have no natural predators, and their poison ruins anything they touch.
How to stop the spread of cane toads
Stopping the spread of cane toads means collecting and euthanising them in a humane manner. As cane toads are a pest animal, the federal government has developed euthanasia guidelines for this specific purpose.
It is best to try and control them humanely in a small area, such as a local creek or pond. When killing cane toads, you must do it as humanely as possible and using procedures that are reliable, avoid distress for the toad and produce a fast loss of consciousness. If you're not comfortable doing this or you're not sure, contact a frog expert or local vet.
Freshly killed toads can still poison animals, so it's important to dispose of these dead toads. Make sure you use gloves to handle the dead toad and place them in a properly sealed container before disposing in a covered compost or garbage bin.
Making your home a 'cane toad free zone'
If you live in a farm area that's ripe for cane toads, there are a number of things you can do to prevent these warty pests from showing up:
Cover or bring in pet food at night as it attracts cane toads.
Remove standing water. Toads need water every two days to rehydrate.
Remove rubbish and other debris so cane toads cannot shelter under it.
Keep your outside lights off when not in use. Lights attract insects for cane toads to feast on.
Keep toads out by creating a barrier. Cane toads are not good climbers and poor jumpers.
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Information sourced from: ABC, Agriculture Victoria, The Guardian, NSW Dept of Planning and Environment #1, and NSW Dept of Planning and Environment #2
Image credit: Mark Ratcliffe at Flickr, NSW Department of Planning and Environment
All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.