Wednesday, April 9, 2008

ACT Update

Remember the pestiferous Australian cane toad (Now the ACT) that some lawmaker wanted to eradicate by declaring (what was essentially) "Toad Whacking Day", a day on which families across the Land Down Under would set out to hunt the cane toad and then kill it by the only officially sanctioned method of placing it in one's freezer? Here's a pic of the absolutely disgusting creature, just in case you've forgotten: Australian Cane Toad Today, the Australian cane toad has more to worry about than just that Crocodile Dundee guy wielding a cricket mallet. Now, Australian scientists, having been unable to find a virus to kill the toad, are making a virus to kill the toad. How innovative. And f-ing frightening.

Australian Cane ToadThe scientists are trying to come up with a virus that will kill the cane toad and kill only the cane toad. It's trickier than it sounds. Just ask the white lipped tree frog. Well, you'd ask them if you could, but you can't because they're dead from a prototype virus that didn't kill just the cane toads (obviously). Yeah, it was back to the ol' Aussie lab after that one. (They said it was a major letdown for the scientists. I'm pretty sure it was a pretty big downer for the white lipped tree frog as well.)

See, here's the thing about these toads: They're destructive, they're invasive and they are not natural to that continent. And it's really all the fault of one guy. That's right. Reginald Mungomery. He was a 33-year-old entomologist at Queensland's Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations (I didn't know there was a need for a station in which to experiment with sugar) back in1934. He had heard how the ACT was controlling other beetle species in places like Hawaii and Puerto Rico and ol' Reggie was dyin' to bring those suckers to Australia. He figured that the only drawback to the toads was that they had a high pitched, rapidly vibrating noise (in lieu of croaking). He deemed their noises "unobjectionable". One year later, he was off to Hawaii were he gathered up 102 frogs and brought them back to Queensland and established the first ACT breeding colony. What could possibly go wrong?

First of all, these things are huge and can weigh over 2.5 pounds. They're ugly and gross looking. Oh, and if you pick one up? Yeah, it'll take great pleasure in peeing on you. They ate the native Australian Cane Toadbugs, but not the beetles that Mungomery wanted gone. But since they didn't have anything else to get rid of the beetles with (actually, they didn't have anything at all but now they didn't have anything AND they had a bunch of toad hopping around.), they just kept on breeding them. Next thing you know, they're all out in the wild, pumping out 30,000 eggs per breeding season (prolific), gradually moving about 25 miles west every year and they will eventually take over the land. Oh, and their secret weapon? When they're injured, they secrete these milky neurotoxins called bufotoxins. Yeah, the bufotoxins kill things that ingest them. Thus, creatures eating the toads? Dead. I'm counting just a couple of more things to worry about than just the noise they might make.

Australian Cane ToadThe ACT also tends to evolve rather quickly as well. When a male colonizes a new waterhole (I guess that's like the meeting ground for the ACTO. Australian Cane Toad Orgy.), the ACTs evolve so quickly that they have longer legs and can jump farther! So although a lot of people want to kill these guys, they're doing everything they can, evolution wise, to stay one step, er, jump ahead of them. Scary.

Here's a map that shows where the ACTs are currently and where they are projected to be.
Australian Cane Toad Map
Currently, they cover about .7 million km (that's the dark orange) and are concentrated in the East. Soon, they've got the Australian perimeter surrounded and are covering 2 million km (that's the dark orange plus all of the lighter orange on the left side and at the bottom of the map). Holy crap. It's like an Australian Cane Toad doughnut with a soft center full of humans! And if you try to leave they'll all pee on you! Grand! This does not sound like it is going to bode well for the Aussies.

The scientists figure that they should have their man-made, just-toad-killing virus ready in a couple of months. (But they thought that last time and now they're a little short on white lipped frogs.) They'll know if they got it right if it kills the toads. If it kills everything but the toads? Then it's back to the drawing board. In the meantime, the ACTs are completely unfazed by anything and are continuing to slowly take over the land. Those SOBs can't swim, can they?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The toads are useful. They have reduced the numbers of snakes and carnivores which makes it safer for humans.

Since cane toads were introduced there have been no cases of humans being eaten by land based carnivores in Australia.