Australia is one dangerous place.
If you like your animals to be of the deadly persuasion then that’s the country for you. Poisonous snakes? Oh yes. From the inland taipan, that has enough venom in 1 bite to kill 100 people to the frankly horrifyingly named Death Adder, Australia is home to maybe six of the top ten most deadly land snakes.
Add to this the funnel web and red back spiders, an arachnid that can add a bit of danger to your morning trip to the lavatory, the box jellyfish, saltwater crocodile, stone fish, blue ring octopus and the great white shark (and some of his slightly smaller but no less scary relatives) and you have yourself a fauna to be reckoned with. Even the weird but oddly cute looking platypus possesses venom that, by all accounts, causes excruciating pain.
Of course, the good folk of Australia are pretty relaxed about all of this potentially murderous wildlife in their midst. The truth, they will quite correctly tell you, is that very, very few people are actually harmed by these animals. In fact, whilst kayaking off the coast of Byron Bay some years ago with a friend we encountered a couple of sharks eyeing us suspiciously among the surf. Our guide, a local Queenslander, all too nonchalantly informed the rest of the party that this was entirely common and nothing to worry about at all. He only told us of the scuba diver who had lost his leg the week before once we had returned to dry land.
However, there is one poisonous little critter in their midst who seems to be treated with considerably less tolerance.
The cane toad.
The cane toad – or Bufo Marinus, as we scientists like to refer to it – are not actually indigenous to Australia. Originally they hail from the Americas and an elite unit of 100 special forces cane toads were sent over to Queensland in 1935 with orders to engage hostilities with the scarab beetle, a little nasty who was carrying out atrocities on crops of sugar cane. They carried out their task with typical ruthlessness.However, there was a problem.The toads liked this new environment – the climate was harsh, but fair and, let’s be honest, the beer was better than home. So, they decided to stay, make a new home for themselves. And, according to the BBC Science & nature website they appeared to be randy little breeders – rapidly multiplying their numbers to 60000 in six months.
In the decades that have followed the cane toad has gone on the rampage against the indigenous animals and plants of Australia. They have shown themselves to be adaptable to varying conditions, able to grow to relatively large sizes (about 15cm – not bad for a frog!), and, most importantly of all, they are, in keeping with so many other inhabitants, tremendously poisonous. According to the Australian Museum the toads have, down the years been responsible for the deaths, usually by intoxication (but let’s not rule out certain martial arts), of goanna’s, freshwater crocodile, tiger snake, death adder (not so tough now eh?), dingo; not to mention numerous types of insect and the honey bee. Humans also are not immune to the power of Kermit’s cousin – the venom able to produce nausea, incredible pain, blindness and, if you were to accidentally eat one, potential death.
Although, how you accidentally eat a toad is beyond me.
And they’re on the move. Like most visitors to Australia they seem up for a bit of backpacking. From their original landing spot in Queensland they have steadily mobilised themselves out into the Northern Territories and, in some sort of tribute to their American heritage, appear set on a manifest destiny to head West.
But, their invasion across the continent is not without resistance. The humans are fighting back.
Battle lines have been drawn and a band of hardy warriors from the Northern Territories and Western Australia have united, intent on meeting the challenge head on.
They call themselves – TOADBUSTERS.
The Toadbusters are out to stop the march of the froggies and their quest to ‘overwhelm the ecosystems’. According to the website, they are looking for as many volunteers as possible to go out at night on ToadMusters – search and destroy missions against the amphibious enemy. They are encouraging the locals to learn the toads behaviour, identify their appearance and listen for the mating calls intent on removing the adults and their tadpoles from the region. One may be forgiven for thinking this is a bit too much like whacking day from an episode of The Simpsons and therefore, something of a joke but apparently not. This appears to be a major issue – the frogwatch website tells us that the numbers of cane toads are so high that they represent a huge risk to the local ecosystems and the native animals of the region and they’re not going to stand by and let it happen.
So, swim with the sharks, tickle the belly of a king brown, or let a funnel back crawl over your boots – but if you see a frog – WHO YA GONNA CALL?
Related to this:
Back in the late part of 1996 I, with a couple of mates, was making a journey through Queensland, spending the best part of two months heading from Cairns in the north to reach Sydney in New South Wales in time for Christmas. We had a little white car that was considerably older than all of us, made a funny noise upon starting and had a hole in the floor at the back. It frankly amazed us that we got it as far as the suburbs of Cairns, let alone the couple of thousand kilometres to Sydney. But get us there it did.
One evening, heading through some forested region or other, somewhere between Airlie Beach and Hervey Bay it began to rain. And boy did it rain. The windscreen wiper of the car hadn’t been as exercised in years and made a disgruntled groan as we put it onto max speed. After a few minutes we started to hear and then feel a thump against the front of the car – a persistent, not too heavy knock. Soon, we began to feel the traction of the car giving beneath us, the wheels noticeably sliding. Peering through the rain into the not too bright beams of the headlights I saw that the road seemed to be moving – not unlike the way Indiana Jones noticed
In the Well of Souls in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Closer inspection showed that the entire road, for as far as it was possible to make out, was completely covered by toads (possibly frogs – it was dark, I couldn’t tell). Furthermore they appeared to be toads (or frogs) that belonged to a mass suicide cult as they were systematically jumping up at the front of our car, thereby guaranteeing a rather squishy end.
After a while the car was sliding around on the guts of a thousand toads as we made our frogicidal journey onwards. The rain kept pouring and soon, the lights began to dim. Surely our bulbs couldn’t go on us as well? Just as the final flicker of light ebbed from our headlights we rather delightedly emerged from the forest, greeted by the bright lights of a petrol station. Pulling in we jumped from the car to inspect the carnage. The entire front of the car, headlights included were buried beneath a fairly thick coating of liquefied frog remains. You will pleased to note that vomit was narrowly avoided as we scraped and washed our way back to the paintwork.
Now, I don’t know whether or not these were cane toads – but if they were, then Australians, no need to thank us for our efforts in your Toadbusting cause. If they weren’t, and were in fact mere native frogs then we can only apologise.