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Cane toad’s own toxins being used to fight back against pest

An ongoing research project may finally be providing an answer to Queensland’s biggest pest, the cane toad – which currently overrun the state and are rife even in protected areas, such as national parks.

University of Queensland (UQ) researchers are trialing bait traps they’ve developed that utilise poison taken from adult cane toads to kill toad tadpoles.

The traps can eradicate up to 10,000 juvenile toads in one hit and it is hoped that a product may be on supermarket shelves within the next couple of years.

This is welcome news for all who care about Australia’s wildlife. While the biodiversity impacts of this introduced pest on our wildlife are complex and not fully understood, certainly their toxins have proven fatal for native predators.

Cane toads have an array of highly toxic chemical defences available to them at almost all stages of their lives, with toxins occurring in their skin and organs as well as being able to be secreted through glands at the back of their heads when threatened.

Evidence exists around cane toad impacts on quolls, snakes, goannas and freshwater crocodiles, all of which may be lethally poisoned when they attempt to eat toads. Some recover, but many die. This has impacted populations.

The threat is very real that if a solution to the cane toad menace is not found, the population decline of some species – most notably the quoll – may never recover.

Of course, the toads have also spread far and wide – well beyond Queensland. Producing large numbers of offspring, the toads are colonising northern Australia at an increasingly rapid pace having made their way across the Northern Territory and into Western Australia; they are also problematic in NSW and one has recently been discovered as far south as Kosciusko National Park, likely having hitched a ride with an unsuspecting tourist.

Congratulations to Professor Rob Capon and all involved in the UQ project – including the all-important volunteers around the state who are assisting with the trial. We applaud your dedication to finding a solution to the cane toad problem and keep our fingers crossed for a successful trial.

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Caption: The cane toad’s poison has long proven deadly to native wildlife, but research suggests it might also hold the key to reducing their spread. Photo: Greg Schechter / Flickr