His ugly, plasticized remains not only evoke the inevitable "yuk" from
visitors that gave him his name, they commemorate one of the most
debated, disputed and bedeviled species in Australia today - the bufo
marinus, or cane toad.
In just over half a century since he was imported from Hawaii to
exterminate beetles, this plump, slimy and
poisonous immigrant has occupied 40 percent of Queensland and has
marched into the Northern Territory and New South Wales. Everywhere his
prolific brood has elbowed out native wildlife.
He has taken over back yards. He uses highways and logging tracks as
invasion routes. His emissaries have traveled in containers as far as
Thailand. Birds and predatory animals - even snakes - die before they
can swallow him, killed by a lethal dose of poison squirted from the
glands on his back. Kookaburras fall dead out of trees, and pet dogs and
cats become carcasses after tangling with Yuk.
"People hate the toad with a passion, mainly for poisoning their pets.
But you can't help admiring the fellow," says Greg Czechura, the
museum's toad expert. "These ugly little creatures are the greatest
invasion machine: adaptable, fecund, mobile and hardy. Nothing can stop
The first 102 toads came from Hawaii in 1934. They were hailed by their
importers, a batch of Australian farmers, as the answer to the grayback
beetle, which was decimating the sugar cane crop, Queensland's main
"Unfortunately the beetle lives on top of the cane, and it flies. The
toad lives at the bottom of the cane and does not fly. The two never
met," Czechura said.
Like the rabbits before them, the toads just loved Australia. The female
produces as many as 30,000 tadpoles a year; astonished scientists
describe the Australianized male as probably the world's most sex-crazed
species. (Some rugged Australian types adopt it as a symbol.)
The lasciviousness of Yuks is legendary. The male claws himself with
powerful forearms onto the back of the female and can't be dislodged.
Toads have been photographed trying to mate with dead females flattened
by trucks. Queensland goldfish farmers complain of randy toads leaping
into ponds and catching fish in a fatal embrace.
"People sit on verandas with air rifles and spotlights and pop off toads
all night - bang, bang, bang," Czechura said. "But in the morning all
the dead toads have disappeared. So they ring me up, hysterical."
This phenomenon is not restricted to veranda shooters. Rural communities
and urban families who organize toad hunts usually exterminate the
captured villains by placing them in plastic bags inside freezers. But
the next day the corpses have vanished from the garbage heap.
Real toad haters often run their cars into ditches and telephone poles
while zigzagging after Yuks on the road. When the toads are run over, their intestines pop out
of their mouths.
"Toads have phenomenal recuperative powers," Czechura said. "The ones
you shoot recover and hop away. The ones in the freezer have to stay
there for three or four hours; otherwise they just warm up again. And
the ones on the road are only stunned. After a few minutes they simply
swallow their own digestive tracts and limp off into the bushes."
Perhaps the most successful toad hunters are those armed with 9-iron
golf clubs. "They hate toads so much they usually chop them into
pieces," Czechura said.
Not everyone in Australia hates toads. In a country known for defending
the underdog, some argue that toads squirt poison only if distressed,
make friendly pets and have not commercially damaged the environment.
Drug addicts have found a more sinister use for bufo marinus. They lick
dried toad skin, which, among a cocktail of toxic substances, contains
"It's like Russian roulette," Czechura said. "The toxins that toads
squirt can kill human beings as well as animals if a full dose is
But so far, not one Australian has been fatally poisoned by a cane toad,
which may explain why scientists and state and federal governments are
still debating how best to control the pest.
"We're still looking for a way to control the toad," Czechura said. "We don't want to do anything that will cause even greater damage to the environment."