Monday, June 14, 2010


A few years ago a documentary called Cane Toads: An Unnatural History was recommended to me. Something you should know – I love weird documentaries! The weirder the better and even if I don’t know a thing about the topic, I enjoy learning about whatever the subject is. Hence an entire documentary about a giant freak of nature – the cane toad – is not entirely a stretch for me.

See Australia was having some problems with its sugar cane crops. The cane grub was attacking it. So some smart people got together in the early 20th century and over a conference talked about what to do. Because Hawaii had a similar problem which was fixed by their native cane toad that ate the grubs – someone decided that cane toads should be brought to Australia.
But what the scientists didn’t know is that the cane toad lays about 40,000 eggs because in its natural habitat only a few survive. Without the cane toads natural predators present in Australia, the cane toads quickly took over. It became a real problem, and today almost a 100 years later, is in fact, a real problem. The cane toads have a toxic residue on their skin which make them out best even the deadliest predators in Australia. (Ironic since every critter is deadly there!)

So as I was reading the news this morning (preparing for a virtual Professionalism class no doubt) I came across an article that the cane toad has reached the Caribbean!

"To our knowledge, this is the first report of cane toads causing mortality in naturally occurring predators outside of Australia," say the authors in the journal Biological Invasions.

"Although cane toads have been present on Jamaica for more than 160 years, it is clear from our observations that Jamaican boas have not yet learnt to avoid this toxic prey species." (

The introduction of the cane toads in the Caribbean and Australia have created disastrous effects which have lasted decades. As I’m here in the Caribbean, I can’t help but be reminded how unfortunately all too often us “experts” in the field visit distant lands and think we know what’s best to help out. The truth of it is we’re learned in special academic fields that might not necessarily apply to communities and populations across a broad spectrum. Listening is really the first step toward social change, because when we invite voices that are often unheard we discover the answers are already there. Thus, I believe in a life which pursues public service, we're really just facilitators.

Just so you know, I’m listening. I promise not to bring any cane toads back to Arkansas. I'm not making any promises on the cute kittens I find here though. ; )


Michael Sullivan said...

I recently read a study that involved attempting to bait cane toads with cat food. The toads ended up not being interested in cat food. But the researcher discovered that a very aggressive ant called the Meat Ant loves the cat food. So he baited a pond with cat food right before the cane toads emerged from the water. The ants swarmed all over and then as soon as the toads hopped on to land for the first time the ants killed them. Interesting.

Another interesting thing about them (at least to me) is that instead of XX/XY chromosomes they use ZZ/ZW sex chromosomes!

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