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Thursday, January 26, 2012

#120 Cane Toad

Bufo marinus
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Lake Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico
Time: 1845 CST November 14, 2011

Cane toads are native to Central America, and the northern part of South America, and they, or very similar related species, have been found there for at least 5 million years. However, in recent times, with a little human help, they have become global travelers, and are still expanding their range to this day. The now occur on islands throughout the Caribbean, in Florida, Hawaii, the Philippines, and many of the islands of Melanesia. But it is in Australia, where I am now living, that they have reached the peak of their notoriety.

Cane toads have a propensity for living in human altered habitats including, as the name suggests, sugar cane fields. They are also voracious eaters of pretty much anything they can fit into their mouths, and these two characteristics led to them being used as biological control against pests in cane fields. Following a trial introduction in Puerto Rico, which was claimed to be a resounding success, cane toads were introduced into Australia in the 1930s.

The cane toads soon found that there were many other things worth eating in the Australian wilderness, things much easier to find and catch than a cane beetle. In addition, cane toads are highly toxic, and while they have predators in Central America that have adapted to their poisons, in Australia they live with impunity. In fact, their poisonous effect is further endangering those species that do try to feed on them, as they often wind up dead. Freed from the constraints of their native lands, they began to spread across the Australian continent, a spread that continues to this day.

A cane toad with Lithobates vaillanti. You can see the large toxin-producing parotoid glands behind the eye of the toad

Cane toad control is a serious ongoing issue in Australia, and is a topic too large for me to attempt to cover here, so I will leave you with an interesting fact:

Despite the specific name marinus, and the common name Marine Toad, cane toads are entirely terrestrial. The name was given to the cane toad by Carl Linnaeus, the founder of the system of binomial nomenclature. Linnaeus described it from an illustration in a book by one Albertus Seba, a dutch zoologist who mistakenly believed that the cane toad lives both on land and in the sea. Albertus Seba also lends his name to the redback coffee snake, Ninia sebae, a species I encountered less than an hour later, just a stone's throw from where I took these photos.


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