Aussies Use Cat Food to Fight Invasive Cane Toad

A young cane toad in Darwin, Australia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Bidgee

I’ve had an irrational fear of cat food ever since I was cruelly dared to eat some as a child. Kids are so mean. I totally would’ve forced some down, but something about the texture kicked my gag reflex into overdrive. At any rate, invasive cane toads in Australia would do well to share my aversion.

A few of tablespoons of the stuff at the edge of ponds attracts ferocious meat ants, a native species, which then gobble up baby cane toads, researchers report in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Cat food is the latest weapon employed to combat the invasive amphibians, which were introduced in 1935 in an unsuccessful attempt to control beetles on sugarcane plantations, Owen Pye reports for the AP:

Early cane toad killing methods included whacking the creatures with golf clubs or cricket bats. In recent years, most groups dedicated to fighting the pests have turned to freezing or gassing them with carbon dioxide. Still, the toads' population continues to explode.

"A single toad can have 30,000 eggs in a clutch, so there's a heck of a lot of tadpoles turning into toads along the edge of a billabong," said Rick Shine, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Sydney who supervised the research. "You can literally have tens of thousands of toads emerging at pretty much the same time. They are vulnerable to meat ants if the colony discovers there is a source of free food."

The toads and ants are about the same size, but "It's a pretty unequal fight," Shine told the AP. "The toads have this terribly stupid response to attack — which is just to freeze and do nothing."

Shine’s team studied tens of thousands of cane toads coming out of cat-food lined ponds over a three-month period in 2008. Meat ants attacked 98 percent of the amphibians within two minutes, and more than half of the toads died immedietly. Of the toads that escaped, 88 percent died within a day from battle wounds.

The researchers believe it’ll take more than cat food to eradicate the cane toad, but it doesn’t hurt to have more weapons (though the toads might disagree).

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