Friday, 19 February 2010

Cat Food is the New Weapon Against Australia's Cane Toad Plague

In 1935 around 100 cane toads were introduced into Queensland with the aim of destroying a destructive pest in the cane fields.  Unfortunately, the cane toads did not deliver, but did start to reproduce in alarming numbers and have colonised many parts of Northern Australia.  Cane toads are venomous, so kill native Australian wildlife if they eat a cane toad, and the sheer numbers of cane toads have pushed native amphibians out of ponds and suitable habitats.

It has been very difficult to find a solution to the rising cane toad numbers that is both effective and humane.  However scientists at the University of Sydney have found a way to utilise a native Australian species against the cane toad which will hopefully help to limit cane toad numbers. Meat ants are carnivorous ants that are immune to the toad's venom and so are able to attack baby cane toads.  Many cane toads are already killed by meat ants, but the scientists have made it easier for them by strategically placing cat food near the ponds where the cane toads breed.

The cat food attracts the ants and when the baby toads emerge from the pond the meat ants then attack them.  In one location where they tested the cat food, 98% of the baby toads were attacked within two minutes.  By boosting the numbers of meat ants in the areas that the cane toads breed in the natural ecological balance is not upset, as the meat ant is a species that would naturally be present in these areas. The baby cane toad's defence against the meat ant is to freeze and let the ant find out that they are venomous, but the ants are not affected so it does not work. Native Australian frogs have developed  much better defences against the meat ant, so are not be affected.

Read on for the whole news article on how cat food can help push back the cane toad plague!


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