Monday the 29th of March was a memorable evening for a couple of reasons; the community was just learning about a second imminent lockdown in the Greater Brisbane region and the Cane Toad Challenge Presentation was about to begin.
Undeterred, myself and another of the Friends of the Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens, donned our masks and made our way to the event. The free presentation was hosted by Watergum, a non-for-profit conservation organisation. Despite having to talk with a mask on, the speaker did a very good job at outlining the natural history of the cane toad, and of course the adverse impacts that the toad is having on the natural environment here in Australia. We were then issued our challenge, to trap and ‘bust’ as many toads as possible!
Most Australians are familiar with the concept of toad busting; which typically involves removing adult toads from the environment by hand. But in recent times, a new technique for targeting the cane toad tadpoles has been developed, and it seems to be quite effective, see the image below!
The tadpole trap is a relatively simple construction, a sturdy container with holes cut for funnels that guide tadpoles in, and make it difficult to escape. The top of the container is complete with a ‘click-clack’ lid and some ventilation holes. The bait, however, is just remarkable, and here’s why. Scientists observed toad tadpoles eating the eggs of unrelated individuals, eww... like we needed another reason to find toads...distasteful, but I digress. This behaviour then sparked an experiment to identify and extract the pheromone that breeding female toads coat their eggs in. Long story short, it was successful. This pheromone was isolated and then maufactured into ‘bait balls'. Baited submerged tadpole traps leach the pheromone back into a water course, sending out a message like, 'not-your-siblings toad egg buffet over here'. This lures hungry tadpoles in large family groups (which could number tens of thousands) into a trap. In essence this bait exploits the natural behaviour of toads and pits their own pheromones against them! Brilliant!
Once the challengers were equipped with knowledge, it was time to purchase our tadpole traps for a very modest fee. Challengers will continue to be supplied with bait, remember to enter your data online, okay off we go. But wait! That's not all, because it turns out that traditional cane toad busting still has an important role.
Did you know that one adult female can produce as many as 60,000 eggs in a calendar year? That’s very significant, so removing adult toads from the environment is still an important step. And remember how I mentioned that the bait is an extract of the toads pheromones? Well that needs to be collected from adult toads, so Watergum has organised collection days for participants to bring in their adult toads, which become a cog in the wheel, that is the demise of their brethren!
Please excuse my hyperbole, because as I wrap this up, I’d like to point out that as I participated in this presentation I was really glad that Watergum did not distort, embellish or malign the toad.
You don’t need to hate toads to get involved in this program, you just need to love our natural environment. So why not take on the challenge yourself? The Cane Toad Challenge, you can make a difference.
Find out more about Watergum's Cane Toad Challenge by visiting their website: https://watergum.org/