Wednesday, March 28, 2007

'Mutant' Cane Toads Spreading Fast Across Australia

'Toadzilla' Caught During "Breeding Frenzy"

It's more than 20cm long. It weighs near on a kilo. The people who caught it weren't far wrong when they described it as being "the size of a small dog".

This is one of the largest cane toads ever found in Australia. A volunteer group called 'Toadwatch' picked it up during a cane toad "breeding frenzy" in the Northern Territory.

'Toadwatch' night patrols see groups of locals hunting down the cane toads and destroying them, as they fight a front line war against the invasion.

So far 'Toadwatch' have had some great successes, capturing and killing hundreds in only a few hours of patrols. In total they've eliminated tens of thousands. While it may be all but impossible to completely eliminate the toads, the volunteers, including mums and dads and kids armed with torches, plastic bags and heavy gloves (the toad's skin is toxic), have managed to keep the toads out of a number of pristine Northern Territory environments.

But the toads are moving in on Darwin. They've reached near plague proportions in some areas of Northern Queensland - where 'toad golf' has long been popular (you simply smash the toad with a golf club) - and the toads have also been spotted just outside of Sydney.

Perth and Adelaide are now said to be within reach.

From the Sydney Morning Herald :

The 861-gram monster male is the largest to be caught anywhere in the Northern Territory, according to environmental group FrogWatch.

The warty pest was picked up by local volunteers during a community toad bust at Lee Point last night.

Measuring 20.5cm in length, the colossal male was one of 39 toads caught in the middle of "a breeding frenzy", said FrogWatch coordinator Graeme Sawyer.

He said NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) ToadBusts were finding low numbers of toads in the city, except for Lee Point and the Coastal Reserve.

First released in Queensland (in 1935 - ed), cane toads have since multiplied and marched across Australia, poisoning millions of native animals, including crocodiles in World Heritage-listed Kakadu.

Northern Territory crocodiles haven't had any natural enemies for millions of years, until the toads arrived. Cane toads are extremely poisonous, and if eaten the toxins are strong enough to knock even a crocodile in a coma-like state. And if you're a croc in the rivers of the Northern Territory and you can't move fast, you're a goner. Other crocodiles will eat you.

A new study from the University of Sydney claims cane toads have "rapidly adapted" to Australian climates over the past 70 years.

Put simply, the toads have evolved, and they've done it fast. It was once believed cane toads didn't have a chance of surviving, or spreading, through environments that were different to the South American habitats from which they originated.

Not so. 'Toadzilla' and his friends are surviving, and evolving, just fine. And they'll spread faster, the more non-tropical Australian environments get warmer, and wetter.

Blame Global Warming. Blame Climate Change.

You might as well. As the 'Toadzilla' story grips the nation, and the world, an GB/CC expert is right now putting together a research paper claiming exactly that.

Does anyone know how to turn cane toads into biofuel?

From :

One of the researchers, Professor Rick Shine, said the toads had evolved incredibly quickly because of the rich genetic diversity bestowed by a reproductive cycle in which they lay 30,000 eggs in a single clutch.

Their body shape has changed to enable them to move more quickly and they have become more resilient to cope with much higher temperatures.

“The toads at the invasion front are long-legged, very fast-moving animals and they move every day in pretty much straight lines,” Prof Shine said.

“Compared to the ones in the old populations, which have got relatively short legs and are much less active and tend to meander around.”

There you have it. 'Mutant' Cane Toads are now on the move across Australia.

Arm yourself with a golf club before it's too late.