Cane Toads

It’s Friday, I’m sleepy, and I’m not getting done as much as I should.  Still, it been a while since I posted new links.  And there are cane toads.

I have a weird fascination with toads (and frogs).  They’re cute!  They have cute feet.  Slime is cool.  And all the ones I’ve ever held never bit me (you can never say the same thing with mammals).   I did try to keep some once, but buying crickets on a weekly basis is no fun, and raising your own is difficult. 

So why Cane Toads?  Well, when I was but a little science-sprog, I went to a science-themed summer camp.  I loved it, and I don’t think I would be where I am today if it weren’t for those two weeks every summer spent tromping around in the woods (though now I tromp around the lab, which isn’t half as muddy and mostly not half as fun).  Unlike other camps, we had to ‘major’ in one subject, and ‘minor’ in all the rest.  We took two or three classes every day, each of which was accompanied by a homework assignment, which you had to find sources on, and which was graded.  Of course this was *gasp* BEFORE the internet.  But I still remember the wonderful library, filled with every single issue of National Geographic, and lots of old books.  It smelled like a combination of mothballs and bug spray.  Yeah, I’m a geek, I BEGGED to go to a summer camp that had graded homework assignments. 

Of course, there was never TOO much work, plenty of time for hiking, playing in the very large stream that ran nearby, playing kickball, and just hanging around.     The camp taught me a lot about fieldwork and science, but it was also an environmentally-themed camp.  Every year there was a watching of Seuss’ “The Lorax” (along with all the usual sing alongs and talent shows and stuff that is…campy…), and then one year we saw a video on Cane Toads. 

The Cane Toad (Bufo marinus) is a large toad (4-6 inches) native to South America.  What makes it interesting (other than that I think it’s kind of cute), is that it is a major invasive species in Australia.  They brought it in to Australia in 1935.  Australia raises a lot of sugar cane, and sugar cane is plagued by beetles.  So they thought, bring in the toads, toads eat beetles!  Simple problem simply solved.   Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple.  It turns out that Cane Toads don’t LIKE beetles very much.  Sure, they’ll eat them, but they infinitely prefer the native, harmless Australian bugs.   The Cane Toads found that they liked Australia very much, they have no natural predators there.  Oh, yeah, they’re also poisonous.  And hard to kill. 

So now Cane Toads are a big pest problem in northern Queensland.  There’s a lot of fear about how fast the Cane Toads are spreading, and people are very worried that they’ll overrun Australia all together.  Scientists wanted to figure out whether this was actually the case, and so they did a hilarious experiment.  They RACED them.  I’ve got this great picture in my head of toads in lanes, with little numbered jerseys, like they race piglets.  Too cute  (if you haven’t seen it, it’s a southern thing, and you should come try it some time, and have a deep-fried Twinkie while you watch!). 

Of course Cane Toads (like all other toads and frogs) are cold-blooded.  This means that they cannot control their own body temps (like we humans) and rely on the external environment to keep them at a livable temperature.  This is why you don’t see snakes in Iceland, and why penguins never complain of a frog problem.  Toads need to live in relatively warm places, and when it gets too cold, they have either hibernate, or go somewhere else.   So the researchers in this study raced Cane Toads at different average temperatures that are common in various parts of Australia.  They found that the toads will probably not invade Melbourne, Perth, or Sydney, as it’s too cold and dry in those areas, and the cane toads move very sluggishly at those temperatures. 

Unfortunately, this doesn’t really take into account global warming.  If the temperatures in those areas get much warmer (and the areas get slightly wetter), they may still have a Cane Toad invasion on their hands.

In the realm of other things, there’s an interesting post over at Respectful Insolence on “outing” anonymous bloggers.  Specifically, it’s being outed by the people you’re arguing against, in the hope that it will make you stop.  I consider this to be very below the belt behavior.  Why resort to outing someone if you can convince them with your arguments instead?  And if you can’t convince them, perhaps you should look to your argument rather than blasting your enemy’s name and address and favorite food all over the interwebs. 

I’m anonymous.  It’s a very, very thin armor to have, but useful.  When I post stupid things (and boy do I), I don’t feel ashamed about it for quite so long.  I try very hard to remain inoffensive and talk about science, but many aspects of modern science are bound to upset someone.  And I don’t want to get my personal life threatened because someone has seen one thing I wrote on the internet and decided I’m evil.  Also, as a grad student, there are some people in my department (thankfully, not all) who are going to think my blog is a waste of time, and possibly very bad for my career.  I might come out someday, if I feel that it’s important.  But I think in the blogging world, who I am is not as important as what I know and what I write about. 

And thus, I know some of you at least know me personally.  Be nice, hold on to my trust, and let’s keep my thin screen of anonymity up for now.  Though, in case anyone is interested, my favorite food is coffee.  I accept gifts of fairly-traded, organic French roast.  :)

2 Responses

  1. I agree with you completely about the anonymous thing. I remain anonymous for reasons of security rather than privacy. I wouldn’t feel safe with all my personal details etc sprawling over the interweb for everyone to see.

    It could also be a major, major security hazard for people working with animals in labs. And there are libel and legal things to consider. If you mention a person anonymously as ‘my PI’ and put something about them that they consider libel it will be a major problem if you are suddenly outed.

    In my opinion, the best thing about the internet is that it allows people to remain anonymous, that you can discuss science without knowing if the person you’re talking to is male/female american/indian etc.

    (cool information about the cane toad btw).

  2. So, when I was in undergrad, our into bio teacher sponsored a video night, and showed the amazing documentary Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (1988)Really worth watching. Incredibly humorous yet definitely gets its point across that the unnatural introduction of exotic species as biological control is not a good idea.

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