Cane toads – Did you know?
The cane toad
Cane toads are such a part of Queensland’s mythology that there’s even a feature film starring them (intriguingly titled: Cane Toads: an Unnatural History). Yet oddly, these local favourites are not real Australians at all.
The cane toad was brought to Queensland in the 1940s from South America, where the Indians are said to have milked its glands to poison the tips of their arrows. It was imported by the sugar cane plantation owners, who hoped that this warty beast would put an end to the plague of greybeetles which was ruining their crops. But the cane toads didn’t take to a diet of greybeetles. They were only interested in doing what any warty toad with a poisonous nature does when he goes on holiday to Queensland. The result was a huge population explosion of cane toads.
This obsessive behaviour has persisted over the decades. And nowadays you can see squashed cane toads on the roads all over Queensland. Indeed, they’ve begun to spread to neighbouring states where there’s no sugar cane at all – and absolutely nothing else to do but breed.
One evening I became involved in a long and complicated discussion about cane toads at the Austral Hotel in Mackay. All were agreed that the cane toad isn’t a true Australian. But some went even further, and claimed that it isn’t even a toad.
If I can remember the argument correctly: the cane toad is not a true toad – or bufo, according to those who know. Someone pointed out – and this seemed to clinch a point which still eludes me – that bufo toads are indigenous all over the world, except in Australia (and Madagascar, according to one expert).
The most vociferous of the experts present insisted that the cane toad is really just a variegated toad, rather than a true toad. As far as I could gather, this has something to do with the cane toad’s foot size, and its warts (which all agreed are poisonous, though on questioning it turned out that no one had personally verified this in any meaningful fashion).