Cane toads in Canberra?

It probably seemed like a really good idea. After all, the Australian sugar cane industry was under siege from the native adult cane beetle.

Their ravenous appetite for the sweet sugarcane fields of north Queensland was challenging. With their larvae buried deep underground, the beetles proved hard to control. Conventional pesticide treatment was expensive. A solution was required.

An answer was found in South America. An extremely robust, voracious insect predator. On face value, this toad appeared to be the ideal terrestrial beetle control. In 1935, a few toads were introduced around Cairns to see how they would go. They did rather too well. A population quickly established, much to the ecological demise of our native fauna. Today, Cane Toads are found throughout northern Australia.

As a young Ranger working in the Northern Territory in the late 1980s I recall their impending arrival, hitching their way across the floodplains of the Top End in banana boxes from north Queensland.  The tyranny of distance wasn’t a challenge, merely a hurdle.

They are poisonous at all stages of their lifecycle. When threatened, they exude a deadly toxin from large glands on their back. Killing native carnivores from dingoes to quolls, they are an ecological scourge upon our landscape.

Recently, two unwelcome toads that hitchhiked their way to the bush capital were found in the leafy suburb of Campbell. It is highly unlikely Cane Toads would establish here due to our freezing winters, but there is potential they could survive and potentially breed over a long hot summer.

Not to be confused with the petite Eastern Banjo Frog, Cane Toads are just plain ugly. Large bodies covered with dry warty skin. A bony head. Protruding ridges over their eyes that meet above their nose. Grey, yellowish to reddish brown. Bellies pale with dark mottling.

If you think you have spotted a Cane Toad, please don’t kill it. It’s more than likely a native frog. Wearing gloves, place it in a container with some water and give us a call on 13 22 81. Take a close-up photo, but exercise caution.

The recent arrivals are a timely reminder to those travelling from the Northern Territory, Queensland and northern NSW to be vigilant in ensuring they don’t accidentally bring home a toad. Cane Toads can climb into vehicles, caravans, camping equipment, landscaping material and shipping containers.

Collectively, we have a shared biosecurity responsibility in keeping our beautiful bush capital safe from these nasty ecological threats.

Photo by Stephen Zozaya

To learn more visit Cane toads - Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate - Environment.

Brett McNamara is with ACT Parks & Conservation Service.

Brett Mac

Brett McNamara - Regional Manager with ACT Parks & Conservation Service

Brett loves our national parks almost as much as the Gang-gang on his uniform. He is prone to using the word 'majestic' when referring to the bush capital. He loves talking. A lot. His favourite animal is the playful platypus.

Article also appeared on 30 October 2018 in The Chronicle