Support to give toads a caning

THE hunt is on for one of the Northern Rivers’ number one enemies.

However, the chase doesn’t involve wielding pitchforks or tying foes to the stake.

In this battle the weapons of choice are shopping bags, a freezer, and pet food.

During the week, groups met in Brunswick Heads and Murwillumbah in the latest stage of an ongoing cane toad muster.

Toad numbers have increased rapidly since being introduced to Australia as a way to combat the sugarcane grub in 1935, given they can potentially lay up to 35,000 eggs each season.

The musters – 11 so far hosted by Byron Shire Council – are about trying to make a dent in the burgeoning population.

But the dent is made through education, not the more traditional five-iron.

“The purpose is to educate people to be able to undertake their own toad control. The musters can’t control them,” Byron Shire Council’s Wendy Gibney said.

Ms Gibney is the council’s environmental project officer for cane toad control. And she has plenty of tips for people keen to keep toads to a minimum.

After apprehending a toad, Ms Gibney said the most humane way to kill it was to place it in an ice-cream container and put it in the fridge, and then the freezer.

“This puts them in a state of torpor, so it’s not as stressful for them as going straight into freezer,” she said.

Cane toad catchers using this method do need to be aware there is every chance the ice-cream container will move around a bit in the fridge.

It’s best to put it on the bottom shelf, and don’t use the good china to store your leftovers.

After that, it’s into the freezer overnight.

“Make sure they are frozen overnight, in case they wake up again,” Ms Gibney advised.

She said when the various musters breached the subject of how to dispose of the toads the crowds were split on the method.

“Some people are fine with it. Other people are horrified. There is a huge variation,” she said.

The musters are also about helping people spot a cane toad from other species of native frogs.

With 28 types of native frogs found in the Byron Shire, and half a dozen of them brown in colour, Ms Gibney said it was important toad hunters knew their target.

“They don’t jump very high so if you can’t catch them, it probably isn’t a cane toad,” she said.

But what about those people who don’t much fancy being hunched over, one hand in a shopping bag, trying to chase down a toad?

Recently on ABC radio, Professor Rick Shine, from the University of Sydney, said placing cat food near the edge of a pond where baby toads lived attracted meat ants that obligingly feasted on the baby toads.

He said one experiment had seen a kill rate of 98 per cent.

The ants pose no threat to native frogs, and are found in the same places as toads.

Dr David Newell, from Southern Cross University, said killing toads at the source was crucial for curbing the population.

“Anyone who has a dam or water storage on their property can help reduce the spread of toads by acting as soon as they first detect toads,” he said.

“It is apparent that there are many areas on the North Coast that are still ‘toad free’ so vigilant landholders can help slow the spread.”

For those of us who don’t have a dam or pond, but are keen to get in on the action, there is always the fun of a muster. The next one to be hosted by Byron Council will take place at Mullumbimby on Wednesday, March 17.

Toad introduction

Cane toads (Bufo marinus, Bufonidae) naturally occur in the southern USA and the tropics of South America.

Cane toads were deliberately introduced into Australia to control pest beetles in sugar cane.

About 3000 were first released near Cairns, North Queensland, in July 1935.

Source: Byron Shire Council

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