History of Australia
Cane Toads

Why were cane toads introduced in Australia?

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2012-05-21 14:18:37

Cane toads were imported by the Australian Bureau of Sugar

Experimental Stations to eat cane beetles. The beetles were a major

pest of sugar cane and threatened to ruin the industry. The

Greyback and French's Cane Beetles, native insects that naturally

ate grass roots, bored into the roots of sugar cane crops and were

causing the plants to die and go brown. Control with poisons like

arsenic trioxide, carbon disulfide and even 1,4 dichlorobenzene was

failing badly, and the success of biological control against he

prickly pear led influential politicians and the CSIR to believe

the toad would eat the beetles.

Unfortunately, toads cannot access adult beetles which fly away

and the larvae live underground, so the experiment was a failure.

European common toads (Bufo bufo) were tested for

controlling grass grubs, but it was found they could not dig down

to reach them - a basic quarantine process never done with

cane toads.

Since none of Australia's native animals have resistance to

bufotenin (unlike other places where cane toads have been

introduced), they have become more of a pest than the beetles ever

were. Quolls, medium-sized carnivorous marsupials, have been very

badly hit by poisoning from toads and now are largely confined to

Tasmania where toads cannot reach (they sink in seawater). Many

snakes have also declined badly where toads are present.

Fertility control methods, though as yet unproven despite years

of research, offer the only hope for control. However, I do not

even know basic questions on this issue like how long poisonous

toad eggs remain viable without sperm to fertilise them - I have

assumed they would eventually die in the absence of sperm, but I

have not found data.

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